Every so often, a musician comes along whom you swear that in an alternate reality is already A Big Name and that this reality is impoverished for not knowing him or her. Billy Dechand is such a name, and it's high time that people get with the program. There seems to be an odd imbalance in music cultures, specifically when you examine the differences between the USA and the UK. How is it that the UK can allow the big-littles like Andy Patridge, Paddy McAloon, and Sean O'Hagan to thrive, but meanwhile in this country you would be hard-pressed to dip your hand into the artistic waters and pull up three similar examples? Billy Dechand should be among those names that one pulls up to represent the home team.
The late 2003 release of his fourth album, Hold On, means that this disc is still fresh produce as far as its placement on the market shelf. Allow me to say upfront, as well, that Dechand possesses the kind of singing voice that immediately grabs me; it's the case of "This guy could sing the telephone book, and I'd still be captivated." At turns, his tone is husky, smooth, plaintive, and jocular, but always honest in however he approaches his subject matter.
The album's opener is "Such Simple Love", a poem by Thomas McGrath set to music, which might seem like a dark way for a disc to kick off - but Dechand makes it work by putting one in the moment with the eerie, after-dark sweeping sound of guitars. To me, it's the sound of an insomniac, sorting out the age-old problems of personal love and how society seems to perceive love (cheaply). Highly evocative on the first go-out.
Conversely, Billy Dechand knows when to switch gears. "Scratch That Itch" takes lyrical contortions to a new level, not really seen since Andy Patridge's Black Sea days. Nods should also go to Dechand's band, who cook a groove that begs to be heard live, not just within the constraints of a disc. Pop and funk seamlessly spill out from the bass and drums. For further smiles, there's also "Gus", about a good-time bus driver who (I think) likes to hit the gas pedal a little harder than usual, much to the awe of the narrator. Gus joins the pantheon of great fictional song characters, like McCartney's Uncle Albert, Rita the Meter Maid, Desmond and Molly Jones, etc.
And since I've raised the specter of McCartney, it should be noted that "Sweet Sweet Day" is one of the finest songs ever written, that I bet McCartney wishes he had. In the manner of full-frontal gospel blues, Dechand sings in true-blue emotive fashion to sterling piano accompaniment. The lyrical content is both uplifting and sad, although deceptively it just seems to be about a short stroll. But what subtle artistic genius! Sometimes the deepest, most profound thoughts (and melodies!) come from those innocuous strolls or bus rides.
The whole experience of Hold On is like hanging out and talking with an old pal. The conversation takes twists and turns from deeply dark and personal to goofy. When Dechand gets around to releasing his phonebook album, I'll purchase that, too. If you can't wait for that album, then go down the line and scoop up the rest of his catalog. His World Famous in Chapel Hill album also features the rock-solid tune coupled with vicious, dead-on commentary titled "Flip the Switch" (a video of which is available somewhere on the 'net).