(Jenke Records, digital download)
Since 1995, Ryan Fauber has written more than 300 songs. A good number of those were penned during his years living in Burlington. Fauber recently left the Queen City, moving to Portland, Ore., in December. Before he did so, the mercurial songwriter recorded one last batch of songs, Then Came the Thunder, released in January under the Jenke Records banner, as something of a parting gift for his Burlington friends.
As a songwriter, Fauber is a true enigma, and that quality is reflected in his recorded output. His 2012 debut, The Believer, was a challenging and sometimes unsettling work. A 2013 record, The Milton Tape, was pulled kicking and screaming from the womb of Fauber's deep songwriting reserves. It was virtually no-fi, and some listeners may have wished it had stayed there.
Interestingly, the songwriter's best collection of material came on a record on which he did not appear. In 2012, local singer Greg Alexander recorded an album of Fauber's music, Any Day: Greg Alexander Sings the Songs of Ryan Fauber. Given a voice other than Fauber's own intense, gravelly rasp, his songs took on a new life. The record offered a perspective on Fauber as a songwriter in a way he'd been unable to achieve himself. Until now.
Then Came the Thunder is by far Fauber's strongest and most revealing work to date. Some may still prefer Alexander's pretty croon to Fauber's deep, brooding tones. But plenty would take Leonard Cohen's brusque, original version of "Hallelujah" over Jeff Buckley's virtuosic adaptation, too.
Cohen would seem an obvious inspiration to Fauber. Beyond sharing a similar vocal timbre, Fauber writes in a plainspoken manner akin to Cohen's. Both are also unafraid to venture into the darker corners of their emotional headspace.
On his previous works, The Believer in particular, one got the sense that Fauber was haunted not only by very real personal demons, but by an unrelenting pressure and inability to find some way of expressing his profound sorrow. There's still a pervasive gloom to Fauber's writing, but it's presented artfully. "Jungle Eyes" is a moving vignette of empty bottles and broken dreams. "Sick Dog" is a weary tale of loyalty and loss. "And That's Your Friend" is a sweetly reassuring, if blunt, ode to dysfunctional companionship — think Pete Seeger's "Precious Friend" if it were rewritten by Charles Bukowski.
The album closes on "Ballad of a Dead Man," which plays like sinister talking blues. Fauber almost spits the dark, Shel Silverstein-like rhyme scheme with a dramatic intensity that might be off-putting to some. But beneath his fearsome growl is an intricate, unflinching exposition of — and affection for — human frailty. It may be uncomfortable, but that is presumably the point. It's a point Fauber has spent years attempting to make. Finally, he has.