Album of the Week, October 28: Boomtown by david + david

The urban folk duo known as david + david released one amazing album before mysteriously dissolving into its component parts. David Baerwald and David Ricketts had an amazing musical chemistry and a singular vision that resulted in one of the starkest portraits of the life of the urban down-and-outer ever recorded. After a year of moderate chart success and critical acclaim, the two split. Baerwald launched a sporadic solo career. Ricketts had a brief, stormy romance with Toni Childs which she chronicled on her debut album, Union, produced by Ricketts. Both men participated in the Tuesday Night Music Club which launched the multi-platinum career of Sheryl Crow. Baerwald has also worked on television and film scores, scoring a Golden Globe nomination for Come What May in the film Moulin RougeFor reasons unknown, however, they have never worked directly together since this one brilliant album.

Title Boomtown
Act david + david
Label A & M Release Date 7/7/1986
Producer Davitt Sigerson
U.S. Chart  #39 U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
[U.S. Hot 100]
  1. Welcome to the Boomtown [#37]
  2. Swallowed by the Cracks
  3. Ain’t So Easy [#51]
  4. Being Alone Together
  5. A Rock For the Forgotten
  6. River’s Gonna Rise
  7. Swimming In the Ocean
  8. All Alone In the Big City
  9. Heroes

The disc kicks off with the powerful, haunting Welcome to the Boomtown, the duo’s lone Top 40 hit. A scathing look at losers and users in mid-80s Los Angeles, it sets the tone for the album perfectly. The harrowing chorus with its drawn out howl of the title invites the listener into this song cycle like the Emcee welcoming visitors to the Cabaret.

Things take a more intimate turn in Swallowed by the Cracks. Narrated in the first person, it provides another glimpse into lost lives — the narrator and his closest friends —  but with the pain closer to the surface. The focus narrows further in Ain’t So Easy which deals with one couple. The singer pleads with his lover to try to make the best of their hard circumstances. The references to domestic violence and substance abuse show the very real toll of poverty and loss. Things get even closer to the bottom in Being Alone Together, with this couple having lost all the spark in their relationship. They cling to the husk of their love as the only familiar thing in their lives.

A Rock For the Forgotten maintains the first person narrative but broadens the scope and adds more narrative distance. Told from the perspective of a bartender (perhaps at the place where people go after being swallowed by the cracks), it shows more lost souls from a nearly outside perspective. River’s Gonna Rise and All Alone In the Big City are solid stories that fit the overall narrative of the album. That their poetry is slightly less powerful is a testament to the other tracks’ strength, not to their weakness. Between those two is the amazing Swimming In the Ocean. The most abstract song on the album, it is nonetheless one of the most powerful. It’s a metaphor for a couple making love that also serves as a symbol of all the struggle described throughout the album. The attempt at detachment (“Just for tonight/I’ll watch from above”) belied by the exhausting physical imagery.

After these eight dark, powerful tracks, the album manages to end with a note of hope. Drained and cynical, the singer still manages to look for some promise of a better future. Paying homage to the broken, battered characters in the other songs, it comes to a conclusion and a heartfelt vow.

We both know deep down in our hearts
That someday this will all fall apart
But for right now
Let’s just be heroes

And there the dark ride ends as the listener is released back into the daylight.

FURTHER LISTENING: For allied projects by somewhat kindred spirits, Sheryl Crow’s Tuesday Night Music Club and Toni Childs’ Union are both solid discs. Crow went on to stronger albums but without the david + david involvement. Baerwald has released five solo albums of varying quality. His first, Bedtime Stories is a worthy successor to Boomtown but is a bit less focused. (It’s finest song, Walk Through Fire, was somewhat improbably but capably covered by Olivia Newton-John.) His 2002 release Here Comes the New Folk Underground is a bit more consistent but lacks the powerful highs.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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