One aspect of the digital music download format, at least where Amazon and iTunes are involved is tying “like,” or seemingly similar artists together. I can see the benefit from a marketing perspective, but unfortunately it does not give unique artist their due. Like any label or Hollywood pitch, it is always reduced to a cliché of Die Hard meets The Hours, at least if the pitch is a revisionist narrative featuring Virginia Woolf as village-green-superhero—,but of course that title belongs to Miss. Marple.
So, while not to reduce, or even compare, Mr. Vanderslice’s work to other artists, he does however owe something to the school of songwriting that Bob Dylan and The Beatles pioneered: that of the opaque lyricist. The success of this school is the freedom it provides the listener. By waltzing around the theme (or choose any other dance) in the end the opaque lyric does not play its hand, it simply folds and leaves the listener with work to do. Nobody knew who the Walrus was, or what it might imply, anymore than one can derive concrete meaning from Mr. Dylan’s image of “jewels and binoculars hang[ing] from the head of the mule” in Visions of Johanna. Understanding it is not entirely the point; getting it is.
This songwriting does not come without its risks. Intelligent songwriting such as this requires conjuring images that resonate. Mr. Vanderslice does this extremely well, never hitting his subject directly; he creates poetry that conjures images and associations—a semiotic method of songwriting that pulls multiple triggers. The songs feel experienced and well traveled.
Mr. Vanderslice is not Bob Dylan or The Beatles, or even Brian Wilson. He does not,lyrically or sonically, confined himself to the usual rock or even pop restrictions that many artists cannot escape, and by doing so has accomplished what many artist can only envy.