October 2006

Dave Insley - Here With You Tonight
D.I.R. DIR-RM 119
Format: CD
Released: 2006

by David J. Cantor

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

I keep wondering what makes Dave Insley’s Here With You Tonight so much fun to listen to, since it inhabits entirely familiar musical forms without significant innovation. It must be Insley’s resonant and slightly quirky voice, his interesting lyrics, and the quick tempos and sharp backup musicians that spruce up standard chord progressions -- notably the steel guitar of Rick Shea, a talented veteran. In other words, it’s just plain well done.

At first, the lyrics sound like familiar on-the-road and I-love-Jesus country material. But, working with unusually lengthy lines, Insley gives fresh details, expanding and subverting old formulas. In "Borrowed Time," rather than the got-to-get-back-to-my-good-ol’-mountain-home cliché, he sings,

There’s some things that you don’t understand,
and I can’t bring myself to tell you
I’ve been livin’ on the land,
but I can’t seem to help that I’m still blue….

Taking on Christianity in "God Loves the Working Man," he is bold and funny without risking a cross-burning. His casually detached singing leaves melodramatic self-indulgence out of the picture. For Insley, life is beautiful and rich more because of pain than despite its disappointments, which we acknowledge and transcend. Zen country music, anyone?

Produced by Insley himself and mixed by Insley and engineer Alex Otto, the album has clear sound that showcases Insley’s strong-but-not-bombastic baritone singing and thereby clearly sets forth the fine lyrics. This makes sense, Insley having been named Arizona’s Best Songwriter in 2005 by the state’s major newspaper. But you also hear Shea, the other good players, and guest vocalists Amanda Cunningham and Rosie Flores at just-right levels. A party atmosphere keeps the sophisticated lyrics from making the album a head-scratching affair.