The Phantom Tollbooth

Rykodisc 15th Anniversary/Acoustic Cafe Sampler
Artist: Various
Label:  Rykodisc
Length: 11 tracks/47.22 minutes

To celebrate their fifteenth anniversary, Rykodisc have collected eleven tracks recorded on the Acoustic Cafe radio show. Acoustic Cafe purports to be about songwriters who care about their craft. Consequently, we are presented a series of songs captured in a stripped down environment by luminaries like Bruce Cockburn, Kristin Hersh, and Richard Thompson.

When acoustic artists gather together, left-wing politics are often present, and Richard Thompson's "Lotteryland", written from the perspective of a former industrial worker, is no exception. Kristin Hersh's lyrics in "Stained/Shake" are as difficult to decipher as ever, but delivered with her usual world-weary tone. Bruce Cockburn's "The Whole Night Sky" is a fitting selection from what many consider to be his best album in years, The Charity of Night. Even though most of the included artists generally work in an acoustic setting, hearing them play while pared down completely to the basics is an enjoyable experience.

Certainly not all of these artists are operating from a Christian world-view, yet there is plenty to engage our interest because of these artists's distinctive perspectives. Many of the lyrics take some work to decipher and interpret, because the use of imagery and metaphor hide the meanings. If you're anything like me, you'll find that this makes the understanding more enjoyable once it's attained.

Although many of these artists are new to me, after hearing this collection I'm interested in investigating their work further. This anniversary celebration is not only worth a listen, especially for singer/songwriter fans, there isn't a weak song among them.

James Stewart (4/26/99)

Track listing: