*I supported this album in its Kickstarter early days. I am biased. This review is biased. But is true.
There are some voices that are forever recognizable once you hear them. Not only in their tone, but in their uniqueness. Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Hootie and the Blowfish, Louie Armstrong; the genre doesn’t matter, the voice is just, well, the voice. PW Gopal is one of those voices for me. At his concerts he always stood a couple feet away from the mic; heck, he doesn’t really need the mic. His clear tenor booms and begs you to listen. Come closer, it says, I have a story to tell you. Big Blue Life is an album of those stories.
PW released Big Blue Life at the beginning of September, a product of 11 years of travels, stories and people. He describes himself as a “Singer, Songwriter, Abolitionist” and it is in that context that you need to listen to his music. The stories aren’t cranked out from some imaginary life; they come from a life rich in experience. The album feels more country than anything he has released before with fiddle and slide guitar cropping up often but without any twang in his voice, it defies the typical genre. His voice is too strong, too clear for it to feel the rusty Neu-Folk of the stomp-clap variety. But it is that voice that beckons.
One of the beautiful things about Big Blue Life is that often lighter music disguises heavier lyrics and when the music allows itself to sit in the melancholy, the melancholy is tinged with hope. The opening two, “A Hard Life” and “Change My Stars”, are great examples of this, singing “its a hard life to be along for our sins” and “you found the liars, you found the thieves, in my skin and my bones, it looks like me.” “Change My Stars” touches on the continual theme throughout the album of redemption. “In love you came, in love you are, Hallelujah you changed my stars.” Often the album plays like a love letter to God, to his wife, and to life. Rather than coming across as sappy and disingenuous, it feels as if it comes out of experience.
The stories that crop up deal with heavy topics like infidelity, doubt, loss and pain. “Fall to Pieces” was reminscent of an earlier song by PW, “Still Voices”, and the need for redemption in it feels universal. It seemed to say that we often need to break before we can begin healing. Much like an Over the Rhine lyric that says “you have to hit the bottom before you get set free,” Gopals songs encourage that when we are at the bottom, “sometimes you will feel like you are alone in the dark places, don’t cry…I will sing for you in the dark places.” One of the strongest songs on the album is “Fifteen.” Ambiguous in subject matter, it is a song that I can feel in my soul. When he sings “God bless my freedom, God bless my wife, God bless my family and those who stand the line,” I feel the pain in those words and the honesty. Again, rather than a country song that feels commercial about ‘Merica, it feels as if I am talking to a friend who came to those conclusions, Job-like, after loss.
From that place Gopal moves to joy. The title track seemed like a benediction of sorts to go and live and move. It stems from Gopals own words “a reflection of God’s grace and glory. What He offers me, and those around me is a life, big and blue as the sky, unlimited and boasting of His presence.” Rather than feeling like being preached at, it feels like being shared with. The following tracks felt joyful, probably also influenced by his wife as “she came out of nowhere and whispered love.” The result is that “I am stuck on you my life, the good life shines from you, my sweet love. You keep me breathing…til the dawn.” It is a beautiful ode to both his wife and to the life that he has been given. Fittingly, he ties the album with stripped down version of the hymn “It Is Well” that speaks of peace in the midst of storms.
PW Gopal is a storyteller and his stories are worth hearing. Check out his music at pwgopal.com or find him on Facebook at PW Gopal Music. You can also download a sample on NoiseTrade by clicking HERE.
*I first met PW Gopal a little over a decade ago. I knew who he was because vaguely we had some family connection and he was friends with siblings of mine. I, being the music nerd that I am, stuck around after a coffee shop concert to congratulate him on a great show. After 10 minutes of talking, he got my address and said he had a sermon that he thought I really might like. A week later I got a CD in the mail of this sermon. He is that kind of guy, caring enough to send a CD to a kid he just met at a concert. His songs speak from that place of love, listening and telling stories. 12 years later, I am glad I am still having his voice speak to me.