I made a vow that I would never write another artist bio. The money is macaroni and cheese money. The artists always complain: "I didn't say that" or "Who wrote this garbage about me" or “Could you pass me that red pen?” As author, you sign your name to your writing and then watch as the record companies "mistakenly" leave the name off. Bottom line, it's not dignified work. So I took my vow. Never again. And I didn't write one for over a year. And then, last week, Carey Ott's Lucid Dream CD came across my desk.
This is the bio I’m writing because I have to. The songs on Carey Ott’s Lucid Dream are the kind of songs that made me want to write about music in the first place. I'm talking about songs that take up residence in your head, songs that hit you like epiphanies every time you press play.
What did I hear in it? I heard a man who works in the shops of melody but isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. In that respect I was reminded of Ray Davies. But, in an odd way, I also heard Joni Mitchell and Elvis Costello in there, especially in the way Ott is willing to throw out the rules of pop songwriting in order to get the effect he wants. I heard characters moving around, getting in and out of trouble. And I could see them right away. I could see the rooms they were in.
Carey Ott writes cinematic music. It's almost like he’s shooting little movies on a super 8 camera each time he writes a song. In this respect, you could say there is something of Randy Newman in Ott’s craft. But, perhaps most importantly, when you listen to Carey Ott deliver a song, you can feel the singer sitting right next to you, telling you the latest about some dark little adventure or a blue hole that opened up in a gray sky. No movie director gets that close.
I suppose the sense of intimacy in Carey Ott’s music derives in part from the respect for space that permeates Lucid Dream, as if the producers understood that these songs are too good to smother in production. I imagined a plywood sign in the studio: “Do not step on the spaces!” There is air breathing in between the lines Ott sings. Listen to the verses on “Am I Just One” or “I Wouldn’t Do That to You” and you’ll feel it immediately. Whoever put that sign up should make more of them and spread them around the world’s studios. Think of it this way: if you listen to the best Memphis soul music, however different it might seem from Carey Ott's work, you’ll hear that same capacity to strip it all back, to get out of the way of great songs, to respect musical space. But, hell, why not just say it? Carey Ott writes soul music. And that is, of course, the music that matters.
So I agreed to write the bio. And then it got very strange. Let me explain:
I always have my sister give a listen to any recordings I write about. She has remarkable intuitive sense, helping me to think through my own judgments. So, having already filled my head with Carey Ott songs, fully converted, I went to the post office and sent a copy of Lucid Dream to my sister’s Chicago address. But, instead of giving me valuable insight, she got the package, called me immediately, and said, "That's the guy who helped me open my savings account!" And, sure enough, with a little fact checking to confirm the matter, I found out that she was right.
I called the Chicago bank where Carey Ott once worked and spoke to the manager. "Yeah," she said, "Carey was a good worker. And, I have to say, our female clients were quite fond of him. He had a way, if you know what I mean. Is he married?" I didn’t have an answer. It was kind of beside the point.
Carey Ott is not at that Chicago branch anymore. And, because of music, he’s only working part time. He’s just a bank teller now. But if the scales of musical justice are in balance, he won’t be for long. If you need to make a deposit with him, make it now. I see it this way: the songwriter we’ve been waiting for has arrived. He gets off at 3pm. Believe this former bio writer and waste no time--pick this man up at work, and let him tell you everything.
P.S.—My sister did get back to me again. She said this guy is the best thing she’s heard since Leonard Cohen and Travis, her two favorites. She fell in love with “Daylight” and “You Got Love.” And, after a rather exuberant conversation about the way that music gives meaning to life (you know the kind of conversation, which we need to have every now and then just to help us understand why we do what we do), she asked, “Do you know if this guy is married?” I don’t know, of course. It’s kind of beside the point.