Through the Darkened Window is a great album, a wonderful piece of work from a singer/songwriter who hopefully has a lot more in store for us. This is music after my own melancholy heart: aching and beautiful, full not of love but something else, all those other crazy complicated emotions for which (as another writer once said) only Germans have good words.
I met Marshall Hanbury, the singer/songwriter in question, because he was singing duets with a female friend of mine at an anti-Valentine’s Day event of sorts in Chicago. He had a few copies of his CD on hand, and he gave me one.
There are a lot of people who seem to be against paying for music these days, and my experience with this album is a pretty good example of why it actually is good to shell out a few bucks for one’s music. Since I hadn’t paid for this, I didn’t really have anything invested in it, and I didn’t have any real reason to listen to it or assume it was any good. So I threw it on the shelf, and it sat there for a month, still shrink-wrapped and gathering dust. And when I did listen, it was probably because I felt guilty and because I’d remembered Marshall as being a pretty good dude, smiling and friendly and happy with what he’d made, and eager to share it.
Anyway, I was pleased to see that this was wrong to overlook this based on how I’d obtained it. I’ve been coming back to it regularly since that first listen; what’s more, when I listen to it, I want to listen to it again, and I get the songs stuck in my head. They’re catchy and well-performed; the best ones are perfect, and the others are merely awesome.
It occurred to me a while back that I’m much more of a Stones person than a Beatles person; I can relate to a lyric like “You’ll never break this heart of stone” a lot more easily than I can relate to “All you need is love.” I wrote down this observation in a book I wrote a few years back, but it’s worth recycling here because it speaks to what I love about this album. Through the Darkened Window is honest and real and full of emotions with far more color and texture than the sweet bubblegum confections one often hears, all those songs that stick to you annoyingly but don’t provide anything in the way of lasting flavor or nourishment.
It’s not just about the emotions, though; what usually sets talented writers apart from the crowd isn’t having them, but articulating them in a compelling and memorable way. Imagery often makes the difference, and there’s plenty of that here. (A particular favorite line comes on “Even When You Cry,” where Hanbury sings: “On the frost stuck on my windowpane, with my nails, I scratched out your mother’s name, it’s a game I can’t win, ‘cause I can’t see you.”) But just as importantly, Hanbury delivers such lines in a way that really makes the album—in a high distinctive voice tinted with tension and angst, yet with enough restraint to keep the music pleasant and beautiful and compelling.
If there’s a problem, it’s that the thing’s just too short. Clocking in at 32 minutes, it definitely doesn’t overstay its welcome. But they say the first rule of showbiz is to always leave people wanting more. And measured by that yardstick, this album’s a tremendous success.