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coverpic flag US - Kentucky - Full Moon 249 - 12/14/16

Papa M
Highway Songs
Drag City

Though Highway Songs is only Dave Pajo's third album as Papa M - including his masterpiece, 1999's Live From A Shark Cage - he's been involved in plenty of releases since the last Papa M album Whatever, Mortal in 2001. Whether playing in a reunited Slint, Billy Corgan's Zwan project, or releasing a couple of albums under his surname (such as his self-titled 2005 album), Pajo is mostly notable for his understated yet quietly intense presence. Highway Songs doesn't change things.

There's a decidedly wintery feel to this release. At first glance the monochromatic cover art looks like a sliver of light breaking through a dark void, but it could just as easily be a white line running down the middle of the titular highway. The solipsistic atmosphere, which essentially lays bare all of Pajo's musical preoccupations, from solo acoustic guitar to chugging metal, jolts you from one instrumental scene to the next in just under half an hour. It all leads to the sole vocal track at the end ('Little Girl'), in which Pajo touchingly implores his daughter to teach him to love again.

It's hard to listen to this album without reflecting on Pajo's personal life: his well-documented struggle with depression, last year's suicide attempt, and a recent motorcycle accident in which he almost lost a leg. Pajo's Instagram account is called 'itsokaytolaylow', reassuring himself that despite the need to play music live to muster a living, in order to nurture himself he needs to step out of the spotlight and do normal things like ride his motorbike and hang out with his kids (who make a brief appearance on 'The Love Particle', declaring their love for him).

In some ways, Highway Songs communicates more about its creator's emotional well-being through its fractured narrative than knowing about Pajo's personal backstory. And musically, there's plenty here to enjoy. Not surprisingly, the advance singles 'Walking On Coronado' and 'Bloom' are the best standalone songs, closely followed by the sinuous 'Adore, A Jar' and the foot-on-the-monitor/heart-on-the-sleeve soloing in 'Little Girl'. Ultimately, however, this feels like a minor release in Pajo's extensive discography, an emotional clearing house that will hopefully make way for further releases in the coming years.

Copyright © 2016 Tim Clarke e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Papa M article/review: Whatever, Mortal.

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