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Feeling Steady In A Wobbly World: Jimmer and Syd’s Shoulder To Cry On

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The greatest songwriters remind us that the world is both bigger than we thought and smaller than we think.

In other words, the possibilities are endless but the results are finite.

You’ll fall in love. You’ll leave home. You’ll miss somebody at night. You’ll ignore your heart and go with your gut. You’ll stay up late wondering what the difference is. You’ll win, you’ll lose and you’ll have the same dilemma. You’ll feel inexplicable, blinding joy. You’ll fumble through friendships. You’ll wreck beautiful things. You’ll rescue someone. You’ll be rescued. And you’ll stare as blankly across graveyards as you do up at sunsets.

Springsteen thought the answer was to get out of the town you were born in while Mellencamp thought the answer was to die there.

But Jimmer Podrasky has always known that whether you choose the Bruce Method or the Mellencamp Theorem, certain things can’t be solved by an exodus or a homecoming.

In other words, leave if you have to, stay if you want, but either way, at one point, you’re going to have to take a long look at your world and figure out what to do with it.

In what can only be described as a dream pairing, Podrasky (The Rave Ups) and Syd Straw have quietly joined forces and together have checked in with one of the most affecting releases of 2018.

After years of silence, Podrasky is in the midst of a career renaissance, and his first two solo albums (The Would-Be Plans and God Like The Sun) have reestablished him as one of the most preeminent songwriters on the planet. Those of us who grew up on listening to “Positively Lost You” and “These Wishes” always knew that, and for the uninitiated, welcome aboard.

Straw, meanwhile, rose to prominence in the late ’80s for her work with the Golden Palominos and her 1989 solo album Surprise was one of the most critically-acclaimed records of that year. Aside from her fabulous oeuvre of solo work, she’s recorded with Grant McLennan, Wilco and Wayne Kramer.

Podrasky and Straw have a rather stunning sonic symmetry and their collaborative effort Shoulder To Cry On is a staggering emotional gut-punch of some of the most lilting and thoughtful music of the year. A largely acoustic offering, this six-song collection finds Podrasky continuing to explore how to live in a world that makes you both weary and joyful. Nobody chronicles that terrain better than Podrasky and this collection furthers the claim that he’s a true American songwriting treasure.

“The Girl Next Door” is a back porch hymn that dispenses with worldly worries and returns to simplicity, riding on the idea that we put too much stock in all the wrong things (“We don’t worry about dying/But we’re afraid of looking old”) and in the process don’t see the beauty that’s staring us straight in the face.

If “The Girl Next Door” takes place on the back porch, what happens in “So Long Blue” all takes place on the front. A heartbreaking meditation about moving on, Podrasky uses the front porch as both a metaphor and a wrenching locus point where loss is illustrated in the rising light of morning as both a fresh start and a bitter end.

Later, “Big Wide River” swings mightily with grace and heart and like the river it suggests, it rolls with a quiet force and an undercurrent that’s as wise at it is philosophical.

Elsewhere, the title track is a hushed winner and the spry “Break Like The Sun” is an acoustic shuffle that’s brimming with a unique and literate brand of optimism.

Podrasky’s songs are familiar and comforting and though he can’t stop the world from wobbling underneath us, like an old friend he can make us feel steady when we need it most.

And that’s pretty much all the time.