“I just learned guitar/And my voice ain’t pretty,” growls Andy Friedman on “The Friedman Holler,” the live performance track that closes his second album Weary Things. On its own, the line reveals Friedman’s mile-wide self-deprecating streak, but in the context of the rest of the album, it’s further proof that he fully understands how to incorporate personal details (Friedman, a widely-published illustrator and noted cartoonist, had never played an instrument prior to 2004) into songs that build a full-bodied artistic persona. The truth of the narratives Friedman spins here—from the articulate, philosophical defense of art on “Pilot Light” to the equally passionate defense of his favorite, soon-to-be-demolished dive bar on the flat-out amazing recitation “Freddy’s Backroom”—is incidental to the first-rate skill he displays in telling them. Armed with a visual artist’s ability for creating indelible images, Friedman makes each of his songs believable and authentic. That he doesn’t have the most aesthetically pleasing voice (see also: Fred Eaglesmith, Tom Waits) in no way detracts from a line like, “There’s a little country store/Five miles past the light/It’s more expensive than Brooklyn/Now, that’s not the way it goes” on “Locked Out of the Building.” While country music has traditionally been a voice for the disenfranchised rural working class, Friedman co-opts that tradition for a contemporary, urban perspective, and he does so in a way that shows a deep appreciation for the genre’s forms and functions. It’s only in terms of performance, with the rotating cast of Other Failures playing perfectly competent folk arrangements and three-chord bar-rock numbers, that the album underwhelms. Weary Things may not be the most technically accomplished or pleasing of country records, but it announces Friedman’s arrival as one of the genre’s smartest and deepest talents.
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