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BILL FOX - Shelter From The Smoke

Add another name to the should’ve-been-someone file. Bill Fox has a spiritual forefather in Emitt Rhodes: both were blessed with extraordinary talents as tunesmiths,  yet cursed with cruel indifference from the record-buying public and relegated to cult status. But while Rhodes did enjoy some level of fame in his early days and is experiencing renewed interest thanks to patronage from the likes of Jeff Tweedy and Wes Anderson and the reissue collecting his 4 solo albums released last year, Fox never even had that one regional hit and reportedly is so disgusted by the business that he no longer owns a guitar.

On first listen his voice (both vocally and artistically) jumps out at you, so steeped is his craft in its influences. Some would say Dylan and the Byrds, and yes, “I’m Not Over Loving You” is largely derivative of “Mr. Spaceman” or “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”, but for me he’s a power-pop version of acoustic-period Rod Stewart, and a model for Andy Cabic’s more recent work in Vetiver. Of course, there’s also a strong pull towards the aforementioned Rhodes, along with early Wilco and even the work of late-'60s songwriter Elyse [Weinberg].

Fox's often harmony-laden pop masterpieces are kept down to earth due to a strong Americana influence. Amazingly, for all of the depth of his recordings, you’ll barely notice that most of the 23 songs here are recorded with only one or two acoustic guitars accompanying his lead vocal and occasional harmony. The few full-band recordings are rough-hewn, quite literally “garagey” and so damned exhilarating in their intent that you forgive the shortcomings in fidelity.

Amazingly, what sounds like a overview of a lost songwriter from the '70s or early '80s comes from a Cleveland artist in 1998. Maybe if he can be coaxed into resuming his career (if you could call it one), history can make amends, but for now enjoy this reissue, my clear favourite of this new year. 

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