The first time I ever listened to singer-songwriter John Vanderslice was when I was an intern at Secretly Canadian, the local label that has distributed his last album, “Romanian Names.”
The winter of my junior year was icy and foreign. I craved warmth and familiarity.
Vanderslice, a native Floridian, is probably used to such warmth. I was driving around after work with a fellow intern who played “White Dove” from his 2007 “Emerald City” album. The song was packed with sounds — from his gritty voice to the aggressive guitar strumming — and ideas, and though the subject matter was grim, something about it made the icicles on the trees outside disappear.
I mention all of that to say that it is fitting that the new Vanderslice album is called “White Wilderness.” Apparently, he recorded it with a live orchestra in just a few days. It’s a strangely cold and distant move for an artist who typically toils over his music to create studio perfection.
Vanderslice, whose songwriting is as precise as his vocal and instrumental arrangements, opts to fade to the background, yet the album works well.
“Alemany Gap” maintains a controlled strut and sweetness that harkens back to old school Vanderslice. Choral “ahs” supplement a hummingbird melody. “Convict Lake” swells with improv jazz flourishes to Vanderslice’s modest singing.
The effect reflects the album’s overall feel — a particular detachment that is oddly heartwarming.
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