Various artists, Wayfaring Strangers: Lonesome Heroes (Numero Group)
The subtitle of this heavenly collection of ’70s and early-’80s singer/songwriter folk is a misnomer. The singers on these tracks aren’t weather-beaten Clint Eastwood-esque fighters. The Vietnam War and the draft do hang over the album like a gray, dreamy shroud, but the response they elicit isn’t defiant so much as resigned and vulnerable. When George Cromarty insists, with a light Donovan quaver, “There’s always someone to pick up your toys/ … at the end of the day, little children,” it’s less reassurance than prayer. The performers here cling to childhood because they know that adulthood means an immediate confrontation with mortality—as in Jack Hardy’s “The Tailor,” where the titular seamster asserts, “I am not a tailor, I’m a man,” before being dragged off to the gallows. More typical is John Villemonte’s “I Am the Moonlight,” where the singer sloughs off masculinity altogether for a retreat into unbodied sensuality: “I am the watcher… I see both your bodies/your hands in her hair/I shine through your windows/silhouetting your forms/I’m soft and I’m fragile/to echo the warm.” This is Peter Pan music if Peter forswore fighting to play on his pipes while Hook bore down on him. It’s lilting and eerie and sad—and perhaps a little brave, after all, in the way it quietly trades heroism for beauty.