Dave Shiflett and Friends - From The First Time (2011) Folk singer and songwriter Dave Shiflett is employed as a critic for Bloomberg News. He also writes for The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. He has published several books including one with Donald Trump, The America We Deserve. Shiflett just completed a novel and is currently looking for an agent but, as is often the case, his new album, From The First Time, has been released to the world on his website without any assistance whatsoever. For music lovers like me that is a good thing. From The First Time is Shiflett's fifth CD. He has released earlier works under his own name and as the leader of two bands, Floor Creak and The Karma Farmers. Shiflett's voice is not powerful but he has a pleasant delivery that fits the songs quite well. The arrangements are driven by acoustic guitars that are often joined by percussionists, violins, mandolins, and any other light accompaniment the situation calls for. He writes tuneful works that should hold your interest. The fact that the songwriter is also a novelist is an indication that the seven offerings on the album are literate and worth listening to. On "Let's Go Walking Around" he desires to show Dulcinea around town and "maybe see Don Quixote chasing his dream through the clouds, singing to his Dulcinea – singing her name out loud." How often do you hear references to these two classic fictional characters referred to in pop music? The answer is not very often and that makes the song refreshing and a bit artful without being pretentious. The more direct and harder hitting "Seven Days From Birmingham" reveals the thoughts and the heartbreak of losing a twenty-two year old son in a war while a couple who are presumably his parents are driving across the country. Because Shiflett does not take any kind of political stance both hawks and doves can appreciate the song. The track is more about grief and loss than it is about politics and war even though he sings "Now we know what war can do so we’ll drive until we find a better day." While there are more tracks with interesting wordplay Shiflett never overwrites his material making his latest a very nice outing from an unknown talent. You can purchase From The First Time on Shiflett's website where you can here samples of the rest of his music. Posted by” - Charlie Ricci


Dave Shiflett punctures the pompous, unmasks charlatans and laughs at human folly. Plus, he writes a mean love song. If Twain and Mencken were alive today, they'd have ``Songs for Aging Cynics" on their iPods.” - Rick Warner

— Bloomberg News

PLAN NINE Karma Farmers, SONGS FOR AGING CYNICS First off, in all honesty, head Farmer and Richmond guitarist-singer-songwriter Dave Shiflett is a friend of mine. However, I heard most of these tunes before I started hanging out with him and had the same opinion about them then that I have now so I feel there’s no real conflict of interest. That said, Shiflett’s latest project is a finely crafted, intelligently written, precisely played one that charms more with repeated listenings. And, despite its title, and despite all the lyrical barbs in songs such as “Old Man Moan,” this is a package of love songs, singularly conceived and conveyed with a stark, underlying sincerity. Most of the 11 cuts speak of dreams and love with a smart and wry eye and they take a philosophical approach that – may I dare say it – is overall hopeful and humorous. If there’s a negative, it’s that most of the tunes are so peaceful and low-key that the project has a downbeat vibe if you’re not listening to what’s really going on. But beyond that, each tune has funny or heartfelt lyrical nuggets to savor. “Nowhere” is a well-written tune featuring unexpected word usage to express the salvation found in love. “Someplace Fine” is a wonderful bluesy, wistful wish. “Take My Dreams Away” speaks to the curse all dreamers know too well. On themes apart from love, “Virgins in Heaven” finds Shiflett commenting on the state of the world with typical downstream humor and he no doubt will go straight to hell for writing it. In addition to creating an estimable batch of songs for the project, Shiflett has enlisted some of the area’s best musical gunslingers to round out this fine Bill McElroy recording. Jeanine Guidry provides angelic lead vocals on a couple of tunes and her harmonies on others help support Shiflett’s rough-hewn and soft singing style. Bass player Matt Boon stays in the background but adds ever-present underpinning. Tripp Johnson slips in some nifty mandolin fills and Jim Skelding adds to the overall peaceful feel with his graceful fiddle runs. Instrumentally partly jazzy, partly bluesy, partly folkie, the Farmers lyrically are all fun while they discover that special land where dreamers sit back and wonder why. – Ames Arnold” - Ames Arnold

— Plan Nine

New Stuff The latest trip to the mailbox was Woot! time indeed. I got the new CD from Dave Shifflett's Karma Farmers (gotta love that name) "Songs For Aging Cynics" and it's good. His previous project was "Floor Creak" to which I maintain a CDBaby link so that should someone stumble upon it, he or she could buy it. I still regularly listen to "Floor Creak" and I've been remiss in not getting "Songs For Aging Cynics" sooner. The songs are melodic, have intelligent lyrics and Mr. Shifflet has this incredible ability to find female vocalists who will knock your socks off, launder them, fold them neatly and put them in your sock drawer. The link above goes to a page that has a couple of videos. Listen to "My Beautiful Friend" and tell me you couldn't swim in the cool stream of Jeanine Guidry's voice. Gorgeous. And the mandolin playing is a wonderful silver thread that winds through the songs, some times just playing along and then rising to a sparkling shimmer over the song. If you listen to "The Old Sailor," you'll get all that from the violin and the guitar as well. Moreover, at Dave's site there are several songs available for streaming and downloading. I encourage downloading as long as it leads to actual support of the artist. I came to my love of Carbon Leaf by downloading a CD's worth of songs (honestly - from Amazon) and listening sufficiently that I knew I had to have the physical media. The Karma Farmers are somewhat country, somewhat bluegrass I guess. It's the kind of music that the neighbors who should have been recording stars gather on the front porch to play and sing. I love this CD. I'd hope you would too. At the very least, give it a try. If you're disappointed, I say the problem is yours. 'Cause the music is that good.” - Ric Manhard


A Review of “In the Matter of J. Van Pelt”

Greg Trachta


Think about Roy Blount Jr. channeling Socrates. Think about a Robert Benchley sendup of Erskine Caldwell. Think about Jack Davis, 1950s Mad Magazine cartoonist, with his antic detail, sinuous distortions, and absurdity. Think about finding truth. Now, you’re ready to read “In the Matter of J. Van Pelt,” by Dave Shiflett, folk singer, political analyst, ghostwriter, and novelist.

Truth can’t be gotten head on. It doesn’t come in a tweet. It forms in the spaces between the things we know for certain. It emerges between the things we knew then, and the things we know now. When we’re sure we’ve got it, it flies into the jet stream, burrows into the earth, and warbles from the song of a cardinal.

Mr. Shiflett gives us the journal of the novel’s namesake, J. Van Pelt, who takes a long journey in his mind, and is taken for a short ride, by the outside world, in the way Jimmy Hoffa was taken for a short ride. Like the now unrepeatable vaudeville act of Stuttering Sam, he earnestly starts one way, falters, and pivots to the opposite with equal certitude.

Van Pelt is a middle-aged, over-weight, marginally successful toady in a Washington law firm, who senses his life is a drifting oblivion. He starts his journal to speak truths too dangerous to speak aloud. His liberation is its secrecy. He reckons toward absolute veracity, without fear of censorship or condemnation. Mostly. But his truth keeps shifting. The elements of his life are bizarre. He plunges in, and day-by-day, certitude shifts like the wind, spiraling toward something, or flying off toward nullity.

There is a counterintuitive theory of comedy and tragedy which holds that comedy is the pessimistic art form, and tragedy the optimistic. Tragedy rests on the assumption that life has meaning, otherwise why care if bad things happen? Comedy assumes life is meaningless, or we couldn’t laugh at it. This book is funny. Seriously funny. The humor squirts out like milk from startled nostrils. It flies up like a rake handle between the eyes. It weaves on many levels in every line, threading its crazy-quilt narrative. But the humor does not describe a random universe of no consequence. It drapes from humanity’s essential structures, love, character, spirituality, memory and eternal longing, like the marble drapes of Callimachus, their wind-swept edges caught in mid flutter.

It’s all here. The enigma of conscious life, the tension between ancient and modern, the timeless longing of humanity, the nasty details of human interaction viewed up close, the impossibility of knowing the truth, and, yet, the possibility of catching a glimpse of eternal beauty wandering on her way. If all you get from the book is a good laugh, you’re ahead of the game. You’ll probably get something more optimistic.