Australian born singer/songwriter Shayne Cook embraces a wide range of musical influences such as Bon Iver, Nick Cave, and Thom York, among many others. His nine song collection Epiphonetics is full of individual yet familiar songwriting, vulnerable yet full of strength, and it will be difficult for many to stop listening when they begin playing these songs. Debuts seldom strike such a complete note. Cook certainly isn’t afraid of getting personal with listeners, but he serves up accessible songwriting as well that draws from common rather than personal experiences. Anyone who writes in an autobiographical vein always runs the risk of their confessional leanings carrying them over into obscurity. Shayne Cook’s songwriting avoids such pitfalls.
Cook asks listeners to contend with weighty material. Cook culls Epiphonetics’ opener “The Stawell Gift” from his personal life as it depicts his father’s abandonment at an orphanage and later adoption. The piano playing at the song’s center is its key hook and the serious-minded mood pervading the track as a whole; despite the heavy subject matter, it isn’t a track certain to leave listeners despairing. The marriage of vocal, lyrical content, and music reaches a zenith on the track “Blood” and what results is nothing less than performance art; “Blood” breaks free from potential clichés weighing it down and Cook writes about romantic attraction in a manner all his own. Josh Barber’s drumming helps heighten the drama.
Songs such as “Matters of the Heart” are difficult to bring off for the over thirty crowd. We hear countless variations on love song themes from the time we are babies and their charms exert a powerful hold until life, invariably, disabuse us of their fairy tale ends. Shayne Cook’s take on this tradition has far deeper maturity and insight than we are accustomed to from “relationship” songs and his vocal is up to the challenge of exploring its complexity. The acoustic instrumentation gives the track a light touch. It is an excellent choice for the album’s first single.
Timan Robinson’s string arrangement for the track “Disaster Yet” brings additional dramatic structure to a track never lacking conflict. Phil Turcio’s piano work establishes a delicate duet with Cook’s vocal performance. The straight-forward singing nonetheless breathes a spirit of pure poetry into this cut. Many listeners will appreciate the unique and insightful way Cook writes about time-tested subjects such as romantic relationships. Tracks such as “City Fire Lights” and “Ritual” are similar insofar as they depict Cook’s untamable passion for self-expression. This is the sound of a topflight talent taking the opportunity to cut loose and open up at last. We are treated to Shayne Cook, 200 proof straight, no chaser.
It is a safe bet people will keep coming back for more. His first collection Epiphonetics kicks off his recording career with an ambitious effort that serves notice a major talent has arrived. Producer Simon Moro provides crucial contributions to the release and Cook surrounds himself with a first-class assortment of supporting musicians. These elements come together over these nine tracks in a way sure to satisfy many.
by Bethany Page