Stephen Fretwell



    Isn’t it always slightly disconcerting when gorgeous, pained emotion comes from fresh-faced twenty-somethings? When Dashboard Confessional or Bright Eyes pines over lost love, there’s still the element of immaturity and affect backing the lyrics; it may be desperate and urgent, this love, but how about we wait ’til the morning, when we’re not so tired, and can talk things through.


    Stephen Fretwell may look the part, but on his debut, Magpie, he plays the kind of slow ballad that speaks — in his own British-inflected take on Leonard Cohen’s haunting baritone — less to the immediacy of juvenile love and more to the cold realization, by way of his small but stark observations, of something much greater.


    From “Rose”: “I saw some life today/ On the floor outside your door/ A cold penny I found.” He adds, “So come and find me/ And make it a nice day/ Come and knock on for me/ Make it a nice day.” Pleasant enough, but the song ends with drawn-out piano chords and a wash of layered female vocals in a hymn, and there’s no indication in the lyrics that anyone knocked on his door or that he left the room at all. On songs such as “Bad Bad You, Bad Bad Me,” and “Do You Want Me to Come With?” Fretwell, over finger-plucked guitar, piano, harmonica, and the remarkably tasteful support of his three-piece band, lets simplicity and poignancy do the work for him. Don’t let the album photos deceive you: Fretwell is the honest truth.


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