Bob Schneider is no longer the man who wrote and performed “Tarantula.” Sure, he still lays claim to that era of his career, but now he’s as established as he’s going to get in the industry. Clearly he realized, for his latest album Burden of Proof, that a change had to come. The result is probably Schneider’s most introspective and least boisterous release.
The first three songs – “Digging for Icicles,” “Wish the Wind Would Blow Me” and single-worth “Hop on the World,” show a heavy meditative streak. Schneider’s wind-swept baritone becomes a pure exhalation on some of the lower notes. The lyrics on all these songs deal with disappointment and frustration – signaling the least sentimental approach Schneider has ever taken. Bill Callahan’s influence is obvious.
The first full-bore electric guitar finally shows up on “Swimming in the Sea,” which has the production, arrangement and hook hit of a Quiet Company song. Schneider must be aware of the recent great work of Taylor Muse. The rock feeling continues on the power chord-raining “Unpromised Land,” which would be in tune with Bob’s party-hard compositions of the past if it wasn’t for the cynicism and reservations that dominate nearly the entirety of Burden of Proof.
It’s a virtue of the record that each song has its own personality. “Best Day Ever” has a beguiling female vocal sample driving it.” “The Effect” has an acoustic guitar (or is that a mandolin?) strumming pattern and call-and-response vocals that recall Paul Simon. “Please Ask for Help” has a yearning sensibility and simplicity that make it one of the record’s top tracks.
“John Lennon,” late in the record, is heartfelt and interesting even if it falls into the “Lennon-as-saint” shortcut so many items about the man do. In terms of recent songs about Lennon, this is nothing compared to Bob Dylan’s “Roll On John” from 2012′s fantastic Tempest. The record ends with two starstruck ballads, “The White Moon” and a cover of “Tomorrow” from Annie. The darkness of the earlier tracks wear off and hope has crept back into Schneider’s performance. It works for the thematic arc of the album.
However, the whole album is done in less than 40 minutes. Many songs are over before you have a chance to really immerse yourself in them. It’s like Schneider wanted to get out of this head space as quickly as possible. This renders the album as a rather slight experience. So Burden of Proof is a new, interesting fold in Bob Schneider’s career, but he’s still never made a great record.
Final Grade: ***1/2 (out of five)