For me, this last year or so has been a time of comings and goings, of breaking up and starting over, with people, places, dreams, and plans, so it is not completely out of nowhere that the music that I have really connected with lately has been tunes layered not only in melodies and harmonies but also with gritty, hard earned lyrics created and crafted from raw and honest experience, some outward, third party witness of shared human inner struggles. And that is what makes music a beautiful and wild thing. The creation of music or really any form of art, is almost a primal scream of self expression and importance; this is me, this is my world, this is my story. But a great part in this creation process, that seems to be so selfish and self serving, is the willingness to share the final product, to throw it out into the great unknown, but not for prideful admiration or earthly success, but because of that other primal desire to not be alone, to connect our lives with each other.
I deeply appreciate the bravery that it takes a songwriter to basically give away little pieces of themselves with each song, each record and every performance. As a listener, all these little pieces that we get from those songs and records and performances, at least the good ones, don't just entertain us or give us a beat to dance to, but can help me and you and us understand our own little stories and give us an anchor in the madness of life.
And fitting perfectly into this musical pattern of give and take is A Place to Remember the Dead, the new solo album from San Fransisco based songwriter Shareef Ali. Ali takes the familiar themes of life, love, and struggle and adds his own unique voice and musical talent, creating new, rich, anthems and ballads that fuse together folk, punk rock, country and the blues into this haunting and spirited beast of an album.
For these ears of mine, a strong example of Ali's craftsmanship and heart is the song The Tenderness in Me. The draw in this song is Ali's voice, he beautifully uses it to tackle the emotional complexities of a relationship. At times it is strong and defiant and other times it is quieter, and seems to strain under the heaviness of whatever true life struggles created those words. And the guitar is a tender conspirator in the song, carrying the heartfelt lyrics gently along.
The rest of the album is filled with strong songs that showcase Ali's talent, from the harmonica that I swear sounds a heart breaking on the album opener, Reno, to the bluesy benediction of Marigny Love Song. What struck me most about the record is all those things that I was talking about in the rambles up in the beginning of this post. In the 10 songs on this album you hear the rawness and honesty of a life wanting to be heard and shared, and in our age of overly produced noise, you don't always get that sincerity. But when you do, it makes you want to stop and listen to the songs, not just hear them in the background, but really listen to them and gleam from all the little bits and pieces of truths, and when you boil life down, isn't that what we all want; to share, and to be heard? (And a harmonica. We should all also want a harmonica).