One look at Dietrich Strause and you know he’s got some terrific new story taking shape in that great big mind of his. It’s the eyes. Gentle, disarming, playful… ever on the look out for the next dash of inspiration. The man has stories enough to fill his diminutive yet sturdy frame. All beautifully rendered, lovingly crafted vignettes.
His 2011 first independent release, Laborsongs and Barkingdogs is a wonderful example of this sort of storycraft. As the the title suggests, the songs tell the tales of everyday workingmen and women of America. Many songs take place somewhere in the hills of Appalachia and rural Pennsylvania, paying homage to Strause’s boyhood home of Lancaster, PA. The settings may be pastoral or even remote, but the themes are universal.
For his second album, Little Stones to Break the Giant’s Heart, Strause continues this tradition of expertly crafted songs with vivid, expressive scenes that are at once simple in their structure and delivery.
Judging from the material covered on the album, Strause has been rather busy since 2011. While some tracks tread familiar territory, painting loving scenes of rural America and the people who live there (“Our Lady Ponderosa,” “Bootlegger”), many others take place on exotic even fantastical environs and show the extent of his growth as a storyteller.
There’s “Unsinkable,” which uses the classic folk song theme of an ill-fated seafaring adventure as the backdrop for the story of a man who pursues the object of his affection through three such doomed voyages– including The Titanic– even though his chances of winning his the favor of his beloved are probably only as good as his chances of making it safely to port on the same ship he sailed out on. And there’s the playful reimagining of the story of David and Goliath (“Sling & Stone”), which suggests that David’s motives for taking on the giant might not have been as selfless and virtuous as first thought (read: boys will do anything for a pretty face).
Taking well-known stories and blending them with contemporary perspective and humor. That’s where the album really shines.
In addition to Strause’s songwriting, the success of the album would not be possible without Strause’s warm, steady tenor voice or the delicate blend of accompanying voices and sounds (tip of the hat to Strause’s fellow Boston-based producer Austin Nevins, who also provides some wonderful lead guitar riffs and flourishes to the album itself, for putting it all together).
In the sea of cacophonous, muddled noise that seems to comprise much of the popular and indie music scene these days, Dietrich Strause possesses a clear, consistent tone. In a desert of over-produced, cloying and often inauthentic story lines that are heard in these other genres of music, Strause represents an oasis of clarity and sincerity in song craft and delivery that refreshes and delights.
Dietrich Strause – Little Stones to Break the Giant’s Heart
Listen Now: “Annie Dear”, “Our Lady Ponderosa”, “Tell Me Mary”, “Sling & Stone”