Once part of respected Nashville indie outfit Paper Rival, Patrick Damphier is currently the touring bassist for The Mynabirds. As a musician and writer, the artist may wear various hats, but most of the time he is Field Days, a solo project that sounds like it should be a band. Projector is the first recording from Field Days and a highly creditable debut. Damphier is a talented multi-instrumentalist – check out his credits on Paper Rival’s Dialog album – but on Projector, it is the quality of his songwriting that shines through as much as the flavorful vocals and prudent arrangements. Everything is held in such equilibrium that you can focus on the words while still taking in the musical landscape.
Projector is the kind of record that creeps up on you and attaches itself to your psyche without you really being aware of the transition. On the first couple of plays, it’s pleasant and very listenable. On repeated plays, the fleshy imagery of the lyrics and sheer passion of the individual songs really grabs you. There’s 11 of them here, and not a turkey in sight. The album starts out brightly with “Half Past Tennessee”, an intensely rhythmic workout that opens with a familiar Dylan-esque vocal which Damphier soon puts his personal stamp on. It sets a tone for a record that has a timeless ring to it throughout, emphasized by the unfussy four-track home engineering.
On the opener, Damphier creates a vibrant one-man band sound with strident acoustic and selective self-harmonies. Listen closely and you catch the occasional enthusiastic holler or stomp from Elizabeth Williams, who the songwriter describes as his ‘packaging partner’. That mention demands a brief, open-in-a-new-window digression, as the album is not only homemade, but the sleeve production is a whole cottage industry in itself. There are just two other guest musicians. Mynabirds drummer Nicole Childrey lends her dreamy vocal harmonies to “Polar Opposites” and “I Don’t Know Why”. Jerry Roe plays drums on the closing track, “Proud Trees”, a song given a more expansive electric treatment and decorated with lush harmonies by Damphier, who contributes everything else you hear on the album.
The album straddles alt-folk and country effortlessly, the songs driven largely by strummed or picked acoustic guitar. The country aspect comes from the artist’s Nashville roots, which have clearly honed his lyric appreciation. On the lazy drawl of “Assume The Best”, Damphier could be Roger McGuinn, though the Byrds legend is not immediately listed as a key influence by the singer. For these, read David Byrne, John Prine, The Band, Michael Stipe, and Bruce Cockburn– a list that underlines that Damphier is no one-trick pony. Variety comes in different rhythmic shapes, from tracks like “Inside Opinion”, with its musings on love’s barbs like “criticism with a long stemmed rose”, examined over an intricate drum loop, to the pacy rhythms of “Going Back In Time” or the quiet, stop-and-reflect sentiments of “Whoa Today”.
You’ll also find a great anti-war song, “Old Soldier”, complete with harmonica that could have come from the big book of protest songs. The song has a classic feel yet is cleverly combined with real-life sentiments which duck the more obvious and present a balanced case of reasons and realizations. The young buck gung-ho of “My rifle was my lover and I held her in my arms” leads to the stark insight of “I ain’t sayin’ I’m dyin’ but I can’t fade away”. Each song in this collection takes on a life of its own, from the enigmatic who-is-she of “I Don’t Know Why” to the sense of self-searching that pervades “Save It For Ourselves”.
Projector was self-recorded in a Nashville basement on a four-track reel-to-reel machine that Damphier acquired from an ex-Loretta Lynn staff writer. Originally released last April, it’s been somewhat of a sleeper but deserves a proper awakening as thoughts turn to albums of the year and all that. This isn’t far short of the mark, and that is a great achievement for an independent musician who has put together a spirited record with love and care.