Joe Anderl – Purple Hearts and the Typesetter

Joe Anderl
Purple Hearts and the Typesetter

There are some actors who never convince me of their film characters. I only ever see them playing their parts, never fully invested in their roles. I won’t mention any names, because I know how litigious Tom Cruise can be. But I get the same feeling from Joe Anderl’s Purple Hearts and the Typesetter. The music is professionally done, and it shows that he and his friends can whip together a tune pretty easily. It incorporates a range of instrumentation, too – banjo and organ in addition to the usually guitar, drums, and bass – and Anderl himself can definitely carry a tune. So what seems to be the problem here?

My main gripe with this release has to be the lyrics and their delivery. The second song, “Yet I Burn,” will illustrate my point: “I burn for you,” “We’re all dying inside / We’re all just trying to get by,” “So I just hold on for another day,” and “I just stuck by your side.” Plus he uses the word “unconceivable,” which just sounds wrong compared to the more commonplace “inconceivable.” I’m not trying to nitpick, but I just can’t help cringing at some of the lyrics. “Take a good look around / Your good friend will never let you down,” goes the song “Take a Good Look Around.” Is this Anderl keeping things simple and familiar, or is it just that he doesn’t have a whole lot to say? I fear the worst.

Hearing Anderl sing these words gives you the impression of an actor trying so hard to play the part that his effort – not his character – is what you remember most. He seems to be over-emoting instead of just being. It rings a little hollow on the slow numbers; he seems to think that ballads require him to put on his heartache voice instead of just feeling the heartache and letting the vocals sort themselves out.

Much of the music is mid-tempo, country/folk-tinged ballad or lament material. A glaring exception, however, is the opening cut “Yellow Blue Sunshine.” It’s a rock song, radio-ready and bracing (at least compared to most of the album). “I Can’t Fall” continues in the same vein, with its stiff backbeat and rousing guitar. But can you overlook lyrics like “No one’s there / To catch me when I fall / No one’s there / To shelter you from it all” when the vocals have been mixed to be so loud?

There’s not too much on Purple Hearts and the Typesetter that will challenge or surprise you. It feels shopworn and, lyrically, pretty hackneyed. But it’s not without promise musically. Maybe the next album will play more to these musicians’ strengths without the distraction of a songwriter relying on clichés and faux drama.