Michael Zapruder | This is a Beautiful Town

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Rock: Acoustic Pop: Piano Moods: Mood: Dreamy
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This is a Beautiful Town

by Michael Zapruder

A dark, lush indie songwriter album, equal parts classic songwriter and indie piano-pop.
Genre: Rock: Acoustic
Release Date: 

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1. Little Ship Bluebell
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3:41 $0.99
2. Nothing Like a Friend
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3:38 $0.99
3. Oh Cho Li
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2:56 $0.99
4. Diamond Line
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4:35 $0.99
5. Wounded Bird
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3:44 $0.99
6. This is a Beautiful Town
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4:03 $0.99
7. August
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3:33 $0.99
8. Summer's Last Day
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9. See You in Paradise
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10. That is What I Want
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11. This is a Sinecure
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ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
Reviews of This is a Beautiful Town:

Performing Songwriter Magazine says:

Everybody knows that music journalists can be given to hyperbole, but there's just no way to overstate how good this record is. Michael Zapruder is a writer with a rare gift of uncommon perspective combined with the ability to deliver it beautifully.
On the strangely touching and more than a little unsettling "Little Ship Bluebell"-a crushingly lovely song-Zapruder sings of children sailing away, "Throwing their crayons into the sea / They'll be grist for the glamour mills / Drinking whiskey taking pills," and somehow makes it so pretty. His voice is similar to Damien Rice's for its uncluttered simplicity, and his lyrics and music are subdued and accomplished. This record belongs on the shelf between Lennon's Double Fantasy and Westerberg's 14 Songs. Go get it.


The Washington Post says:

When it comes to churning out music, West Coast indie-pop tunesmith Michael Zapruder is known for exceeding his quota. But writing 52 songs in a year's time, a feat recently accomplished by Zapruder, isn't as difficult as getting folks to remember one or two of your compositions a year from now.

Fortunately, nothing on "This Is a Beautiful Town," Zapruder's latest CD, suggests that goal is beyond his reach. After opening with the surreal piano ballad "Little Ship Bluebell," which sounds as if it might have been written with a David Lynch movie in mind, the album frequently exerts a quiet and haunting allure.

Zapruder's track record notwithstanding, none of the tunes here sound as if they were penned with a deadline looming, and that's not just because the tempos tend to creep along. Lacing his songs with vivid imagery and peculiar scenarios is Zapruder's chief talent, and he has clearly spent ample time making sure the lyrics to "Wounded Bird," "August" and the album's entrancing title track rise above the norm. The emphasis on piano ballads and shimmering acoustics adds to the album's suite-like intimacy.

...some critics have mentioned Zapruder's name in the same gushing breath as Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello and Ron Sexsmith... "This Is a Beautiful Town" may well turn out to be a lasting pop pleasure.


The Village Voice says:

"...a damned fine singer-songwriter (and guitarist and pianist) from San Fran, Zapruder's little song-nuggets evoke Ron Sexsmith, Tom Petty (without the obvious roots-rock influence), Rufus Wainwright, [and] newer Elvis Costello."


The Nashville Rage says:

This is a beautiful record.

On This Is a Beautiful Town, Bay Area songwriter and former Vagabond Lovers (a.k.a. Naked Barbies) guitarist Michael Zapruder has produced an elegantly understated, intelligent record of rare depth.

From the opening line, "Start to weep, protective mothers/The children are sailing away," and tugging piano notes of the first track, Little Ship Bluebell, Zapruder's music causes the ears to prick up along with the hairs on the back of your neck. By the final line of final track This Is a Sinecure ("I need another church"), the listener is in a delicious, moody trance built by Zapruder's lyrical and musical eloquence.

Zapruder tinkers with the usual good songwriter's machinations of love, death, isolation and beauty, but does so with a unique set of tools - his eye for detail and his skewed perspective make this record particularly magnetic. Somehow, Zapruder can see houses "like cupcakes on shiny countertops" in the title track without being saccharine. He can write a line like "there's nothing like a friend misapprehending/the practice of a hopeless charity" without sounding abstruse or overly indie-hip, but plainspoken.

Tinges of Elvis Costello's wit and Ron Sexsmith's sensitivity are well-complemented in Zapruder's sound with heavy doses of dark, smart, Joe Henry cool. This Is a Beautiful Town is a warm, close record that dwells entirely in a hypnotic, mid-tempo universe. In fact, the mid-tempo nature of this record is really its only failing. Although it is hypnotic in a heroin-cool way that seems to aspire to a Velvet Underground brooding, it would be nice to break it up with an up-tempo groove every once in a while. Oh Cho Li and This Is What I Want come close, but stay in a muted haze. Heck, even the Velvets spiced things up now and then.


Pittsburgh City Paper says:

"Michael Zapruder is part of a rare breed, able to weave sophisticated lyrics into sophisticated songs without losing our interest or bagging the whole thing in some Dylan-esque mad-grab for attention. Zapruder's not vying for some dime-a-dozen "new Dylan" tag like so many of that ilk. There's an ache in his voice and a cut to the cloth of his electric guitar and elaborate grand piano that's more Hunky Dory-Bowie and similarly grandiose glam, and might fit on either of Nick Cave's last two records. One of Zapruder's recent projects was a yearlong journal in which he produced a song per week. If there were any cliches or laspes in writing judgement left in Zapruder, cathartic exercises like this seem to have exorcised them.


Fufkin.com says:

"The title cut encapsulates all that is wonderful about Zapruder. The melody is a revelation, the song having a gloss of '50s jazz. The rich detailed lyrics are irony-free and in combination with the music and Zapruder's sympathetic vocal, it is an instant classic. This album cries out for a larger audience."
"[Zapruder] is a master of mellow, sitting at his piano and playing songs that fit somewhere along the lines of Ron Sexsmith mixed with Paul McCartney and Elliot Smith."


Flagpole (Athens, GA) says:

"In a post-post-modern era of retro kitsch and sarcastic posturing, artists free of irony's familiar traps are few. They're far between, as well, so to find a musician like San Francisco's Michael Zapruder... is refreshing."


The Nashville Scene says:

"This is a Beautiful Town [is] a warm, analog-steeped album of musings by a young poet with a notebook full of ideas.


Buffalo News says:

"This is a Beautiful Town is a remarkable collection of snapshots depicting a placid if haunted life in a village populated by Zapruder and his aching, well-earned melodies. These are the sort of profound songs that make a songwriter, not the other way around. [This is a Beautiful Town is] deep and seems to lean, at every turn, toward grace."


The Onion says:

"...moody and lovely..."


The Oregonian says:

"This is a Beautiful Town is gorgeous, gently sad piano-pop."


Babysue.com says:

"This is a Beautiful Town is one big tasty album. Mr. Zapruder has a beautiful deep voice that reminds us of Ron Sexsmith and Mark Everett (of Eels fame). The songs, however, are pure Zapruder. This entire album was crafted around some piano and vocal tracks that Michael recorded at Neil Young's Broken Arrow Ranch. The initial tracks were taken to New York where they were fleshed out and completed. The music ranges from pensive to poignant to thoughtful to uplifting...and back again. But what drives these tunes are, of course, Mr. Zapruder's melodies and voice. Astounding and beautiful compositions like "Little Ship Bluebell," "Diamond Line," "This is a Sinecure," and the title track are sure to be on a great many playlists for many years to come. An instant classic, This is a Beautiful Town is refreshing, genuine, and pure. Great stuff. Rating: 5++ (out of 6).


Reviews


to write a review

john v.

"the whole ball of wax"
... it is rare to come across an artist who has so many bases covered so well in the craft of songwriting. michael zapruder is such a rare bird, who sees the big picture very clearly. it's all there... beautifully poetic lyrics, wrapped in great melodies and arrangements, that are simply wonderful to listen to. i gave it 4 stars only because i try to reserve 5 stars for those few timeless masterpieces (nick drake's pink moon, dylan's blood on the tracks, elliott smith's either/or, the beatle's abbey road). i have no doubt that michael will deliver such a record in the near future, and just wanted to leave a little buffer. yes, he really is that talented... just take a listen.

Finn Agen

Beauty, pain, sophistication. Just a lovely album.
This Is A Beautiful Town far surpasses Zapruder's previous material. Here is an album of a songsmith who has honed his craft, fasted in spirit, burned a stick of incense to the Muses, left ego behind, and gotten down to the serious work of writing and producing an album with depth, beauty, and soul.

Prior reviews (including the Performing Songwriter and the Washington Post) have been uniformly positive to raving, with the sole criticism that the album is consistently moderate-tempo, with only two subdued rockers. To me, this criticism misses the point. This album has the quality that so many nowadays lack, that of internal continuity. This is a Beautiful Town saturates you in a wistful, sad but hopeful, loving, and above all, intelligent presence from beginning to end. It does not "break character" and say, "oh, I was just kidding, I'm just as cynical, pessimistic and ironic as everyone else creating art and music these days." Zapruder avoids all that negativity and sterile solipsism, without falling prey to sentimentality. This integrity is increasingly rare in popular music.

The music is dominated by piano, simple but subtle electric and acoustic guitars, and Zapruder's unique, plain and intimate voice. Its aesthetic sometimes recalls Joni Mitchell, sometimes the Eagles, sometimes the Byrds, and doubtless many other influences, though Zapruder maintains his own distinctive style. Each listener will doubtless read into this music their own musical obsessions. My own favorite tracks are That is What I Want, a song about the delicious pleasures of ambivalence and indolence, and the title song, a haiku-clear description, perhaps of San Francisco. Throughout we find the theme of disappointment, its survivability, the traditional artist's praise of beauty, and the release that comes of accepting this ambiguous existence as it is.

If you want another record that plays to our needs for driving rhythms and--however carefully disguised--adolescent anger and angst, don't get this one.

If you want a record of true beauty, an honest but complex offering of love, rooted in the best aesthetic judgment, a spiritual act of songwriting, then buy This is a Beautiful Town with confidence.

Finn Agen, 2004