There is a real skill to being able to make music that simultaneously sounds like you have been listening to it all of your life but also the newest, freshest music to waft through the airwaves and it is a skill that Ed Hale appears to possess in no small amount. I guess it is what happens when you combine a wonderful musical imagination with a template that has served songwriters so well for the past 50 years. But just because someone takes the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix out approach” that doesn’t mean that they can’t give it a fresh lick of paint, re-shape, refine, have fun with and add new and exciting sonic detail to it. And that again is something that Ed Hale revels in. So For Real is definitely a case of evolution rather than revolution.
Summer Flowers kicks things off majestically, a veritable heatwave of retro-pop vibes, a flex of rock muscle and some wonderfully psychedelic moves and it is these corner stones that define the album’s personality. But this isn’t plunder, plagiarism or pastiche, for all its backward glance to past glories, songs such as Gimme Some Rock ’n’ Roll chime in tune with bands such as Flaming Lips or Wasuremono as readily as it does anything from previous generations.
Stephanie’s Song (It’s Alright, It’s Okay) wanders some strange country backroads, one’s most definitely leading away from Nash-Vegas and possibly leading north towards Mercury Rev’s secret hideaway, Honestly is bold and unabashed folk-rock and Martha’s Sleeping blends cinematic pop with a sort of wide-screen cosmic folk music.
So For Real proves that there is life in the singer-songwriter format yet and as always, forgive another cliche, “it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.” Forget your earnest, would be troubadour with complicated hair and skinny jeans, Ed Hale is everything that image isn’t. This is a solo player thinking like a band, a master craftsman who isn’t afraid to have fun, a student of the musical past who knows how to carry its most important musical hallmarks into the future. It is music that is instantly familiar yet wonderfully fresh. How does he even juggle so many brilliant contradictions? But then if we knew the answer to that….