Catholics conclude their mass by saying "Go in peace." It's less a commandment than a benediction, that wherever you may walk in the coming week, that it be peaceful. That is not to say that nothing distressing will happen. Life has a way of happening, throwing us screwballs. We probably wouldn't need comforting benedictions, if it didn't. But peace is an elusive thing, not a destination so much as a way of looking at things. You can maintain peace through anything, if you look at things the right way.
In Peace is the third record from French singer/songwriter Alex Shelter. Shelter is currently based out of Paris, although much of In Peace was written and conceived in California, between San Fransisco and Los Angeles. Much of the material on In Peace deals with this trans-Atlantic odyssey.
In Peace begins with the crunchy, downtrodden piano dirge "I Want To Live Where The Ocean Meets The Sun," which we can take to mean California. Shelter looks up to San Fransisco, inspired by its music and its idealized state. He would follow this vision to travel thousands of miles, to follow his muse, in service of his creativity.
That's not to say the voyage was all pleasant sunshine daydreams; pilgrimages seldom are. Both "I'm A Fool" and "Sorrow" seem to detail a somewhat damaged relationship, although they could be looked at as the rise and fall of that relationship. "Is it love or is it lust," he wonders in a Serge Gainsbourg croon on "I'm A Fool." By "Sorrow", he's whispering, "Sorrow/You're Killing Me," over a brooding flamenco guitar and crestfallen cellos, which says a lot about how impromptu hookup decisions tend to work out.
But there is a loveliness, a soothing mellowness, to both sides of the fall - the romance and the tragedy. Alex Shelter takes benediction from his creativity, transforming the gravel of experience into diamond necklaces. That's the kind of peace that is possible, when you follow your vision to the end of the Earth.
In Peace was recorded in Kingston, NY with longtime engineer/producer Malcolm Burn's personal studio, La Meison Bleue. Burns collaborated with Daniel Lanois on the Bob Dylan album Oh Mercy, and Emmylou Harris on Wrecking Ball, as well as self-producing Iggy Pop's American Caesar and Patti Smith's Gone Again; an impressive pedigree of country royalty and weathered experimentalists. You can really hear the influence in the strings, the twinkling honky tonk piano, and close vocal harmonies that surround Shelter's skeleton of vocals and acoustic guitar, giving it a real Sam Cooke classic Motown vibe, to sparkling results. Here is an example of producer and musician working in twin-headed tandem, to produce something innovative and new, much like Eno's work with the Talking Heads or James.
I didn't have to check the fact sheet to discern an appreciation for Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits, in the vocals of Alex Shelter. He has the same warm, smoky rasp in his throat, which is given even more charm with a slight French lilt. One of the finest things I can say for In Peace is, at moments it could be an outtake from Cohen's Various Positions, although given a much needed remastering job, shaving the brittle edges off of the synth banjos and background chorus. There are no rough edges to In Peace, it maintains a warm, swaying swagger, whether detailing tears or tea.
This one really grew on me. I ended up listening to it over and over, getting more and more attached to Shelter's heartfelt tales of rootlessness and wandering wonder. I've had the experience of running away to California to find myself (several times, actually); it's a very singular one. Of feeling like an alien, like the world is drifting past you like the clouds. Everything is insanely detailed, and a complete blur, all at the same time.
Thankfully, Alex Shelter had his notebook and guitar, and a musical vocabulary to translate this state into this collection of folk-tinged, motown soul.
For fans of Leonard Cohen, Serge Gainsbourg, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding
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