Days I Won’t Forget (Stanley)
Sometimes it depends on what angle you’re looking at the world; sometimes it doesn’t matter at all.
This album’s cover shows what may be dawn, a day of promise ahead, a chance of light and hope; or it could be dusk, the shadows merged into a deflating closing-in-dark, natural light peeking through some windows. The shot on the back of the record could be in those empty hours before the sun, when it’s at its coolest and loneliest, but you know that will end soon; or it’s well into the night that’s been threatening and relief is a long way away, artificial light shot into the sky.
Which option would you take? Which one would Sam Shinazzi? The answer may depend on whether you’ve heard the record first because let me give you a hint: things aren’t going well for many of the people in Days I Won’t Forget. That sun ain’t gonna shine anymore, that moon ain’t gonna rise in the sky.
The album begins with a man arriving home to a house cleared out of (almost) everything, in particular his wife and children, his only solace coming from slipping on Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness On The Edge Of Town. You know, the happy Springsteen album. Is that why she left it and the turntable behind, but (probably, sensibly) took the fridge?
It ends with a man waking with a pain in his head and no memory of what was said, or at least none he wants to recall. And everything is so blue, gone back to blue, like that song on the Lucinda Williams album, Essence. You know, the happy Williams album. Face it buddy, neither the woman nor the fridge are coming back.
Things hurt, they linger and spread in the very bones of these songs. So much so that while songs here are told in retrospect, even those where its characters have prospects can’t be sure that that glimmer will last.
In I Wrote A Book For You (“I wrote down some words for you/I put them in a song or two”), in Kindred Spirits (“You wanted someone to sing pretty words to you/This is something I was born to do”) and in Chatters Café (“Then we’d head to Waterfront/But not to the harbour/But the record store owned by Frank and Steve that changed our lives forever”) music is a route out or a way in. That’s gotta be hopeful, right?
However, there’s just enough melancholy on the edges to put some doubt in your mind. Maybe it’s Shinazzi‘s leaning-into-ache voice contrasting the gentle clip-clop rhythm in I Wrote A Book For You, maybe it’s that note of pleading contradicting the certainty of his declaration in Kindred Spirits, maybe it’s the fact the story of Chatters Café is told in sepia memories – whatever it is, it’s there.
If it’s an album of real tears and metaphorical beers (and, in the Jayhawks-referencing Closing Time, a bottle of Kentucky whisky), Days I Won’t Forget should be by all rights a slow burn country set. Or maybe some intense, four track demo roots rock record. But again, Shinazzi refuses to make it easy to decide, letting your mood or your preference make that call.
Jy-Perry Banks’ pedal steel makes the case in Closing Time, stretching the horizon beneath the twin voices of Shinazzi and Katie Brianna, but the city jangle of Where Everything Starts, counters. The bustling, mid-size bar push of Last Night Bruce Springsteen Saved My Life comes at you firmly, but the weary resignation of Blue So Blue is a late-night saloon where no one is rushing you out.
And if Take Me Away takes up residence on the urban fringe, like a restrained Dingoes playing to both corduroy and denim, and Chatters Café makes you feel like you’ve stumbled into a Perry Keyes gig with a pick-up band in Shepparton instead of Erskineville, I’m Gonna Miss You is all Sunday afternoon in the inner city and you’re filling in time before your Paul Kelly gig tonight.
Take your pick, it’s your story too.
One last thing about those front and back cover images. The way the light plays in both – the haziness of those in-between times, the way no assumptions can be guaranteed, the truth that each of us bring our own baggage to any decision – is all about uncertainty. Like the album. It’s full of songs steeped in reminiscence that is as flawed as the people dependent on them.
A version of this review was first published in Rhythms Magazine.