Ballad on Third Avenue
(Dying Van Gogh)
Ed Hale's outfit Transcendence was the kind of band that allowed ambition and extravagance to find equal footing. Progressive by design, its sumptuous arrangements often overshadowed Hale's skills as a songwriter, which featured some great melodies at the core. Hale seems to have remedied that band's often-obtuse approach with a solo album that focuses more on emotional content and less on instrumental elaboration. The cast of supporting players is terrific (several played in Transcendence), and Hale demonstrates an enviable gift for brooding, introspective melodies that are as quietly compelling as those of Leonard Cohen or Nick Cave. And yes, they're that good.
The fact that Hale still boasts a penchant for grander schemes ought come as no surprise. His own Dying Van Gogh label has given a home to some of South Florida's most talented artists, including multi-instrumentalist Fernando Perdomo, who also co-produced this disc. Hale himself has shifted his base of operations to New York, where he now finds both the aural and visual muse for his music. And despite the vast expanse of these urban environs, songs such as "Scene in San Francisco," "Hello My Dove," "It Feels Too Good," and "New Orleans Dreams" provide an intimate view of life, love and longing from a solitary point of view.
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Other tracks, like "Thoughts of California and "Never Let Me Go Again," seem to drift along in a dreamy haze. Only "I Walk Alone" conjures up the sweep and spectacle of Transcendence, but even so, Hale shuttles the song while lowering his gaze. Still, with all due respect to his former outfit, Ballad on Third Avenue is easily the best record of Hale's still-evolving career. Intimate yet endearing, these songs of the street offer an eloquence all their own.