Bitter Ballads & Cynical Prayers
Bitter Ballads & Cynical Prayers is the debut from Nashville-based singer-songwriter Chris Moyse. Before you quickly dismiss this out of hand because you’re not inclined to listen to a depressing singer-songwriter in this period of self-quarantine, go ahead and proceed because, despite the tone of title, there is hope in plenty of his songs. With the presence of seven musicians/singers in the credits, the album alternates between a stripped-down and lush sound but is usually the former, understandable because Moyse is ostensibly a folk singer.
Moyse won the New Folk songwriting competition in 2017 but hit the proverbial writer’s block wall before composing these ten songs, which he calls his most personal yet. There’s a good deal of nostalgia, certainly in “Pueblo Dust,” which he describes this way, “It’s a road trip song and a kind of love letter to a friend. And the first song in history about a pretty girl in a vintage car, right? It’s also a jinx — the 1980 El Camino died a few months later. But I still got the memory and this song.”
Others like “Time’s Gonna Tell” and “Dancing Round a Fire” depict one moving on from a breakup with a sense of hope. These, along with “Live Till We Die,” seem destined for the most airplay. The latter could become a cry for our current times as his fictional character wrestles with issues but refuses to succumb. “Hurricane Blues” will resonate with his Nashville community recovering from the recent tornado.
Throughout one gets the sense that Moyse is finding his own identity in these songs, best evidenced by the intimate “I’m Not Your Man” with these lyrics – “I belong to the highway/I belong to these strings/I belong where the wild wind blows/I belong to the song I sing.” “Magician’s Song” has a carefree, upbeat quality punctuated with Adam Hayes’ fiddle while “Maria” closes the album with an upbeat feel and a lush backing of B3 and harmony vocals.
Producer Shawn Byrne has worked with both Mark Knopfler and Mary Gauthier, another testament to Moyse’s rising talent and promising future. Sure, much of this is pensive but it’s an honest look forward, perfectly in step with most of us right now.
- Jim Hynes