Bob Stark
"Life On A Postcard"
"Love Songs For Bureaucrats"

by Johanna J. Bodde

BOB STARK   "Life On A Postcard"  (Self-Released)

On rare occasions -twice a year or so- a record is enchanting right from the first notes. "Life On A Postcard" managed to have that effect on me. The fifth album by Canadian folk singer-songwriter, actor, poet and writer of short stories Bob Stark. First song "Sorrow In Your Heart" starts off with inventively mixed background vocals and an acoustic guitar, the bass and keys way in the back, only after a while Bob's vocal, together with the percussion, enters the track. The perfect voice to sing folk music, warm and relaxed, somewhere between Bruce Cockburn and John Prine. It's a strong song about the survival and restoration of beauty in each person's heart: "Our tears are turned to morning mist / For the flowers in July". After the fade-out the second track is already there to surprise us, with more female vocals (Christine Duncan and Glenda Rae) wrapping themselves around Bob's voice, a twelve-string and great percussion. "Only a soldier knows / The warmth of morning light". "That's Just The Way It Is" was dedicated to soldiers and their loved ones everywhere.

I could tell about every song separately, this postcard is one of those with twelve different little pictures. The flawless production is done by Michael Friedman, who also plays acoustic guitars. Equal amount of compliments for engineer Tony Chamberlist, also drummer and one of the percussionists on the project. Bob Stark himself plays acoustic guitar, a lot of work -they're on basically every track- is done by Rene Worst (acoustic, electric, fretless bass) and Miles Black (piano, hammond organ), who also handled the horn and string arrangements. The pretty penny whistle of Joseph "Pepe" Danza is real though!
The pictures on the postcard are those of people, telling their stories. Long lost childhood friends, old lovers and everybody getting older, a girl with a mental illness and even Mrs. Dorothy Parker, the writer who once said: "Lips that taste of tears, are the best for kissing." And Bob Stark puts their stories in wonderful words: "Let's go walking Jenny while there's still a little sunlight / Before the harbour ghosts start talking to the sailors under new moon's night." ("Sandboxes And Swings") More ghosts and soldiers in "Me & Mrs. Parker": "Oh it's high noon at the barstools / With the bottles all in line / One last drink to our dead soldiers / Dim the lights and draw the blinds / It's closing time / All our old friends / They're not forgotten / They're shadow dancing on the wall / As the ghost band plays in the corner Auld Lang Syne / Before last call." Ah, this one could have been about me: "I was born in the heat of Summer, right into a hot gypsy sun / I was born a child of wonder, with the gypsies I would run." ("Time And You") Won't forget my habit to name a favorite song, that would be melodious, organ & percussion based "Small Words", about women who showed the courage to leave their small town, being a metaphor for a bad relationship.

Just let this album enchant you too! "And in the morning, there's always one star unwilling to fade..."
Written by Johanna J. Bodde, March 2007.
BOB STARK   "Love Songs For Bureaucrats"   (Self-Released)

Bob Stark currently lives in Vancouver, but was born in Tax Town -"the only graveyard with streetlights"- Ottawa, Ontario. Music during his first schoolyears meant beating away on his brother's snaredrum to the sounds of early rock&roll singles. Once he was a teenager, he grabbed his other brother's ten dollar mailorder catalog guitar and discovered The Beatles, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds and Lovin Spoonful. His own first performance was also during the sixties, on an open stage at an Ottawa coffeehouse. During his long career in folkmusic his performances varied from launching a lobster party in Nova Scotia and opening a general store -standing behind a canoe- to playing on the stage of the National Arts Centre and everything inbetween.

The album before new release "Life On A Postcard" was in 2000 "Love Songs For Bureaucrats". Bob explains the witty title: "It was inspired by Archibald Lampman, a Canadian poet who lived in Sandy Hill, Ottawa, Ontario. Archie worked for the Post Office. When I started working for the CRTC, I lived in Sandy Hill. So Archie is kind of a kindred spirit: a civil servant by day, poet by night. Archie believed himself to be the reincarnation of John Keats. And therein ends the comparison. I believe myself to be the reincarnation of Barney the Bunny." What came first, the artwork (Teresa Waclawik) on the cover or opener on the CD, melodious "Dancers On The Shoreline"?

This album bears a lot of simularities to "Life On A Postcard", the producer is also Michael Friedman, besides him (acoustic and high-strung guitar) and inventive percussionist Joseph "Pepe" Danza, the names of the musicians are different, but they play just as excellent! We found Hugh McMillan (bassguitar) already on Michael Friedman's CD's, while Andre LaChance plays the stand-up bass and Steve Dawson is very good on acoustic & electric guitars plus dobro. The pretty backgroundvocals are called The Duncan Doughnuts here: Christine Duncan, Glenda Rae goes still by the name of Glenda Orton, Michael Friedman, Bob Stark himself (luv that tuba imitation on upbeat "All This Summer Long"!) and Julie Merrick on one track. Some other interesting instruments, the already mentioned dobro, mandolin, cello and accordion are added to successful results, this album -although semi-acoustic too- has indeed a more acoustic, slightly slower, bluesy feel.

Of course there are quite a bit of pearls to be found in the lyrics department! "Love's a silent mystery / it's like a bullet from a gun / you never know it's coming for you / till you see the damage done." ("Too Much To Heart") About going home: "Nobody knows / where the wind dies / and who sees / the colours of time." ("Snow") and more about love in "The Sun Goes 'Round In Circles": "Didn't we fly / across the mountains / like ravens in the night." Long rhythmic "Thin Green Candle" (with the best outro in ages: keys taking over from guitars, shakers and didgeridoo-like sounds) features lots of clever references to various famous musicians and songs. Although the lyrics of "Alice Bell" are simple, the delicious Cajun-flavored arrangement with accordion and mandolin makes up for that! This is my favorite, "Falling Rain": "And I can see your face / on a Southbound train / ain't all goodbyes just borders / you cross in the falling rain", with that wonderful cello "singing" along, wow...

Well, I would just say: Please, check out both albums!
Written by Johanna J. Bodde, March 2007.