by Scott Smith
Based in Chicago and born in Iowa, singer/songwriter Dick Prall comes to his easygoing ñ and sometimes goofy ñ manner quite naturally. In person, heís charming, often peppering his conversations with clever asides wherever possible. Though he readily admits to enjoying the embrace of company, it was Prallís exploration of what he calls “autonomy” that brought a whole new spin to his latest work.
After the release of the critical and audience favorite Fizzlebuzzie in 2005, most of the musicians Prall recorded with went their separate ways. It was an amicable split, but one that put him in the familiar position of starting over.
His first album, 1998‘s rootsy Somewhere About Here, was recorded under the name The Dick Prall Band, but the group disbanded within a year. 2001‘s Dressing Up The Failure was a hard-driving pop record that found Prall recording with a different set of musicians under the name Starch Martins. Despite the new approach, he says the album left him creatively exhausted.
Though always quick to praise the musicians who help fuel his sharp, observational songwriting, Prall found himself turning away from the madness of crowds as he began work on his next album. No longer surrounded by the familiar, one might have expected Prall to write songs that explore all his inner demons. Instead, he found comfort in being alone, and sought to preserve that intimacy.
The product of that exploration is Weightless.
There‘s a restless energy coursing throughout the album, in part because of an immediacy of sound attributable to a change in Prall‘s usual recording style. “Rather than tracking all the instruments and then me coming in and laying my vocals down in sort of a ’studio karaoke‘ kind of way,” he says, ”I recorded my guitar and vocal parts first and then we built the song around those.“ This method allowed him to work at a feverish pace, writing half the album’s songs after the band began tracking it, “which is unheard of for me.”
And then there are the wanderlust lyrics, often dropping references to cars, the road, or a search for something, usually the truth, either about oneself or one’s partner. Prall says that in writing the album, he became interested in those who found themselves living lives they‘d never intended.
“Some of the song — I Took A Life, B&W, Devils — are about some less-than-attractive characters who don‘t necessarily feel held down by any guilt or real regret for their actions,” Prall says.
All this again hints at dark places and angst, but clever turns of phrase keep the whole production from drifting into an exercise in navel-gazing. A song about a dissolving relationship is titled The Cornflake Song, evoking just a hint of a smirk. Sidewalks are told to behave, and on the muscle-bound Side By Side, a lover is accused of “talking out your eyes,” though the way Prall sneers the last word leaves it sounding more like the part of your body that‘s used for sitting, not seeing.
The arrangements on Weightless carry the same light. There‘s violin throughout and a marimba-like instrument called a vibraceleste accenting the songs with a chiming ring. Plenty of space exists for guitar at the forefront and sing-a-long hooks. The crack group of musicians here, some of whom are bandmates involved with Prall‘s previous works, know when to add a swirling fill, and when to get out of the way. Most of all, the melodic voices of the characters in these songs float to the surface, recalling the album‘s title.
Prall has said that he relishes the very act of singing, and as he tours behind Weightless, one expects him to find a renewed sense of enthusiasm for crowds, finding that same old energy again. In the past, his albums have taken years to come into being. But now that he‘s found the same fire in an empty room, perhaps one can hope not just for his usual quality, but an increase in quantity as well.
Dick Prall “Cornflake Songl”
Playing the Walnut Room Janurary 21st w/ Megan Burtt, Reed Foehl, John Common, Dave Preston & Jessica Sonner! Presented by Homevibe