In a perfect world, all the self-appointed gurus and geniuses of the folk world and all the music-consuming public would get their respective acts together and declare Paul Sachs (Acoustic Live cover feature November 2009) a star. Agents would start booking rooms 500 seats and above and get posters plastered on all the construction sites around town. His concerts and records would sell out.
This is a major talent which has been far too long underrated. He just keeps getting better, but he’s not getting any younger, folks, so let’s stop wasting time. Survival Is the New Success touches every base in the singer/songwriter manual. Hell, it is the new singer/songwriter manual.
The first, and title track, speaks for everyone. It deplores the encroaching devastation of financial insolvency as the rich get richer and … you know the rest: Some people sleep inside their cars / and work three jobs a day / behind in rent or bars, they’re invisible USA / A place called home, food to eat / I got no more or less / The way things are I can’t compete / Survival is the new success.
“Hank Williams Guitar” begins: I played a 6 string / That felt real warm to me / A Martin of old dialect from 1953 / Floating through the wood / The earth hid in a whiskey jar / One night I played Hank Williams’ guitar. It’s a soft tone poem with perhaps a perfect refrain: Sing it high and lonesome / all night long. Paul doesn’t bother to get up in your face with all the power in his baritone. He gets it just right, throwing in a modest yodel.
“Oswald’s Window” gives us another understated masterpiece, lamenting the gun lobby’s success in turning America into an abattoir: Staring out of Oswald’s window / at every city and town / at every child shot dead Or soul that fled another lock-down … Guns and bombs pierce the landscape / not much kindness left …
Paul crawls into the mind of a woman soldier in “The Devil Never Did” and makes it work. … I could still smell the desert air on my fatigues / and hear the bombs and see the death of people I killed / A human mess, that feeling of running for my life never leaves / I used to pray to God all the time / I used to go church as a kid / Now I can’t find any peace of mind / After doing things the Devil never did.
For me, the jewel in the crown is “All the Junkies.” I used to think it was just a brilliant piece of observation of an addicted soul. Then Paul told me it was about his mother, a victim of a medical blunder, then plagued by addiction. Paul cared for her until her death in 2006. He found a way to deal with this life-altering tragedy within his craft: All the junkies loved her then / She was one of them too / Pill heads and addicts loved to pull her through / Nights became her days / Darkness became light / Ever since I was a little boy / I saw her suffer my whole life, suffer my whole life. My heart breaks every time I hear it.
Paul lightens the mood with “Jesus Candle.” During the Hurricane Sandy disaster, in the middle of an electrical blackout on the lower east side of New York City, there were candles illuminating the night, so he gives us: Jesus candle / I got a Jesus candle / I bought it cheap just last week / A dollar I can handle / Outside there’s a hurricane, I got a Jesus candle / It bears his image and his name / I got a Jesus candle …
“Painter and Sculptor (The last American town)” is a spoken word piece, with a moody guitar background which is perfectly evocative of a road trip through a different time. The listener can ride along as the dream billows, illuminating the mind’s landscape: I’m riding with a painter and sculptor / In a grey black beat-up truck / Past midnight on the edge of the last American town / Creation makes you whole again says the painter / The art of the divine is all … The painter and sculptor stare at the horizon / And keep driving till we disappear into the darkness / The only sound is our wheels on the road / Past midnight on the edge of the last American town.
In “Jesse,” Paul burrows into the mind of Elvis Presley’s unborn brother. There are many stories about Elvis, but few bother with his unborn twin: Mama said my brother / Got my strength and soul / We were bound to one another / Inside the king of Rock and Roll. / A matching pair we were twins / Under our mother’s womb / Though I had died he stayed alive / Down in that human tomb / Below an unmarked grave they buried me / ‘neath Tupelo grey skies / Though my body lay cold and still / She could see me in his eyes.
Paul was a Kerrville New Folk Songwriting finalist in 2012 and won first place in 2013. Amazing stories continue to flow from his imagination. Everything is cut and fit with a jeweler’s precision, then played and sung as if presented like a gemstone on black velvet. There are elements of Bruce Springsteen and Harry Chapin in his voice, but it’s all Paul, and boy, am I glad.
Survival Is the New Success is scheduled for release toward the end of May. Buy it. See him live. You’ll be glad you did.