Widely acclaimed as one of today’s finest narrative songwriters, Shindell has a rare gift for using detail to illuminate his characters’ motivations and actions without ever getting mired in minutiae. Not Far Now’s nine new compositions (complimented by a pair of outside songs) are haunting vignettes that exist vividly beyond the song that documents them: Shindell gives the listener a window into these lives, but their story continues long after the window is shut. “Time deposits me, the character I'm writing about, and a listener there at the first line,” he observes. “Then, at the end of the song, at the end of the last line, life and time go on. The song happens in between those two moments.”
The songs on Not Far Now are among Shindell’s most cinematic and provocative, constructing scenarios in a voice that is notably free from moralizing, judgment, or conclusion. Opener “Parasol Ants” is a notable example, presenting a snapshot of a fallen small-time criminal, knocked to the ground within inches of a row of ants carrying chunks of green leaves over their heads.
“State of the Union,” a tale of an addict’s journey into and out of sobriety with George W. Bush’s annual congressional address as the backdrop, has been part of Shindell’s live sets for several years now. Boldly unsentimental, it is an unglamorous glimpse into the day-to-day struggle that divides renewal and relapse, rendered by Shindell with unflinching clarity and honesty. Elsewhere, he crafts evocative tales of crooked developers (“One Man’s Arkansas”), assumes the role a lovelorn street performer anxious to overcome physical and social barriers (“Juggler Out In Traffic”), and offers a stark, knowing reading the late and much-missed Dave Carter’s postmodern spiritual “The Mountain.”
One song undertook a curious transformation from inception to conclusion. “I was reading Many Years From Now by Barry Miles. It's a biography of Paul McCartney, one of my musical heroes,” Shindell recalls. “When I finished, I went on a two-week Beatles listening binge, during which it occurred to me that I wanted to write an update to ‘She's Leaving Home.’” The resulting song, “Bye Bye,” is less of a sequel and more of a meditation on the act of songwriting and a song’s ability to connect with people over time. “Once I got into it,” Shindell continues, “I came to the conclusion that providing that story with a resounding conclusion would be false and graceless.”
Nine years ago, New Jersey native and longtime New York resident Richard Shindell himself left home, relocating his family to Buenos Aires, Argentina. “Argentina feels like home now. Despite its many dysfunctions, the place and its people really get under your skin,” he explains. “Some of the subject matter of the songs on Not Far Now is rooted in the my experience of the local context. For example, ‘Mariana's Table ‘is about a woman who sells empanadas to the truckers in a town called Brandsen, in the Province of Buenos Aires. ‘Balloon Man deals’ with a guy in our neighborhood here in Buenos Aires.”