David Zweig – Keep Going

David Zweig
Keep Going

As a bit of a singer/songwriter connoisseur, there is nothing I like to hear more than an insightfully written, imaginatively arranged, musically engaging composition. Of course, throughout the history of popular music, there has been no dearth of clever tunesmiths, and one could arguably spend his or her whole life cycling through every Kris Kristofferson, Robyn Hitchcock, and Mason Jennings and never get to touch the bottom of the proverbial barrel. Still, the singer/songwriter archetype seems to be so strong as to discourage most songwriters from breaking through the acoustic guitar-vocals-heart-on-sleeve format of performance, and the John Mayers and Howie Days of the world are far more representative of the current taste in writers of song than is Will Oldham or Stephin Merritt. And while this deficit may not have reached critical mass, the honest listener has only one conclusion to draw: there is a serious paucity of innovation on the singer/songwriter front.
To that extent, songwriters like David Zweig clearly stand out in a sea of imitators and also-rans. The owner of a powerful set of pipes, with an ear for majestic, eternally winding arrangements, no other singer/songwriter working today is so well-versed in the delicate rise and fall of the rock epic. Still, despite his tendency toward the elaborate, one gets the feeling that Zweig occasionally just wants to cut loose and rock out like the less advanced among us. It is possible that a bit too much has been made of the fact that Flaming Lips/Mercury Rev producer Keith Cleversley has a large hand in these recordings, too, as Zweig doesn’t have all that much in common with the psychedelic pop of those bands, but everything to do with the grandiosity and sonic contrast of the less bombastic work of Led Zeppelin. Still, where the aforementioned Lips and Mercury Rev are experimentalists of the whacked-out kind, Zweig is far more contemplative and grounded, far more interested in sifting through the sand on terra firma than in kicking up dust in the cosmos. Keep Going is the document of him, joined by a small cast of contributors, reconciling both halves of his musical persona.
Where his first release found him doing his best to become a symphonic Nick Drake, here Zweig branches out into more hard-edged and earthbound textures, with the gouging electric guitars of the early REM jangle of “Don’t Be Sad” and the punchy, charging hooks of the Matthew Sweet-fronting-Husker Du feel of “Dream.” Even more surprising are the snaking, muscular Hendrix riffs of “Ordinary,” giving Zweig his opportunity to do his best paint-peeling Perry Farrell impression over a decidedly psychedelic groove. Even so, no matter how comfortable he seems branching out into different sonic territory, his true home turf remains the epic.
The defiantly jaded “Cornerstone” offers an interesting counterpoint to the Edge-like guitar twinkle and gloss that imbue the arrangement with a dreamy ether, echoed by the quaintly mocking strings and uneasy melody that underlie the song’s simmering rise and fall. Zweig is the sort of guy whose voice is so strong and pure that it’s hard to expect any malice of him, no matter how disturbed the lyric is, but he comes darn close to evoking genuine subversion. Possibly the definitive Zweig track to date, the title track opens with acoustic guitar picking and plucked fiddle, stopping to flow into hand drums and xylophone, merging into an electric bass line caressed by a chorus of horns that builds momentum to sprint to a finish line that dissolves right before the song cycles back to its beginning. Such complexity, unpredictable yet innately balanced, becomes his most defining trait.
Most amazingly, Zweig retains his creative identity through all these stylistic shifts, never abusing his powerhouse vocals nor layering on the atmospherics so thickly that he gets lost in the mix. In fact, while the confessional and introspective nature of the writing places him in the singer/songwriter category, his musical ambition suggests that he will always be his own creation. For those already tired of this year’s model of acoustic guitar-toting pretty boys, Keep Going should be the perfect antidote.