taking a listen
— Still Looking Up at the Stars
It’s likely that just about every reasonably large metropolis has one: a prolific singer, songwriter and performer who perpetually flies under the radar, never really getting his or her due, but very quietly being great anyway. Bruce Piephoff is that to the Triad. There’s a little bit of Guy Clark, Gary Murray and John Prine living in Piephoff’s songwriting, and a remarkable effort on his 21st album shows that he’s as much of a survivor as he is an outsider. Still Looking Up at the Stars is the product of a successful Kickstarter campaign that brought together the Gate City balladeer with guitarist Scott Sawyer, only recently after the pair made their second joint performance in 30 years. The slightly wounded, yet good-natured discourse that permeates Piephoff’s other studio efforts, most recently 2009’s Clockwork, is given elegant counterpoint by producer Sawyer’s bluesy playing on a handful of tracks, while elsewhere it might be Dave Finucane blowing his sax seemingly way off in the distance. Piephoff is a consummate situationist in his storytelling, but he’s hardly ever as revelatory as he is relatable. You don’t listen to his songs so much as stare into them voyeuristically like with paintings, looking for solutions amidst the mountains of color and context, but only coming away with more questions about his characters and their eerie familiarity. “The moon just makes me crazy/ there’s too much crime to do,” he sings on “Hope You’re Home Tonight” as he weighs options should a proposed reconciliation fall through. It’s an entirely open-ended proposition that’s the trademark of Still Looking Up at the Stars, but occasionally Piephoff can be as pointed as a rapier. He eulogizes William Ransom Hobbs Jr. in three acts on “Ransom Notes”; the first in postmortem and anecdote, the second with droning, brooding sax and guitar, and lastly with decisive conclusion that finishes on the line “Adios my friend/ I’ll see you backstage when I get there.”
86/100 Piephoff will celebrate the release of the new album at the Green Bean on Friday with Carrboro blues-rockers Oh By Jingo and locals the Grand Ole Uproar.
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