Bob Carpenter

Silent Passage

Bob CarpenterSilent Passage
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Google Bob Carpenter and you'll get business professionals, athletes, sportscasters and a Grammy-winning country artist with the same name, but negligible returns for Bob Carpenter the songwriter, who was born on a reservation near North Bay, Ontario, recorded a folk-rock album for Warner Brothers in 1974 and then promptly disappeared.

The story goes that Silent Passage was shelved due to contract problems, so though 30,000 copies were pressed, they never left the warehouse and were eventually melted down. The LP finally came out in 1984 on the small Canadian label Stony Plain Records, but by that point, Carpenter had more or less abandoned his aspirations for a career in music in favour of becoming a Buddhist monk. He died in 1995 of brain cancer.

Silent Passage suffered a cruel fate, which is a shame because it's a subtle, beguiling and thoroughly gratifying record. This is down-to-earth folk-rock, complete with all the trappings of the early '70s. The rhythm and string sections, the horns and woodwinds and the organ will appeal to those who like to surround themselves with Nick Drake-esque ephemera, while Carpenter's decidedly more rough-around-the-edges voice will speak to the Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits crowd.

Carpenter's world-weary vocals and lyrics combine to create a spiritual, seafaring (he was also a sailor) and mystic-melancholic vibe. There are gorgeous, teary ballads here, but also some upbeat, commercial offerings. The title track, "Morning Train" and "Miracle Man," with its "Afternoon Delight" feel, are standouts, but the album is full of two-and-a-half minute gems and it holds up well.

The great Halifax-born Brian Ahern produced the record. At the time, Ahern had recently discovered Anne Murray and Emmylou Harris, both of whom sing on the album (he later married Harris), and he went on to have a hall-of-fame career producing dozens of records for a long list of country music icons. The session musicians who play on Silent Passage, including Russ Kunkel, Leland Sklar, Ben Keith, Buddy Cage and Lowell George and Bill Payne of Little Feat, went on to have stellar careers of their own.

In other words, the album was an achievement for everyone but Carpenter. A few artists — Billy Joe Shaver, Tom Rush and Emmylou Harris — covered his songs, but the record and the musician remain obscure. Bob Carpenter's Silent Passage has been overlooked for far too long; hopefully, with No Quarter's reissue, it will finally get the due it deserves. (No Quarter)
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