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Foy Vance, Signs of Life (Gingerbread Man Records, 2021)

Full disclosure: I am not an impartial judge when it comes to Foy Vance’s music.

At a show at The Hotel Cafe in October of 2013, Vance and his band closed their set with ‘Guiding Light’ from Joy of Nothing (2013, Glassnote Records). Coming off stage and off mic, they stood on cocktail tables and led the room in an extended a capella outro of the song. Then they snaked through the crowd and out the back door, with everyone smiling and singing all the while. For a moment after the band left, the audience kept singing for each other, “When I need to get home, you’re my guiding light.”

In that collective moment, I experienced true euphoria. I was acutely aware of the blessings that have been poured out on me. Health, family, friendships, everything. I felt neither guilt nor pride, just gratitude. I also felt the absence of the woman I’d somehow fallen in love with. But that feeling wasn’t bittersweet, it was revelatory. I wished she’d been there to share the experience, and I realized what I really felt was an urge to share many, many experiences with her. Walking back to my car that night was the first time I remember thinking we might make a life together.

Eight years and two kids later, we have made a life together. And the first song we danced to as husband and wife was ‘Guiding Light.’

Having admitted my bias and explained the reason for it, I think my lack of partiality is, in its own way, a sound and strong recommendation for Foy Vance. I'm proof that his music is able to connect with others' spirits. Signs of Life is full of examples of more songs that do just that. 

The album pulls no punches. There's pervasive melancholy in the music, in the vocal delivery, and in lines like "Don't answer the door. They only wanna ask if I'm alright. Can't say yes anymore," and "You no longer make me happy, you no longer make me smile. You've taken everything that's good within me." The latter lyric sounds less like Vance is talking to a person than to "codeine, nicotine green, and alcohol."

But it isn't all dark days and overgrown gardens. The other side of the coin is represented, too, and that makes both emotional experiences more relatable. What's impressive is that the brighter sentiments aren't heavy handed. They're expressed as forthrightly as the rest and with tempo and tonal similarities. For example, in the title track he sings "I could tell that soon a sun was sure to rise." The song is lovely, but it isn't a crescendo.

The result is that in thirteen songs collected under an apt title, Vance very effectively conveys his recent experience: He has been through significant unpleasantness. He continues to wade through (hopefully receding) waves of that unpleasantness. He recognizes that time is fleeting, that he has more life to live, and that goodness in that life is possible.

This experience is not profound, but it is profoundly relatable. Maybe for anyone in these pandemic days, but especially for those of us who are good at forgetting the feeling of sunlight when clouds roll in.

Robert Hann: 

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