Five years ago, Doug Burr was on a roll. The Denton-based singer-songwriter and former Lonelies frontman had cranked out four albums in seven years between 2003 and 2010, each seemingly better than the last. The last of those, O Ye Devastator, was devastatingly beautiful and easily one of North Texas' best that year.
That should've been more than enough to keep fans happy, but while Burr's reputation continued to grow in North Texas, greater acclaim leading to a larger commercial success wasn't something he enjoyed. So Burr went silent with making new music.
So, here we are in 2015, five years removed from Burr's last full-length, and finally, Pale White Dove arrived last week via Velvet Blue Music. In what might be the least surprising musical development in North Texas of the year thus far, the new album is a pure stunner from beginning to end.
Five years for new tunes feels like an eternity. Putting a large gap of time between albums was a part of Burr's plan, as it turns out, and it had nothing to do with the oft-cited reasons for a delay between efforts such as record label disputes, money for recording studios or even band in-fighting.
"When O Ye Devastator came out, it seemed to garner no new attention for us, similar to the attention we received when On Promenade came out three years prior," Burr admits with refreshing frankness. "So even though we thought we successfully followed-up On Promenade -- which was a tall order -- it just felt like we ended up taking a step backwards." Not wanting to get bogged down, he decided to approach his next record on his own terms: "I figured I'd take as long as I needed to dig-in, find some new inspiration, and try to do something to keep things interesting, rather than getting bitter and cynical."
Burr is a family man, and he speaks of the process with the insight of someone who knows that it's more important to speak when there's truly something to say instead of forcing something forward before his vision is fully-formed. His maturity and keen insight into dark personal corners and oft-overlooked conditions many are unwilling to inspect are handled deftly. Paranoia and faith are dealt with throughout the record, as they are in Burr's other works. Such topics do not often make for happy sing-along songs, but Burr knows how to offer them up in an infectious way that both rocks and engages.
"Paranoia is a big one for me," Burr admits. "That stream runs throughout lots of what I write, going back to early on. On Promenade and O Ye Devastator are both rife with it, and Pale White Dove is no exception. I tend to write about things that haunt me, and I think they haunt others too." But paranoia is closely tied to another important theme, as well: "I'd say all of the songs deal with spirituality. Some are more indirect, but certainly others directly. Even the non-spiritual stuff is spiritual to me."
The topics dealt with and the trails traveled on this album may offer the listener some familiarity, and in the cases of dramatically swelling, folk-tinged numbers such as "From the City of the Bride" and "I Love to Hate You," there are some familiar sounds that Burr has mastered as well. But in the stomping "White Night - Black Light," "Revolution Son Blues," and "I See Satan Fall Like Lightning," Burr finds a gritty groove that has been hinted at before, but not manifested in such an in-your-face way. For what can be safely termed a comeback record, Burr, along with his band, has expertly taken the darkest, most bombastic elements of his past records and twisted the knobs until they cracked.
"This record is definitely louder," he says. His band includes Glen Farris on bass and keys, Dave Sims (who played with Burr back in his Lonelies days) on drums and guitar and, for live shows, Cody Garcia on guitar. "We make a pretty tight band, so it's got a solid groove underneath from start to finish. I don't know that it'll be a shock, but hopefully a fun surprise. There's always been a dark tone and a certain gritty quality about the previous albums, but this record takes another step out, and just comes out hollering."
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Selfishly, here's to hoping Pale White Dove accomplishes for Burr and his band what they need it to in order to have another album ready for us well before 2020 rolls around. Then again, a Doug Burr album that's anything but fully inspired may not offer what we've come to expect from him. Indeed, he maintains a dogged vision of sticking to his philosophical guns.
"If you're not moving forward, then you're moving backward because time, age and inflation are like a treadmill slowly moving you backwards," Burr insists. "You have to have a forward motion that out-paces that or it gets harder and harder to keep the guitars, amps and vehicles gassed, greased and ready for the next show. To me it's kind of a fight for survival."
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