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This melody-driven debut album from songwriter-singer Conrad Shiner takes listeners on a folk-pop ride through timeless terrain love lost and found, dreams abandoned and begun whose rock-and-roll engine powers effortless transitions from words spoken close and tender to laments crowed loud and raw. The Lost Decade is, at heart, American Roots Rock. Its the story of becoming ones own man.
Conrad Shiner is a regular guy who's aware that most folks don't spend ten years writing songs at night and working in an office by day. And that tension between the bare desire to make meaning and the nauseating suspicion that you're an absurd narcissist is the brave, delicate devil that makes this album simultaneously unsettling and familiar.
From the opening line of Present Day, in which, borrowing a line spoken by the drifter Jake in Carson McCullers's novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Shiner sings, I got the Gospel in me, and I need to tell someone, this regular guy goes out on a limb and dangles his heart off the end. Drawn in by his clean melodies, poppy undercurrents, and roots rock drive, you cant help but take him up on his dare: go ahead and let yourself be shamelessly wistful, too.
And what a ride hell take you on. The album is one long invitation: to empathize with the I in Shiners songs and to see yourself in that I. From the first track, Present Day, where he refers to the decades desire that's led him here, to the second, I Was Too Young, where he lays out his mistakes, saying, I didn't know better, and I'm not the only one, Shiner digs into what it means to be human, caught between daily regrets tinged with humor and laughs laced with longing. And always, the music is there, not just behind the lyrics, but wrapped around it, sometimes overturning it, with its light, playful rhythms. Shiner even boyishly indulges, during I Was Too Young, in the proverbial rock-and-rollers shout, One, two, three, four!, revealing the joy you can feel even in the midst of recognizing you've done wrong. The joy of clarity, of being able to move forward.
And in the world of The Lost Decade, there's always a second chance. In The Other Side, Shiner uses harmonies and a subtle, nostalgic twang to convey what it feels like to be brave: All our fears are left on the ground as we reach for the other side Ill be there with open eyes on the other side. And you sense as he sings about the woman he loves that shes a real person as much as she is the music.
Second chances require reflection, though the open eyes Shiner evokes. And hes not afraid to go back: reminiscing about the lovely futility of trying to recapture a feeling in Friendly Ghost, revisiting the hometown he left behind in Westinghouse, where he sings that some got out like refugees, living anywhere but here. The electric guitar comes forward here, giving voice to that pull toward a home you'll never live in again. The one that will never stop calling you back.
You'd think that such a reflective album would veer into navel-gazing, but Shiner deftly takes you through the highs and lows, giving them equal weight. Ice Gas Beer is a hymn to every summer night you wish would never end, and Lemon Lime is the kind of song you want to play over and over again while you drive around endlessly, all the windows down. The kind you find yourself humming in the kitchen, trying to feel that feeling just one more time. Its always almost in reach. And all the places it came from are always on the verge of slipping away, as when Shiner laments in Friendly Ghost, Who will sing for me?
And in perhaps the most perfect ending ever, Shiner somehow combines the albums entire emotional and musical range in Cadillac. A journey in itself, and by far the longest song, Cadillac starts quietly, with a single breath, in and out. Then, just guitar and Shiners raspy, young voice, that hes not afraid to let warble and wander through the lyrics, under the music, in transitions sometimes awkward, but always real. I hold the taste of the air around you as long as I can". Then, a transition into drums, more guitar, a faster tempo, and his lament and urging: I know I haven't tried very hard, but I'm finally prepared / Hurry, everything is burning down, all our places are burning down. His call from the first track to compose with the fire of a decades desire has now burst into flame, bringing the album full circle. And again, he invokes the tension between the real, when he sings, I know you exist, because I remember that night, honey-brown hair and thighs. But he always overturns the pop-song expectation, and we somehow know he's no longer talking about an actual woman, but rather the experience of loss: The air was like a drug, and you held me tight, but you were gone when I opened my eyes.
What a decade its been. Not lost at all, as it turns out. All right here.