Passing Knowledge balances spirited, lyrical-driven songs with finger-style instrumentation and deft wit.
Andrew has a long-held passion for American folk music, of which his knowledge borders on the encyclopedic. It began with a lesson from his father's cousin, the Grammy-Nominated folk musician David Bromberg, who studied with Reverend Gary Davis in the early 1960s and started Andrew off backwards through the catalog of the early 20th century. With Passing Knowledge, Andrew incorporates the musical techniques and intimacy of those early recordings with his modern style of songwriting. This combination is well-suited for the collection, which focuses on themes of yearning, longing, and acceptance – the stretch for things just out of reach. Vladeck colors these songs with sparkling details, in largely narrative fashion, with lyrics that cascade in rhythm to the music.
The digital pocket book and the artwork are an homage to the Pocket Poet Series published by City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, in particular the work of Allen Ginsberg. Accordingly, this pocket book demonstrates the influence of literature upon Vladeck's writing. Vladeck's cousin, the American writer Will Heinrich, winner of the PEN/Bingham Award, contributes a letter of introduction and an epilogue.
The record begins with "Living the Dream," a quasi-hallucinogenic ode to Allen Ginsberg's HOWL in which the words are more spoken than sung. The interplay between the skyline and sunset become a canvas for existential yearnings.
The title track, "Passing Knowledge of the Sexes," is about the modern-day search for love and the creative and oft-misleading way people choose to present themselves to the world through their online profiles. The song was inspired by a passage from Freakonomics, by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt and was written with members of The Honey Brothers.
There is a new rendition of Vladeck's psychedelic slide-banjo dream-song, "Coney Island," a romantic vision for a lost love from another time. The song first appeared on Vladeck's eponymous debut CD, performed with The Honey Brothers. In this version, Lauren Balthrop adds piano and the cello arrangement by Colette Alexander carries the song to a dramatic conclusion.
"Within Reach" is a song about the loss of a soulmate, and, as Joan Didion wrote about in her book, The Year of Magical Thinking, the "magical thinking" that can comfort and console as one grapples with such a thunderous loss.
Vladeck borrows the musical refrain from the American folk song "Moonshiner" to help convey a modern-day story of the joy, passion, and reckless sadness of growing up. "Can't See Why" brings the listener along on various escapades – breaking into the Hayden Planetarium, swimming in a water tower, drinking by the Domino Sugar Factory – as they watch the protagonist wrestle with self-image and acceptance, only to alienate herself further.
Finally, East meets West in this post-Cold War love song, where the remaining barriers are language and distance. Written with Morgan Taylor (Gustafer Yellowgold), the song describes the thrill and the challenges of lovers from different worlds as they explore ways to communicate with each other.
Passing Knowledge is Vladeck's first release since The Wheel (2008).