by Craig Howieson
On his new EP, When a Man Loves an Omen, Judson Claiborne lays waste to idols while coming to some stark realisations
From the opening roll of acoustic guitar on Twenty Dollar Quartet, track one of the new EP, When a Man Loves an Omen, you are immediately in comforting territory. There is a deeply held familiarity in the vintage vocal harmonies and delicate piano outro – like opening a cluttered drawer you haven’t looked in for a while, only for a forgotten item to catch your eye and capture you back to a time you thought had been lost.
In fact, the country-infused Americana of Judson Claiborne – the moniker of Chicago’s Christopher Salveter – is so authentic that his startlingly direct lyrics cut all the closer. Twenty Dollar Quartet is the perfect case in point – an illuminating re-evaluation of the esteem in which heroes such as Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis are held despite their misgivings; it is a clever trick to work within the medium to subvert the preconceived notions of the genres biggest stars.
On Conditionals, the EP’s lightest and sweetest moment, through the calming hue of a sun going down, Salveter immediately wrong-foots the listener with the opening line, ’So many people I meet / So many things I see / Make me want to have a vasectomy.’ Again, marrying his mesmerising country arrangements with arresting, conversational lyrics, Salveter maintains his unique selling point. It also speaks highly of his musicality that the entirely instrumental, Alive In Time, stands as one of the EP’s strongest tracks. A haunted piano ballad whose melody torrents and recedes over whispered percussion, it manages to evoke shades of fear, hope and the nervous anxiety of knotted stomachs during its brief run time.
When a Man Loves an Omen contains enough variance within it to point at a number of future avenues for Judson Claiborne. But one can’t help hope that the thread that weaves through the final track, The Trimmergrant, is one that continues to be unravelled. A little darker than the rest of the EP, its story led lyrics pull you down into the tangled weeds of its narrative. The tenderness of the vocal line drawn along by double bass feels like scratching the surface of a chasm filled with ghosts and echoes; a place you are drawn to without being sure if you want to stay. Salveter’s masterstroke is in making you want to stick around long enough to find out.
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