Although he has lived in Buenos Aires since 2000, folk artist Richard Shindell still qualifies as one of America's most compelling musical voices, owing to the unique, issue-tackling wit and unconventional lyrical character that fill his songs. The New Jersey native's fifth studio album, "Vuelta," offers an impressive assortment of vivid portraits, tunes that entrance with their supple acoustic flows just as surely as they bite into elements of modern sociopolitical debate.
The restrained quality of Shindell's baritone and the graceful way he uses it are well-suited to the subtle politicking behind the breathy story ballad "Che Guevara T-Shirt," which is equal parts love song and denunciation of the murky boundaries of the Patriot Act. His intent is obvious when he barks a warning about marching into a quagmire on a cover of Pete Seeger's "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," but he more typically makes listeners dig a bit for meaning, as with his ruminations on privileged living in "The Island."
Optimism is plentiful even when the going is difficult, whether he shifts from common despair to the sweet uplift in "So Says the Whippoorwill" or champions faith while contrasting loss and new life in "The Last Fare of the Day." He unearths profound meaning in human experience, embracing comforting constants in "Hazel's House" by way of reminding listeners of the everyday delights in their own lives.
by THOMAS KINTNER, Hartford Courant