Among other things, Doug Paisley is a firm advocate of efficiency. “Shadows”—available here as a free download—is the final track on Starter Home (No Quarter), a new collection of nine songs that’s just 34 minutes in length.
“There’s a lot of stuff left out in terms of the number of songs recorded and the number of versions we did,” admits Paisley. “But can you ever objectively say an album is too short or too long? If you like it, it’s too short—and if you don’t, it’s too long. I do think shorter albums are better for many reasons.”
The Toronto-based singer/songwriter took his time on this one, recording in four different studios around his home city as he went about the business of being an attentive father to his now five-year-old son. He fleshed out many of the tunes with a revolving lineup of local musicians during an on-and-off residency at Toronto’s Cameron House. And though it may have taken four years to hatch, Starter Home hardly sounds fussed over—quite the opposite. Its quiet disposition is a noticeable contrast to the more rugged full-band sound on 2014’s Strong Feelings.
“I don’t know if it’s the songs or the recording that makes it so much more dialed back,” says Paisley. “I was going for something a little more layered, with everything anchored around guitar and voice. Not that you’d necessarily detect this, but it’s still done live, for the most part. But the process was spread out over time and space.”
That gives Starter Home an unexpected cohesion as a compelling collection of moments, with Paisley’s Waylon-Jennings-by-way-of-Gordon-Lightfoot delivery and subtly intricate guitar picking providing the grounding. It’s an album that rewards patience, the songs revealing their subtle complexities over time as they draw you ever further into Paisley’s world.
“I’m a really big fan of (late country singer/songwriter) Don Williams,” says Paisley. “On his (1978) album Expressions, I initially thought there was so little going on. Then I looked at the credits for each song, and in some cases there were, like, 10 players. Something that really influenced me was how well they integrated that stuff and not have it all be at the same volume, marching in line. If these songs have achieved that at all, then it would be a real success for me.”
If you believe what you hear on Starter Home, Paisley is wrestling with the typical contradictions, urges, fears and obligations that come with maintaining an uneasy domesticity. “We’re not fighting, we’re just talking,” he sings on the title track. “Can’t you see my point of view?”
Says Paisley of the tune’s inspiration, “I was having a domestic quarrel over the telephone, and I went and wrote that song. For the most part, it has nothing to with my own life, but it was very much coming out of the state of mind I was in at the time.”
“Shadows” is the album’s most upbeat track—a persistent shuffle that recalls Jim Croce’s “Bad Bad Leroy Brown,” with a playful slide lick that will take up permanent residence in your short-term memory. At three minutes even, it leaves you wanting more.
“Some people had a bad reaction to it, but I was just like, ‘I don’t care—I love this song,’” says Paisley. “When I got back from the studio, I listened to over and over again because I was so happy with it.”