Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews

Carl Cleves – The House Is Empty – Vitamin Records

Carl Cleves is a real troubadour.

Published on May 28, 2012

Carl Cleves – The House Is Empty – Vitamin Records

Carl Cleves – The House Is Empty – Vitamin Records, 46:03 ****:

(Carl Cleves – guitar, vocals; John Hoffman – flugelhorn; Cye Wood – violin; Michiel Hollanders – banjobass, sandpiper shuffle, resonator guitar, double bass, claude viol, autoharp; baritone guitar,parlour guitar, Spanish guitar, velofoon; Parissa Bouas – backing vocals; Leigh Carriage – backing vocals; Kirk Lorange – slide guitar; Marc Constandse – bandoneon, percussion; Jim Kelle – electric guitar; Steve Russell – fretless bass; Pix Mason – backing vocals)

Carl Cleves has followed an unusual path to a musical career. Born in Belgium, the singer/songwriter migrated to London in the mid-sixties. There he performed in the club scene along with future stars like Paul Simon, Bert Jansch, Al Stewart and C. Frank. Being a bona fide troubadour, Cleves has spent many years traveling the globe (Africa, Middle East, Orient, Pacific Region and South America) and incorporating the diversity of global cultures. He founded The Hottentots with his wife Parissa Bouas in 1991, recording several albums. In 2010, Cleves and Bouas released Out Of Australia on German label Stockfisch Records, produced by Gunter Pauler. The blend of complex, rhythmic structures and travelogue narrative (inspired by his many experiences) garnered critical acclaim.

The House Is Empty, the latest project is an intimate collection of musical sketches. Primarily comprised of voice and guitar with subtle instrumental touches, eleven original compositions and one cover embrace the spirit of this unique singer/songwriter. The opening title track explores the melancholy nature of love (“…If we can’t fly together, let me fly on my own…”). Cleves’ voice is unusual, somewhat like Scottish singer Donovan. Laying down some bluesy folk strumming, he tells a simple tale. The addition of a violin (Cye Wood) and Flugelhorn (John Hoffman) provide suppleness. The final vocal chant with Parissa Bouas and Leigh Carriage is jazzy fun. A weary sense of loss imbues the melancholy “Leaving Byron Bay”. Michael Hollander adds texture on a variety of instruments while Bouas and Carriage engage in an ethereal chorus. Emotional ruminations permeate domesticity on “Lost In Leipzig”. The overall sound has an eerie gypsy quality with unison singing and nuanced play on bandoneon (Marc Constandse) and banjo-bass (Hollander).

Cleves has a distinct feel for traditional folk music.  In “Dear Melanie” sentimental context (almost reminiscent of Irish songs) brings a sense of loss. There are many deeply introspective cuts that are personal. “House Of Sorrow” is effective with mere voice and guitar. The refrain “If my tears were dollar bills, I’d own a castle on the hill” is compelling, but wistful. Cleves takes a somber turn on “Prince Of Darkness”, but seeks redemption (“Who can heal you if you don’t want to heal yourself?”). The final song of the album is a haunting version of Jacques Brel’s “La Chanson Des Vieux Amants”.

Carl Cleves is a real troubadour. His musical narratives encompass the complicated themes of global travel and cultural interaction. For those unfamiliar with this artist, The House Is Empty is a succinct introduction.

TrackList: The House Is Empty; Gone Are The Days; Leaving Byron Bay; Lost In Leipzig; Way Down In The Mines; Dear Melanie; When The Going Gets Tough; House Of Sorrow; Martha Please; Prince Of Darkness; Lesson To me; La Chanson des Vieux Amants

—Robbie Gerson




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