When Life & Times by IPFW professor John Minton came across my desk I immediately feared the upturned and haughty nose of academia. The artwork was very professional and bore (gasp) a real barcode, and the press kit came complete with a detailed bio sheet and a Life & Times postcard. A postcard? "Surely," I thought as I shared an International Coffee moment with myself, "this is grant money gone horribly awry." My fears were proven to be unfounded by the time the first track soaked into my head. Minton's thin, gentle voice serves as a friendly introduction to his world where scholarly study refuses to interfere with good music, showing why he is so popular at acoustic venues such as Toast & Jam.
With lap steel lending its lonely sound to the uptempo "New Cumberland Parkway Blues," Minton rounds out the song with acoustic guitar and a backhills bass, all played by himself and recorded in a very simple, clean style by Tempel Recording Studios. The song ends with an extended instrumental section where Celtic-influenced guitars play nicely with lap steel to create a sense of longing in the listener. "Black Night Is Falling (Seven Sisters In New Orleans)" and "The Devil Been Busy (Down In Carterville)" are bluesy numbers featuring electric guitar lead lines, light organ, piano accompaniment and backing vocals. Although still sparse, these are probably the most complex tracks, as most rely on only one or two guitars and vocals, effectively capturing the live sound that Minton brings to local venues. Such a song is the traditional "Glory In The Meeting House/Ships Are Sailing," an impressive display of finger-picking prowess that shows little sign of overdubs. As much a poet as a musician, Minton has an amazing ability to tell an entire story with just a few lines. A prime example is "Birdie," where Minton sings a novel of political corruption and the senseless death of "that armless hippie" in only four minutes.
Many of the songs are sweet love confessions that portray a tired but earnest smile, each sprinkled with gentle, healing humor. "Moon Going Down Slow," with light acoustic guitar and a sunny melody, gives the feeling of a relaxed summer day spent with your love. "Some Familiar Heart" takes a dark turn with an ominous and hypnotic melody that sounds like it was recorded in the dead of night by the light of a single sputtering candle. Perhaps the strongest song (and it's difficult to choose) is the endearing "Ivy Lee," whose cathartic melody and lyrics of rejection will draw tears from the very marrow of your bones, all carried by a frail guitar accompaniment.
By drawing from a wide pool of influences Minton has created a unique sound with Life & Times. Although the instrumentation and rhythms are Americana, the melodies and hooks are inspired by classic pop, making these songs enjoyable to all but the heaviest metal head. If you aren't inclined to beg for candy or bang your noggin', stop by Toast & Jam October 31 at 8:30 for the CD release party and hear these haunting melodies for yourself.
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