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Ballad on Third Avenue
Artist:  Ed Hale
Label:  Dying Van Gogh / Transcendent
Time:  11 Tracks / 52 mins
Very different from the Britpop/alt-rock of his ‘day job’ band Transcendence, this latest solo release is a softer affair, very much in singer-songwriter vein. Hale himself compares the sound to Belle and Sebastian or David Gray, and joins others in seeing a hint of Simon and Garfunkel (particularly on “It Feels Too Good”).
After the first few songs, I wondered whether this was a concept album on post-girlfriend misery. The first track is addressed to someone who left him in San Francisco; the title track is a plea to re-start the relationship; “It Feels too Good” starts with the line “She’s run away;” and the current single “I Walk Alone” makes his status pretty clear:

           “I walk alone for now and forever
            I walk alone for worse or for better... without you
I had wondered whether the song was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, with its extreme reaction to losing his love, but it turns out that this track was based on lyrics written by a friend when he was only fourteen. Mystery solved then.
Ballad on Third Avenue is easy to enjoy, carried by some effortless tunes. “I Walk Alone” is the most obvious pick for a single, with its timeless, almost Burt Bacharach feel, but several others are pretty close. The first five all work together to give the disc a strong presence. While it loses a bit halfway through, it ends richly with the longest track, “Never Let Me Go Again,” a dreamy piece that never outstays its welcome. On the way, the elegant “New Orleans Dreams” adds to his collection of classic-sounding works. The only poor track for me is the pub-singer vocals of “Everywhere She is There,” which just gets plain unpleasant.
Everything is set up to support Hale’s voice. The instrumentation – which includes mellotron, cello, and piano – is “exclusively acoustic” – although that depends on your definition of acoustic, given the keyboards that fill in the background very tastefully at times. Sparse and mixed quite low, it never swamps his words, but adds hues. I enjoyed the subtle touch later in the title track, where the last words of each line are gently underscored with a vocoder effect. Across the disc, Hale uses a world-weary, almost drunken vocal style, as if the loss of love has put him in a mood to not bother with anything.
The words are worth bringing to the forefront, as Hale is handy with his lyrics. I particularly liked the tongue-in-cheek rhyme of ‘museum’ with ‘carpe diem,’ but most of the time he is too busy being argumentative or frustrated to be funny. These confessional songs are full of vulnerability, like you’re overhearing conversations that were never meant to be made public.
While this is not an essential disc for your desert island, it has at least seven songs that earn their place easily, and several of these are pretty strong. You never feel that this is a disc that is wasting your time or electricity; rather, it is one to enjoy – unless you have just split with someone you love!
Derek Walker


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