Emerging singer-songwriter Paul West’s earthy, down home storytelling skills, sometimes raucous, often heartfelt vocal delivery and powerhouse songs covering all sorts of romantic feelings and world-wise life philosophies are so brilliant, engaging, on fire and on point, we can only spout an old shopworn saying when we first roll through the 13 dynamic tracks of his debut album Eight Palms Ranch: Where’s this dude been hiding from fans of folk country, buoyant rock blues and rootsy Americana all his life?
The bio that accompanies this generous collection (a baker’s dozen tunes is a remarkably confident opening statement from a new artist!) isn’t long but offers some insight that helps us understand where he’s coming from emotionally and artistically. Before the important stuff, we get a self-deprecating joke, lest we set our expectations too high: “Paul taught himself to play guitar at 13 on his family’s farm and jokes the goats were the only thing that wanted to hear him play.” Then we’re given influences that we can hear immediately upon listening, as we journey from the relationship struggles-driven power ballad “My Kind of Pain” through the mirror to self, cathartic inner turmoil self-exam “On Trial” – Johnny Cash and Neil Young.
Although not cited as a direct influence, it’s notable that West and his family moved to Maui a number of years ago to work as full-time house musician at Mick Fleetwood’s bar Fleetwood’s on Front St. It's testament to West’s multitude of talents and overall creative vision that his producer is Ed Stasium (Ramones, Talking Heads, Living Color) and the album features legendary rock sidemen like drummer Kenny Aronoff and guitarist Stevie Salas.
Considering the personal, male oriented confessional nature of the tunes, perhaps the bio detail that’s most interesting is the fact that West and his wife Jenifer co-wrote the whole album, compiling some of the best tracks they have been working on over the past ten years. Another way to look at this dynamic, of course, is that he can’t pull anything past her – as he playfully shares in one of the album’s feistier rocker, “Standing the Driveway,” which chronicles being busted coming home drunk at 3 a.m. after a wild night with the boys.
This stark, rough-edged spotlight on the downside of too much beer drinking is artfully balanced by one of West’s most inspiring tunes, the danceable barnburner “Something Stronger,” in which he declares that he’s “skipping beer” for something much more meaningful – the opportunity to play music and sing for “folks just passing through.” With this line he makes it known that music is far more fulfilling: “I like to get a little bit crazy sometimes, and that sometime can’t wait no longer.”
Beyond the singing about music and beer (oh, and the hard stuff on the boot scootin’ romp “Whiskey Follows”!), West is at his most poignant and wise when singing simply about meaningful, long-lasting relationships, as he does soulfully on the laid back, harmonica laced ballad “Did You Find Me” and the sweetly reflective “New Year’s Day” – and even more inspiringly on up-tempo gems like “One Street Dream” (about the joys of building a very simple small town life) and “Working to Live,” which offers a reflection on the things that matter most in life (i.e. time with family instead of work). West saves the most beautiful reflection of romance and love gone good for almost last, infusing the tender acoustic portrait of hoe “Heaven’s Just a Step Away” with stunning lines like “I step outside that open door/And feel the peace within me wash away/Safe inside curled up and warm/Two little girls and a loving mom/You know that’s where I’d really rather stay.”
You don’t have to jet to Maui to experience the dazzling rootsy cool of Paul West. Simply venture to a place in your own heart called Eight Palms Ranch, and once you dispense with the alcohol fueled country fun, you’ll find some of the best country Americana songwriting of the year.