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Colin Boyd's no doormat

One of the big pitfalls lurking under the surface of most versions of romantic love is an implied masochism, an idea that suffering is somehow relative to emotional depth. It's what scuttles most of what could be referred to (sneeringly or not) as "sensitive" music, songs that deal with emotions and the various torments life visits upon the heart and soul.

Colin Boyd has certainly trodden that ground. A long-standing local favorite, he's a sincere and earnest singer, songwriter, and guitarist with a pure, sweet tenor. Most people find him only slightly less endearing than Snuggles, the fabric-softening bear. His first album, 1994's Juliet, contained songs like "Number Two," with its words of aching, loyal endurance (or dumb-ass acceptance, if you wish): "When your number one don't love you/Just come to number two."

Boyd leavened things with humor--"Buddy Holly's Ghost" explained and capitalized on his wholesome appeal, and his between-song patter was honestly engaging--and talent. As a songwriter, he was developing into someone who could be sad or silly but reliably smart.

His tape release of last year--Peggy Sue Went Surfin'--wasn't really an album. It was more of a demo-quality holding action, put out to give his fans something to listen to while he worked on Juliet's follow-up, keep his name and product in the public eye, and raise money for the new album. Fun but ultimately a bit insubstantial, Peggy Sue was primarily a rehash of past patterns--some middling live stuff, the title track--with a few good songs set amid the styrofoam peanuts. Was Boyd in a rut? Out of ideas? Beginning to "do" himself?

The release of Sincerity proves something that has actually been fairly apparent if you've caught Boyd live over the past 18 months: He's growing as a songwriter and maturing and expanding his reach, and his growing skills are lifting him further out of the coffeehouse/folk/singer-songwriter ghetto where many place him. The past year has seen Boyd collaborating with writing partners like Austin's Monte Warden and local guitarist Matt Iddings, and the fruits of those collaborative efforts--with Iddings on "Doesn't Matter Now" and "I Wanna be the One"; Warden on "Near You" and "Forgetting"--reveal that Boyd's muse responds well to cooperation.

There is also a toughening of tone and a definite assertiveness that makes emotions like those in "Number Two" sound faithful and patient rather than needy or insecure. This self-assurance is all over Sincerity, announced with the title (and initial) track, which is a kiss-off wrapped in a thank-you: "If this is sincerity/Then I thank you for letting me know," Boyd sings over his shoulder as he heads for the door and greener, more honest pastures. "I Know What She's Saying"--a song Boyd wrote five or six years ago that was first recorded on Peggy Sue--has a wounded context, yes, but it's a lot more eye-rolling exasperation at the utter predictability of the barracuda who hurt him.

Sincerity is much sharper and more sophisticated than his previous work and definitely follows an Americana/alt-country track, heavy with the steel of Milo Deering and the lessons learned from observing the success of Jack Ingram's version of Boyd's "Flutter," which went to No. 51 on the Billboard country singles chart.

"I wanted to take a step up," Boyd explains. "I had arrangements, but I also wanted to get somebody that could help me compete on the level of Freedy Johnston. What that would end up sounding like, I didn't have any idea." The person Boyd chose for that help was buddy and longtime local contributor Terence Slemmons, known for his work with many artists including Little Jack Melody and Dah-veed Garza. Slemmons--joined by Jim Dailey on drums--also plays bass with Boyd's live combo.

"I always thought that my stuff could fall into that alt-country or Americana slot," Boyd says. "I've always loved country music, but I've always thought of myself as a rocker, even though most people think of me as folk." He doesn't chafe under the folk label, though. "I'll take it," he says of the popular perception of his music. "I'm not on some mission; I'll just play what I want and just let the chips fall." He is glad, however, to be slipping out from under some of the snares that come with the romantic form.

He's not renouncing his old songs or his sweeter side, however. Witness the pop precision of "Someone Who Can Do No Wrong" or the '50s-pop "This Kiss," co-written with Warden and Sara Hickman. "Take 'Much Better Off Without You,'" Boyd says as an example. "That guy [the narrator] is pretty pissed, and he's pretty tightly wound up."

He pauses. "I would never try to 'toughen up' a song," he says, "and I don't shy away from a straight-ahead love song or a heartbroken song. I can still sing a song like 'Number Two' and happily do sing it, but it's not the kind of thing I would write now."

Boyd has faith that his audience will follow him. "It's kind of a challenge to the people who like me for that hopeful--or hopeless--romantic in those songs like "This Heart" and "Juliet," he says, "but I think that's still there."

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