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In the Middle of It
Artist: Waterdeep
Label: independent
Times: 14 tracks/52:20 minutes

Don and Lori Chaffer are back as Waterdeep, this time with what they call a field guide (that's only for the liner notes and a snippet from one song--go check out both from their website!). I liken their latest offering as a quirky tossed salad chock full of the ingredients of life. There's plenty of stuff I like such as onions and peppers, but sometimes I've found they've left out a lot of the lettuce! Mixed up well, these contents include a lullaby to a crying child . . . to children of all ages who yell "We're not gonna!" . . . to the teenager grabbing his Walkman to squelch Mom and Dad's yelling . . .  to the nun and the rock star who get married . . . to the crotchety old man with tools in the garage and shotguns in the closet. Whew! And smack dab In the Middle of It, there's the happy-go-lucky title track. Waterdeep's latest creation is a natural follow-up to Pink and Blue, as Don and Lori note the inspirations for In the Middle of It are their four-year-old and six-year-old children.

The first time I listened to the album, I thought it was disjointed and wondered if it would "grow" on me. After several listenings, I realize the songs' ingredients are unusual but quite fitting for Waterdeep, as (perhaps almost one tock up from Pink and Blue), this seems to be the most fun they've had since Everyone's Beautiful. A cursory listen reveals a song sequence curve beginning with an easy flow, moving to three rockers in the middle and back to a perhaps introspective feeling to the climax (title track) and denouement of the album. Musically, the flow of In the Middle of It will indeed grow, as I suspect very much so for anyone who is familiar with Waterdeep.

The makeup of some of the individual songs have me grunting a bit at my Walkman. "URGH! just a little more, and this would be so perfect!" I want more from some of these songs;  "Happen Every Time," "Difference Between, and "Only One Time" seem to be almost unfinished, as all three leave me with thinking "Huh? What happened? Where'd the song go?" Similarly, "Falling," which steps up in two levels for over two minutes (a casual listener will ask "C'mon, what's the deal?") before reaching a very satisfying rollicking pinnacle, the chorus. The last three tracks (denouement) sound like the pace is ready to wind down for the night, clearly with the sour-sweet lullaby, "Easy Baby." Some of the more mellow tracks remind me of the Beach Boys' Smiley Smile or Wild Honey era, perhaps underwhelming but beautifully befitting aterdeep. "Only One Time" has Don's gorgeous guitar-piano combination that sounds like water lapping against the sinking steamboat. The musical imagery works well here!

And yes, Waterdeep has included more sonically interesting and intriguing moments that are ear-openers. Highlights include shouting background vocals in several songs, as well as synthesized sounds included sparsely yet effectively ("Needs a Break" and "Happen Every Time"). The first time I heard Lori's child-adult rollicking "We're Not Gonna," the "hoo!" vocals in the background made me jump from my Walkman to see where the dogs are that were barking at me! The strings on "Tools in the Garage" are a nice touch. And I would absolutely love to drop "Haven't You Always" into a college radio  station playlist with no explanation; this one is a borderline-cute straight-ahead pop-rocker with the bridge featuring a string quartet backed by sound effects of explosions and sirens.

I haven't used the word "fun" yet. The most important ingredient of this wild tossed salad of life is that it is clear that Don and Lori have had fun--even in the ups and downs of life--in this project. The listener who has never heard Waterdeep before would have a feast with the center of the album--"Needs a Break," "Tools in the Garage," "Gimme My Walkman," and "We're Not Gonna."

Why is Waterdeep fun? From the title track: "I'm in the middle of it / I got everything I wanted, and I really love it / If you could die from happy, baby, I'd be a goner." I envision a picture of "The Laughing Christ" from this lyric.

The more I listen to In the Middle of It, I realize that Don and Lori, as Waterdeep, have been doing this neat and unique work for many years, and I really expect a Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band from them. They're just this close! A nip and a tuck here and some spit-polish there, and that's in order for Waterdeep. Watch this band!

Finally, chances are the listener will find an ingredient of In the Middle of It that will be incredibly fitting for his or her life. For example, yes, instead of an iPod, I have a Walkman, and using it to listen to In the Middle of It was (and will be) a nice escape from the loud world of my downtown work environment That's an anthem for me, and it won't be the last, I suspect, from Waterdeep. Again, keep watching!

(Extra points department: Waterdeep includes exclusive-with-lots-of-extras versions of their latest projects from their website. As with any good music website, please sample the music from this project. This is a must for Waterdeep fans.)

Olin Jenkins  

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