Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Zachary Cale co-runs All Hands Electric, an artists’ collective and record label set up with friends in 2008. He plays guitar and sings with local indie band Illuminations who produce a tumultuous REM/Big Star-like sound, and his musical CV also boasts a number of interesting side-projects. Cale has developed this support for local artists alongside his own career, with work set firmly in the new-folk genre with both traditional and modern influences. His most recent album Noise Of Welcome was released earlier this year, the follow-up to 2008′s Walking Papers which invited comparisons with artists like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. In this one Cale has broadened his overall sound, bringing in a band of assembled musicians, but the songs are still set to beautifully delicate guitar phrasing and open-tuning harmonics characteristic of folk guitar heroes like John Fahey and Bert Jansch: making Zachary Cale a modern-day troubadour.
Noise Of Welcome is full of shimmering folk-pop produced with his Illuminations bandmates Ryan Johnson on drums and Phil Glauberzon on keyboards and extra guitars, but guests also include noted musicians like Chris Brokaw, Charles Speer and Anni Rossi, all helping to create a breadth of music which reflects the songwriter’s abilities. The themes of love and loss explored in Cale’s earlier work are still here, but the vocals and music are warmer and the singer sounds more confident on uptempo numbers like ‘Day For Night’: like classic Dylan ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ or songs of that era, light and summery. The painfully honest reflection of tracks like ‘Hello Oblivion’ are slightly cushioned by its dreampop musical backing, while the lyrical themes found on ‘We Had Our Day In The Sun’ see the singer trying to move on from the past rather than getting stuck in it. Even Cale’s reedy Dylan-like vocals are more light-hearted, coming across in places more like Steve Harley or an early Marc Bolan.
The album is sprinkled with some nice instrumental vignettes. The field recordings and Peter Green-’Albatros’-like guitar atmospherics of the Fahey-esque ‘Nocturne In G Minor’ are set against his characteristic acoustic finger picking. The song – the album’s centrepiece – has a film soundtrack-like quality to it. Additionally, ‘Dancing Devil Rag’ is a neat little ragtime interlude, like Bert Jansch’s ‘Angie’ but set in a slower dream-like ambience. Although there’s no album filler on Noise Of Welcome, ‘Morning Glory Kid’, ‘Easy Route’ and ‘All To Order’ take a more standard alt. country route giving the band a chance to stretch their legs musically and show where Cale is heading with his live sound. There are shades of the classic ’80s Lloyd Cole And The Commotions album ‘Rattlesnakes’, or Byrds-like chiming guitars matched with Cale’s Tom Petty-like voice, all revealing a range and versatility which demands a lot from both listener and players alike. The album closes with ‘War Love’, with strings and a big chorus at the climax of the album.
So Cale has steadily worked the light back into his music on Noise Of Welcome, the stark beauty of his earlier work succeeded by a set of shimmering songs delivered by a band but still set to poetry like Dylan or Cohen. It’s ambitious, the way great music has to be, and Cale comes out of it as both accomplished soloist and band leader.