erasing clouds

Jerry David DeCicca, Time the Teacher

review by dave heaton

“I moved to the land of the double-wides / guns and God and geckos / side by side”, Jerry David DeCicca sings on “Lazy River”, the third song of his second solo album, Time the Teacher. The song is filled with vivid images describing his entry into rural Texas, after moving from his native state of Ohio. There are images in the song even more tantalizing than those; I particularly like, “The turtles and the tourists swim like brothers”. The song is gorgeous, his voice accompanied by musicians resembling an elegant jazz combo. Towards the end of the song, a horn player solos, his wandering notes perhaps playfully emulating the animal movements and weather patterns observed.

The song is the easiest, or maybe most representative, example to give of DeCicca’s approach on Time the Teacher. I read a quote from him to the effect that it's an album about Texas meant to not sound like a Texas album (or something like that). The songs have a very specific setting; the physical and emotional geography is clearly captured. Even specific places are mentioned – there’s a song named after a state park on the Texas Gulf Coast (“Mustang Valley”), for example.

Yet for a work of ‘Texas music’, it has little to none of the musical touchpoints you might expect. Time the Teacher is the work of an idiosyncratic singer-songwriter with a great love for, knowledge or, and appreciation of other idiosyncratic singer-songwriters working in a rustic American milieu (folk, country, what-have-you). But here he’s supported by a European cast of musicians (including pianist Matthew Bourne), playing something more like sketches of jazz-informed pop. (And not jazz in a cartoonish ‘classy’ way, but with the loose air of more experimental jazz.) And there’s gospel and soul, too, in some of the songs themselves and the effective backing singers that show up here and there to echo his thoughts and observations.

With his band The Black Swans, which he fronted from 2004 to 2012 or so, DeCicca’s songs and singing operated at their own patient pace. That seems even truer here, and his songwriting even more honed for its observational qualities. Those qualities often give the sense of stepping outside the moment, but at the same time Time the Teacher is in constant engagement with the details of the moment, whether that’s encountering an elderly woman with a fresh tattoo, hearing a woodpecker tap-tap-tap or sleeping on a beach.

There’s bittersweet tenderness in even “Watermelon”, a seemingly frivolous song about the titular fruit that’s filled with wonder. There’s wonder throughout the album, but a share of sadness too. Or more often alone-ness. At the same time there are sort-of love songs scattered throughout. The most ingenuous, one of the most interesting songs he’s written, is “Walls of My Heart”. Its premise: a man in a car, waiting at a stop sign, sees some vandals tagging a building with graffiti, imagines stepping inside himself and spray-painting messages of love and anarchy on the healthiest part he can find within his bruised and battered heart.

A lovely way to start 2018, these are songs of learning and growing, summed up by the title track’s hymn to the passing of time as the ultimate teacher. Within that song and the others are years and lives of memories and experiences, beautiful and bruising, yet also the surprise of finding yourself in a more comfortable place in life than you expected.


this month's issue
about erasing clouds

Copyright (c) 2018 erasing clouds