Ron Dalton: Half
Given to referring to his songs as children (Every song is a precious child, some are tender, slow or sad, others strong, fast or wild; I have raised them from a fathers dream), it is fitting perhaps that Ron's new CD was entirely home-birthed. I have recorded this in my living room without any harmonies, bass, or drums, he writes in his liner notes. Just me and my guitar playing these songs as they were originally written. So it’s a pared-down, like-live recording, and it serves Dalton well, because his voice is extraordinarily sweet, expressive and strong but primarily because he pens wonderful songs.
Half, the title track, may demonstrate some of the wittiest and most touching wordplay we will hear this year.
A couple is splitting, literally and figuratively, and the singer gets half the bottles of Tylenol, half the Paul Simons (you can have the Barry Manilows, just let me keep the Eric Clapton) and here’s the clincher chorus: “Half the time we’re trying to get even, Half the time we’re trying to let go.” So much is said here in simple images and metaphors: “She gets tape one of Titanic, I’m going down with the ship.” No wasted images, no over-explanation; this is superb songwriting.
The other fine songs in this set range in their subject matter from mistreated refugees (Empathy walks on a trail of tears.”) to the gently sad portrait of a woman in an empty relationship who seeks meaning and solace in a romance novel to a lullaby filled with encouragement. The ninth song, “Artist Set of Tools,” returns to Ron’s fascination with his experience of the artistic process. The song’s apt metaphors carried it to a second place award in the songwriters’ contest in last year’s Tumbleweed Music Festival.
Any criticisms? Understand that we’re talking about a remarkable piece of work here. That said, I’d like a bit more clarity and depth in the sound of the guitar. I’d also point out that Ron’s melodies and voice reach for sustained notes as easily as some of us reach for a beer, and an overabundance of sustains may lose their subtlety (as I do after too many beers). In other words, Ron’s vocal strengths need not be tested as much by songs that, as an example, give such sustained weight to a relatively light-weight word like outside. Lastly, I think that many who join the home-recorded club may want to allow themselves a harmony vocal here and there and even a second guitar track in order to create a bigger variety of textures for their songs.
Ron is, I believe, showing the way here. Superb songs, a warm and extraordinary voice, all placed kindly at our feet with great sensitivity and vulnerability. Get this one! (Bill Fisher)