A LOOK AT SEAN HAYES
Artwork & Words by David D. Robbins Jr.
Upcoming Album: Run Wolves Run • Release Date: March 2, 2010
(Artwork uses web photo and elements from Hayes’ album covers)
It’s too bad San Francisco-based singer-songwriter Sean Hayes isn’t better known, because he’s been one of the best musicians in America for some time now. In a fair world, Hayes’ sixth album, “Run Wolves Run”, would be an early candidate for album of the year.
On “Run Wolves Run”, this master crooner manages to infuse his amorous side with a jolt of the carnal — giving glimpse into the raw, urgent, desirous side of love. If the yearning in “All For Love” was a smooth brandy, than this is a 21-year-old Bushmills elixir. His tales of “epic romance gone astray” mix with more flesh-charged songs like “So Down” — where Hayes sings out to a lover, “Put on your high heels and give it to me, baby. Ohhhhhhhhhaaaaa! Put on your high heels, and nothing else.” Melodic Wurlitzer, driving crisp drums, and siren noises build into a frenetic shirt-tearing, skirt-ripping, sweaty, skin-to-skin steamfest — that would even move gutbucket crowds to dance as if they were listening to Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful”. Hayes rocks out on one of the album’s best tracks, “Gunnin'”:
“How many accidents, before we collide?
A trillion coincidence, got me by your side …
Mysterious flower in your belly, / Orchid in bloom
This gift we exist in, / Let me undress you.”
Desire and lust are as much a part of love as sweet kisses. But Hayes doesn’t shed his romantic side. On the album opener, “When We Fall In”, he sings in a lovely lilt between a choral call-and-response about being immersed in the heights and depths love:
“She is in every little bird,
forever rising, forever dying.
Picking petals from the stars,
Turns the little sparks, to keep the embers burning.
Holding honey in her hand,
I’m your man, I’m your man.
Frees the reflection from the glass,
The future from the past, forever rising.”
Hayes may not know it, but there has always been something sexy about his music. Perhaps it’s the intrinsic dichotomy of a man writing so poetically. It may be a poetic misnomer to think of lyrical men as feminine, but it is a part of what makes his music so damn appealing. It’s the same allure we find in the high romanticism of Jeff Buckley or John Keats. It’s hard to write about love or it’s loss as much as Hayes does, without sounding cliche. Try it and see for yourself. It’s a testament to his rare songwriting gifts that he always finds new and unique ways of expression. His songs are substantial, in part, for how they make listeners feel as much as for what they impart. His music can make you love the idea of love (or as Van Morrison would say, it makes you “love the love that loves the love …”), make you want to move more sexily, make you want to weep, make you laugh, and sometimes even cause you to see the world with softer eyes. His music makes sadness more sad. Fun more fun. Drunkenness just that much more drunken. It’s an auditory intensifier. Oh yes, this is powerful stuff.
His new record touches on some familiar Hayes themes: nature, women, love, the body, and desire — but once again, he’s expanding his turf. On “A Thousand Tiny Pieces” he was the songsmith using sparse folk guitar and pretty melodies, singing about a floorboard tryst in the song “Mary Magdalene”. On his second album “Lunar Lust” he sang ambient folk with intense fire, in the mode of Nick Drake and Neil Young. The song “Sea Love” oozed with melancholy through detailed acoustic guitar and poetic lyricism. Albums “Flowering Spade” and “Big Black Hole and the Little Baby Star” expanded his range into more pop-influenced melodies and warmer instrumentation. But it was really after his 2004 masterpiece “Alabama Chicken” that his growing fan base began shelving his CDs next to gems like Joe Henry’s “Tiny Voices”, Jeff Buckley’s “Grace”, Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon”, David Gray’s “A Century Ends”, and even Bob Dylan.
“Alabama Chicken” shifted comfortably from the Appalachia-influenced strings and banjo on the title track, to the celestially-tinged “Moonrise” — glowing with eerie saw and Hayes singing in an aching tone as he waxed brilliantly about the moonglow in a lover’s eyes. Then there was the folksier, slow-moving beauty, “Balancing Act in Blue”. Like many Hayes songs, it exists more as painting than narrative. Hayes’ music is more impressionistic than linear. He writes in short sentence bursts. He splashes with paint. Alliterative here. Drum thump there. Pretty here. Rough there. A dab. A detail. Light brushes. Transcendent thought here. Descriptive there. Insinuation here. Extended note there. Intonation here. Harmony there.
Hayes often puts those pieces together so well, they become utterly enthralling. The countryesque “Diamond in the Sun” has some of the prettiest and most heartbreaking vocal melodies you’ll likely ever hear. He blew away a radio audience singing the song “Here We Are” on the California radio station KCRW, back in 2004:
“On and on / What will it be? / Ambling ambrosia / Casting your seeds / Come on, come on / The road you’re on / The darkness flowers into the dawn / Digital daylight / Electronic stars / Primitive eyes / and old fashioned hearts / Nostalgic leaves / fall from the trees / and the smell in the air’s of an old memory / On and on / All dust all stars / Shake your thing man / Be who you are / On and on / as we walk through the bars / Cocktail queens, can you send me to Mars? / What will it be, a new memory? / Remember the child wanted to sing / Pulsing through fingertips / Drips on a string / Bus stop digestion / You know who we are / with a neon reflection / with a Glo-stick heart / Dust storm detection / We vacate the scene / Shall we dance or seek refuge / in an acid cabaret / On and on / as the poets go on / Mushroom mandolins / Kangaroo jars / Medieval things / Melodica sings / Crooning with bullhorns / The party begins / CC Rider and summertime cries / Operatic ladies / who sing about my mice / The drummers with sticks / Z she strips / Speed with the words / Fumbling from his lips.”
Let’s dispense with the suspense: “Run Wolves Run” is a remarkable album. Hayes has added rhythmic rock to his ever-expanding palette. This album is full of strong, catchy, and toe-tapping wonders. The guitar groan on “Garden”, paired with the percussive elements and well-placed high hats, are reminiscent of the dark slow-burn riffs Tom Waits used to create with Marc Ribot. “So Down” sparkles with clear rock and blues structures, harmonies and swaying grooves. “Shake Your Body” feels like a punk anthem. “Me and my Girl” rushes forward on the strength of a wicked bass lick. “Open Up A Window” begins with this lyric: “I’m gonna stay up all night and do you like a drug / Fall asleep in the sunrise / Exhausted by your buzz / Hear the city waking / And the little bird stir” — before heating up with a down and dirty upright jazz bass, and some serious electric blues guitar. The socially conscious “One Day The River” is a catchy Ribot-esque number about how nature is more powerful than man, even if we often forget it. “Soul Shaker” opens up like a sister to Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy, Mercy Me” — with a sweet touch of island love.
“Run Wolves Run” is quite a bit more ambitious than you may think after a first listen. But that’s the way Hayes’ albums work. Oh yes, this is some powerful stuff.
Note: Those that purchase “Run Wolves Run” online can also receive a three-song digital EP called “Honeybees Falling” — which features the track “Day Falls Night Opens”. Hayes plays a soft repeating guitar melody under these lyrics, “I wanna love you for a long time / You know I do.” The song is reminiscent of Nick Drake’s “Know” — where he too talks to a mythical love: “Know that I love you …” “Run Wolves Run” also features Andrew Burger (drums/percussion/tambourine) and Devin Hoff (upright and electric bass). A few of you may also notice one of the producers is none other than musician Etienne de Rocher. To go to Sean Hayes’ YouTube video channel, click here.
VIDEO BELOW: Sean Hayes “Garden”