“Is folk dead?” I ask Ian Fitzgerald. “They wouldn’t bother killing it,” he says.
It’s been overstated, but folk music is the music of the people. One listen to Ian’s latest release You Won’t Even Know I’m Gone speaks directly to every thrift shop picture, silver maple tree, forgotten love and distance separated by truck stops and vacant, winding roads that lay embedded in the mind of what it means to be just one of the folks living and dying in America.
A solitary figure in name and denim, Ian usually works with a lone guitar to craft his songs. But for this latest recording, Ian has enlisted local rock band Smith&Weeden to back up half the album while the likes of MorganEve Swain, Eric Lichter, James Maple and Amato Zinno fill out the rest of it.
Both backup halves of You Won’t Even Know I’m Gone surround Ian’s words like a familiar blanket with the boys from Smith&Weeden lending guitar solos and reverbed grit to songs such as “Forget the Address.” The driving bassline allows Ian to work in his style of getting every syllable of every unrhymable word into his verses. Stories unfold full of imagery that evoke Kerouacian anti-heroes stumbling blindly from one place to another.
In this way, Ian’s latest work carries the folk torch of Dylan, Cash and contemporaries such as Josh Ritter. They all use literary storytelling to keep listeners hanging on every word teased into tales that leave one with a sense of place, a few mementos and the vague recollection of a familiar story that one can’t quite recall in great detail. But, it was some tale to hear.
Ian has found his live self on two sides of the coin; on one side is the solo guitar and microphone center stage, on the other is the filled-out folk-rocker with Smith&Weeden backing up. “The approach is certainly different with a band than it is solo,” Ian says, “There is endless freedom when playing solo, and I take advantage of that night after night. I change keys, switch time signatures, vary the tempos and make whatever other changes I feel like to suit how I want to present the songs that night.” But, with a band, Ian notes, “The songs can say different things that simply can’t be expressed by a solo performer.” That dual vision of his songs lends itself to this record, where the listener can easily discern Ian and the band. This is not a Smith&Weeden record, this is Ian filling in his songs with hues he himself hears. It is all clearly Ian Fitzgerald, and the man and jangly guitar who wrote them is what shines through.
You Won’t Even Know I’m Gone is exactly the album you need a folk album to be. From the image of Ian leaning on an old white sedan to every nuanced word of every song, Ian has crafted a full-bodied piece of music. Strings, electric guitar, beauty and fury help him “decipher the hieroglyphs” he sees in the world with words that don’t quit.