James McCandless
We Had A Big Backyard
St. Christopher Records ST1OO2

A few years ago, a friend sent me a tape she had recorded off the radio in Wisconsin that included a song called "Faultline," a song of disasters from the Titanic to the nuke meltdown, all considered impossible. After I tracked it down, James McCandless' first, LP became one of my year's favorites

While there is no song on Backyard that rattles the bones like that song, the overall effect of the new LP is far stronger, far more assured and just plain better. McCandless is unavoidably compared to John Prine, as he has the same twang in his voice and a similar ability to take the simples events and make them seem monumental and close to the heart at the same time. And his characters are far more three dimensional than most songwriters, as in the "Neighborhood Boy" who's not "a quiet boy... not a choirboy" lives a life of Lucky Strikes,

marine camp and a steady job, a tough but good guy like the kind every working class looks to with a mixture of love and disdain.

My favorites Probably "Black Silk Hat," a simple little ditty about a friend's new chapeau, and how it changed his life, what with winning elections, swimming to London and wowing the ladies, claiming Red China and eventually driving "up to Heaven in Cadillac." The other is the title cut, an ode to working class suburbia and its yards "big enough for three tents filIed with kids, ...big enough for the grownups to drink beer and play cards, for some hearts to get bruised, for some to fall in Iove." There is also 'a swell ragtime tune 'about St Francis; who "smoked little panatellas when he took his coffee break from the birds," called "This Must Be Paradise."

Overall, Backyard is a sardonic, but loving look at hometown America and its odd little family of characters and heroes. They should dare to make this the new soundtrack for "Wonder, years."

-- Cliff Furnald
(New Haven, CT)
Dirty Linen