Music Reviews
10:31 am
Tue February 21, 2012

'Barchords': An Intense, Pensive Album About Love

Originally published on Wed March 14, 2012 9:54 am

The song "I Got You Babe," on Bahamas' new album, Barchords, is obviously not Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe." This version is an original song the Canadian singer-songwriter Afie Jurvanen, who records under the stage name Bahamas, has written about holding and losing someone.

Jurvanen, who has spent the past few years playing guitar in the touring band for fellow Canadian singer Feist, is very good at melancholy regret. He has a sensitive-boy voice that neatly skirts wimpiness, and there's an edge to his yearning. Anyone who can compose the curt couplet, "Looking back/Would you cut me some slack," is a man who knows the difference between sulkiness and defensiveness. On the song "Snowplow," he tests the limits of romantic reverie, slowing the tempo to a pace that does indeed suggest that he's using a snow plow instead of his guitar to push the tune along.

When he gives interviews, Jurvanen drops the Bahamas pose and owns up to influences, citing Willie Nelson, Neil Young, J.J. Cale, and Ry Cooder. One thing all those men have in common is that each has developed his own version of laid-back vocalizing — and guitar playing — that can also communicate an insistent intensity. Indeed, it takes discipline and effort to sing measured thoughts about just how much responsibility a person is willing to take for a dissolved relationship.

As a collection of songs, Barchords is — if you want to resist its charms — almost a parody of a Canadian pop record: polite and pensive to an apologetic fault. But I can't resist its charms. And I sense that Bahamas knows what his strengths are. For proof, listen to the best song on the album, which he logically uses to lead off the album. It's an irresistibly sad ballad called "Lost in the Light", in which his voice and his guitar playing merge with a lush beauty.

Another song on this album is called "Okay, Alright, I'm Alive." This is Bahamas setting the emotional bar comfortably low: the title suggests what he'll settle for in his pursuit of living and loving. But this Bahamas, this Afie Jurvanen, he's a sly guy. He quotes George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun" and Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come" and makes those title sentiments his own: For this melancholy Canadian, the warmth of the sun would indeed be a change, a metaphor for the warmth he'd feel if he could change that woman he's in love with just enough to have her feel for him what he feels for her.

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Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Bahamas is the stage name used by the singer-songwriter-guitarist Afie Jurvanen. He's from Canada, born in Ontario, raised in Toronto, and he put out his first album in 2009. He spent the past few years playing guitar in the touring band for the singer Feist. Bahamas has just released his second album, called "Barchords," and rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I GOT YOU, BABE")

BAHAMAS: (Singing) I sang loud. My voice cut through the crowd as if I that might have something to say. Standing tall I seemed a know-it-all but the only thing I know is that I've never known someone like you. I'm going to figure out how it is that I got you. I got you, babe. I held you and I lost you.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: That's "I Got You Babe." No, obviously not the Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe," the Bahamas version of "I Got You Babe," original song he's written about, as he puts it, holding and losing someone. Bahamas is very good at melancholy regret. He has a sensitive boy voice that neatly skirts wimpiness, and there's an edge to his yearning.

Anyone who can compose the curt couplet "Looking back/Would you cut me some slack," is a man who knows the difference between sulkiness and defensiveness. Sometimes - as on this song, "Snowplow" - he tests the limits of romantic reverie, slowing the tempo to a pace that does indeed suggest that he's using a snowplow instead of his guitar to push the tune along.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SNOWPLOW")

BAHAMAS: (Singing) Here I am back again. And wishing now was then. And I could right all the wrongs instead of writing songs.

TUCKER: When he gives interviews, Afie Jurvanen drops the Bahamas pose and owns up to influences, citing Willie Nelson, Neil Young, J.J. Cale, and Ry Cooder. One thing all those men have in common is that each has developed his own version of laid-back vocalizing - and guitar playing - that can also communicate an insistent intensity. Indeed, it takes discipline and effort to sing measured thoughts about just how much responsibility he's willing to take for a dissolved relationship.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BE MY WITNESS")

BAHAMAS: (Singing) Would you tell me if I caused you pain? Would it shock you, baby, if I said I felt the same? Would you share with me some of your doubt? Would you let me help you if I could help at all? I couldn't give you all that you wanted. I couldn't even give you half of what you wanted if I wanted to. Be my witness...

TUCKER: As a collection of songs, "Barchords" is - if you want to resist its charms - almost a parody of a Canadian pop record: polite and pensive to an apologetic fault. But I can't resist its charms. And I sense that Bahamas knows what his strengths are. For proof, I give you the best song on the album, which he logically uses to lead off the album.

It's an irresistibly sad ballad called "Lost in the Light," in which his voice and his guitar playing merge with a lush beauty.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOST IN THE LIGHT")

BAHAMAS: (Singing) I'm lost in the light. I pray for the night to take me, to take me to. After so many words still nothing's heard. Don't know what we should do. So someone could see me now let them see you.

TUCKER: Another song on this album is called "Okay, Alright, I'm Alive." This is Bahamas setting the emotional bar comfortably low for what he'll settle for in keeping going his pursuit of living and loving. But this Bahamas, this Afie Jurvanen, he's a sly guy. He quotes George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun" and Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come" and makes those title sentiments his own.

For this melancholy Canadian, the warmth of the sun would indeed be a change, a metaphor for the warmth he'd feel if he could change that woman he's in love with just enough to have her feel for him what he feels for her.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed the new Bahamas album, "Barchords." You can download podcasts of our show on our website, freshair.npr.org, and you can find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @nprfreshair. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.