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Various Artists: Songs From a Charmed City


Various Artists: Songs From a Charmed City

Label:Baltimore Songwriters Association
Format:Album
Media:CD
Release Date:2008
Genre:Recording

By Al Shipley | Posted 3/19/2008

An album from a self-identified songwriters organization comes with an implicit caveat: It's about the songs first and foremost, not the way they're performed and recorded. But since it's probably unfeasible to issue sheet music to maintain the purity of this art, the Baltimore Songwriters Association made a CD to celebrate its 10th year in existence. And that caveat can at least come in handy as an excuse when the tunes, as they're heard here, fall flat--which, unfortunately, they often do.

Only three tracks on Songs From a Charmed City are credited to bands, with the remainder of the 20 songs played by their authors, often solo or with minimal accompaniment. And though some of the contributors derive their songwriting styles from folk or blues traditions, the compilation recalls nothing so much as jangly '80s college radio. Baltimore only gets one mention, fittingly, in Baltimore Songwriters Association founder Paul Iwancio's amusing "Open Heart Story," while the broader topic of life in America gets more airtime in Jon Seay's preachy "Think Third World," Karyn Oliver's "America," and the Second Wind Bandits' patriotic Marine anthem "Ooh Rah."

Claudia SanSoucie's "The Enemy" is arguably the album's most striking moment, with its stark voice-and-guitar arrangement and a haunting, slightly twangy vocal reminiscent of Emmylou Harris. Randall Williams fosters a campfire atmosphere with a live performance of the sentimental story song "I Will Come for You," and though it veers into the saccharine, it's effective. But more often than not, the recordings are dry and demo-quality, without a deliberately rough-around-the-edges feel that would suit the low fidelity. It's encouraging to know that there's a teeming community of songwriting traditionalists in Baltimore, but based on the wares showcased on Songs From a Charmed City, perhaps not all of these songwriters are the best possible performers to do their compositions justice.

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