Those opening notes to the title track of Steve Poltzâ€™s Dreamhouse, picked on a nylon string classical guitar, strike the air with a casually surprising joy that hooks like the irresistible electricity of a live performance. As Iâ€™ve been belatedly basking in the afterglow of NiÃ±o Joseleâ€™s Paz, while also harboring a deep love for witty yet tender folk-pop songwriting, the effect for me personally is greatly intensified.
Triple and quadruple takes are out of character for me â€“ replaying songs isnâ€™t something I normally like to do when Iâ€™m not specifically setting out to learn how to play a song on guitar or bass. And yet, â€œDreamhouseâ€ has been repeated in my own house so much that Iâ€™m glad I live alone so that Iâ€™m not annoying anyone half to death (if not fully).
But my own tendency to be annoyed by repeat plays fades away with Dreamhouse. Thereâ€™s a warm, inviting sense of intimacy imbued in the eleven songs that make up the album, the result of an awesomely synergistic collaboration with Canadian producer Joel Plaskett. Recorded in Halifax, Nova Scotia â€“ the place of Poltzâ€™s birth and earliest residency before he moved to San Diego to spend his formative years â€“ the album, ironically enough, exudes a strong California cool thatâ€™s very much in sync with much of the acoustic-based indie folk/pop/rock thatâ€™s coming out of L.A. and San Francisco these days (not to mention good ol’ Austin, Texas), albeit with more of a veteranâ€™s approach to songcraft. After all, Poltz has been making music continuously since the 1980s, so by now heâ€™s got his game down.
While Dreamhouse bears little resemblance to Poltzâ€™s previous records, even within the album he manages to maintain a balanced variety of approaches to his songs, all with the acoustic guitar as their common thread â€“ from the unabashed, pure country pop of â€œI Love What Youâ€™ve Done With This Placeâ€ and â€œLicense Plate Eyes,â€ to the humorous troubadour style ofÂ â€œKillinâ€™ Myself (To Be With You),â€ to the beautiful, peaceful, dual guitar instrumental â€œA Song For Kosovo.â€ And while â€œWish The Windâ€ is probably the only song here that might be a little too cute, it still ends up becoming a grower, and it can hardly help but follow that path given what surrounds it.
The big, pleasant bonus surprise here is Poltzâ€™s earnest cover of the old Barbra Streisand hit, â€œThe Way We Were.â€ Stripped of the original’s more strongly dramatic approach, whatâ€™s left is a reflective tune that fits in so well with Poltzâ€™s own songs, it comes off as if he wrote it himself.
Dreamhouse initially saw release earlier this year as a digital download. Thankfully it has been re-released on AJ Croceâ€™s Seedling Records (with distribution by Sony/RED) on CD and vinyl. Now we can all hear what is, far and away, one of the yearâ€™s best new albums in a format that will more sympathetically reproduce the sound of the analog masters. It’s a fitting treatment for a record that is undoubtedly a folk-pop masterpiece.
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