Bill Scorzari Scores One Of 2019’s Finest Via ‘Now I’m Free’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

This is what this writer said about Bill Scorzari’s 2017 Through These Waves –“…his thoughtful cinematically shaped songs that continue to resonate after repeated listens. Yes, this is a “must hear” for singer-songwriter aficionados.” Most deeply outspoken singer-songwriter critics (and aficionados) would agree that his album was clearly among the year’s best.  To be sure, one needs solitude to appreciate the careful craft and detailed imagery that Scorzari brings. While his lived-in, oft gravelly voice won’t appeal to everyone, it’s the only voice that could carry his incredible songs. And, Scorzari has done it again with Now I’m Free, an album with links to its predecessor and, despite not having quite the audio exquisiteness of hearing a creaking rocking chair and gusts of wind, is damn close. After all, much of the same Nashville crew returns with exceptional production from Neilson Hubbard and contributions from among the best roots players in multi-instrumentalist Will Kimbrough, emerging star Erin Rae, ace fiddler Eamon McLoughlin, and master bassist Michael Rinne, to name a few. A songwriter of Scorzari’s caliber deserves and got the best.

This is Scorzari’s third album, mostly originals centered on contemplation and introspection born of the past three years. On the other hand, there is a surprising blues tune and a couple of others that deviate from his previous effort. Scorzari sometimes narrates his tunes in a whisper and other times in his raw voice that is uniquely his. Heck, Dylan, Waits, Kristofferson, and Sam Baker aren’t blessed with the best voices either but that doesn’t stop us from appreciating their music, and, like those artists, the songs can only be sung by the writer to be fully absorbed. Like them too, Scorzari’s facility with words and poetic flair, instills a calming wisdom and creaks of hope among the dark. Scorzari says this, “During the past three years and beyond, I found myself in a place that demanded prolonged introspection and profound healing to be able to navigate through and journey past. This record is a journal of some of the lessons and discoveries that I’ve encountered along the way.”

With Scorzari, one hangs not just onto every word, but just about every breath (which believe it or not, you can hear.) Strap yourself in. This album runs for 74 minutes and it’s so emotionally devastating that it’s almost too much to take in at once. Allow yourself the time. He begins with “Into the Light of Day,” introduced with his eminently recognizable acoustic guitar picking, colored by McLoughlin’s mournful fiddle and paid off at the end with this lyric –“Then the darkness come to keep me awake all through the night and now I’m risin’ and cryin’ into the light of day.”A similar lyrical perspective is in the title track – “So, I stood there by the waterfall flowing from the bridal veil, with an angel dressed in rags, she said “To hell you ride.” And, to hell we sailed. And, we never did look back. And, she said, ‘Every word I say is true and someday you will see, spending all of our time always tryin’ to breakthrough, leaves us no time to break free, and it’s time to break free.” The tune “Over Again” carries similar sentiments in a country waltz but as good as these songs are, they set the stage for the standout track, “It All Matters,” featuring harmony from Erin Rae and Bill essentially telling us that we need to be more attentive to ourselves in order to heal and be attentive to others.

To realize this album was cut live in the studio, makes one’s jaw drop to hear the 11-minute “Yes, I Will,” recorded in an unrehearsed first take. Here’s just a brief excerpt – “…I can still chase the harder days away with just some paper and a pen, the way the sun will rise and embrace the white moon in its own black skies, and then there’ll be no need to try to make me smile.” The lyrics fill a full page and half in the liners, in an amazing stream of consciousness.

Although most of it is clearly introspective, Scorzari brings a broader soundscape and more variety of tempos than last time. There’s the up-tempo road song “Treat Me Kind,” the swaying groove of “San Miguel County” which brings back the lyric from one of the previous album’s best songs, “shelter from the wind.” “One More Time” is a deeply intimate tune with Kimbrough hitting just the right wrenching piano notes. And, seemingly out of left field, Scorzari delivers a turbo-charged blues, “Steel Wheels” complete with train whistles, rumbling percussion and exceptional harmonica from Greg Krockta. Then he takes a commonly used blues phrase “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone” as the title for an acoustic half-spoken, half sung ode to disappointment – “If you’re not gonna kiss me, you’re gonna miss me when I’m gone.” 

Yet, the essence of Scorzari is with “When Will My Time Come Along,” reminding us to count our incremental victories, with harmony vocal and lap steel from Megan McCormick. In a similar vein is the atmospheric “It’s Just What I Know,” where Scorzari says his lyrics, after a period of struggling, came to him as a gift in an unfettered moment of clarity. Here, as on several others, Juan Solorzano adds tasteful guitar and lap steel. 

”Cypress Tree,” a dirge-like ode to mortality, is much like the former. “Don’t You Ever Go Away From Me” is a beautiful heartfelt ode to the departed, replete with gorgeous lines like – “I ventured out of the house today, I see the sunlight shin’ in the air and the outline of your face, well it’s still there, with that smile in your eyes, shinin’ down of me and lighting up the skies.” And, Mia Rose Lynne adds lovely harmony. He closes with “New Mexico (I to Mine),” another long stream of consciousness rambler, using the long desolate roads of New Mexico and Arizona as metaphors for the time it takes to get past the pain.

There may be a handful of songwriters as good as Scorzari but no one else could deliver these stunning songs. It’s even deeper and every bit as good as his last one. Bigger names will get more recognition but Scorzari’s getting there. He did play the Newport Folk Festival this year. He has my vote for Americana Album of the Year.

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