This re-issued debut comes off as a devoted fan’s tribute album to his heroes.
Chris Lo 2009-11-20
While most songwriters wear their influences on their sleeves to some extent, Pete Molinari may as well have them tattooed across his forehead and etched indelibly on to his guitar’s fretboard. Chatham might be his place of origin, but it’s clear that American folk and blues (Dylan and Hank Williams first and foremost) have played the greatest part in shaping him.
Molinari spent the early part of his career trawling around the East Coast, playing at blues bars and cafes, absorbing the atmosphere of famous haunts like the Bitter End and the Gaslight Cafe. He’s since garnered acclaim with his 2008 album A Virtual Landslide, and label Damaged Goods has taken the opportunity to acquaint listeners with Molinari’s debut, Walking Off The Map, which went largely unnoticed upon its original release in 2006.
The album was recorded on half-track in the kitchen of Chatham-based polymath Billy Childish, giving the album a scratchy, intimate quality that evokes an improvised living room set. Love Lies Bleeding’s clean, skipping guitar lines are reminiscent of Nick Drake’s charismatic brand of pastoral melancholia. It’s a well-rounded set of tear-streaked ballads and rootless road songs, the Childish-penned title track being a particular stand-out.
Yet there’s an inescapable sensation that, at least at this point of Molinari’s career, the singer was enslaved as much as he was inspired by his influences. A Virtual Landslide saw Molinari take some self-assured steps towards finding his own voice, but there’s precious little confidence on display here. Many of his lyrics demonstrate a slavish devotion to stock genre convention – “Well I know it’s not right, this cold lonely night / So I say to myself, be true,” he opens on Indescribably Blue, and it’s hard not to feel that the sentiment has been expressed extensively over the last 40 years, and better. At its most faltering, the album comes off as a devoted fan’s tribute to his heroes – warm and sincere, but with nothing remotely new to say.
Here’s hoping that album number three sees Molinari manage to complete the process of stepping out of Bob Dylan’s weather-worn boots and in to his own.