Andy Shauf is the kind of songwriter that puts you into his world with just the strum of his guitar or a melodic turn of phrase. He pulls from the magical well of classic 70s-era songwriters like Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, and Cat Stevens, but with the sonic wizardry of Jon Brion. There’s a gentle nature in Shauf’s work, like I can’t imagine him blowing up and losing it on someone. Instead he’d just give you a defeated sort of smile, shrug his shoulders, and agree to just disagree. At least, that’s what I get from the characters that inhabit the songs of Andy Shauf.
On his latest album, The Neon Skyline, Shauf tells a tale of the happenings at a local dive bar one evening. Shauf has a knack for telling stories and building characters in his songs that we can relate to. Here, our narrator heads to the local watering hole in anticipation of his ex showing up, which she does. The fun is in the stories within these songs and the folks that walk in and out of the bar. Shauf makes a record that feels like both Charles Bukowski and Sherwood Anderson short stories put to music. A classic singer/songwriter album that keeps us coming back for one more round.
The story song is a powerful thing. Some of the best songs are ones that pull you into a non-existent world that feels familiar. Shauf follows in the footsteps of Dylan, Springsteen, Randy Newman, and even Thin Lizzy in taking us out of our world and for the course of The Neon Skyline sets us on a barstool, gifts us a $1 longneck, and lets us enjoy the show.
Title track “Neon Skyline” is our introduction. We walk into the bar and see the usuals sipping their sad brews and smoking their stale smokes, waiting for their time to shine. “Where Are You Judy” is a beautifully-constructed pop song filled with melancholy glances and longing. Andy Shauf is a master of songcraft, making a song that Paul Simon would’ve been proud to have written. Acoustic guitars, subtle woodwinds, and keys accompany Shauf’s lovelorn vocals. Simply stunning.
Throughout The Neon Skyline Andy Shauf sings songs like an author tells tales. Each patron in the Skyline gets a song, and their lives are given a spotlight. “Clove Cigarette”, “Things I Do”, “Living Room”, and beautiful album closer “Changer” all tell tales of the lonely. But where another artist would approach these as cautionary tales, Andy Shauf sings these as odes to the outcasts. There’s neither admiration or condemnation pointed at the patrons of the Neon Skyline. Merely the objective heart of a songwriter and storyteller.
The Neon Skyline further pushes Andy Shauf to the top of the list of great modern songwriters. A beautifully nuanced album.
8.6 out of 10