First, it's a fascinating collaboration. These are all Spencer's songs who, in her short career, has already proven to be a writer of substance and rich emotion. Caplan, with his dramatic, Waitsian deep voice, is well-cast as lead singer on a couple of the songs requiring an older male, and as a duet partner elsewhere. He's also the album's producer, a first for him in that role.
Second, it's tremendous. Spencer has outdone her previous gem, 2020's multiple award-winner Chasing Rabbits, her songwriting even more outstanding. One beauty follows another, no two are alike musically or thematically. She has a wonderful perspective on people, a huge tenderness, and seemingly limitless empathy. Yes, it's sentimental as all get out, filled with old people, old dogs, old teachers, and lovers parting as friends, but the songs will melt the hardest hearts.
Caplan sings "VHS," a widower revisiting his box of tapes, finding the wedding day video. On "Harry," goes wonderfully over the top as a crooner paying tribute to "A good boy, Harry, a real good boy," as he bids him farewell when he enters the nursing home. It's the same character as we met in "VHS," a lovely touch. Spencer takes the mic back for "At Your Service," sung from the perspective of a funeral director, about meeting another widower, and later burying him. It's matter-of-fact in its delivery, just the meeting and the funeral, but it tears at your heart in the best possible way.
Later on, Caplan returns for a couple of duets with classic themes, performed in classic styles. "Maybe" sees two parting lovers debating meeting again, and the perils of such: "A wound is all that deeper when inflicted by a friend." Sung with only Spencer's piano for accompaniment, it could be a missing Rodgers & Hart show tune. "Good Friends" also has that Great American Songbook quality but is a cheerful buddy number, complete with a Dixieland horn middle. This one has a chance to be in the next great Doris Day-Rock Hudson movie.
I suppose both Spencer and Caplan are throwbacks, two songsmiths who strive to get as close to your heartstrings as possible while relishing the craft of it, the performance, the arrangement, and the invention. Funny how it all sounds so fresh and important. I think we'll always need good friends like this.
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