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Don't Feel Too Bad For Sad-Sack Bob Schneider

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Bob Schneider's Burden of Proof is a frequently beautiful, often morose, downcast album. I get the feeling he's using broken romantic relationships metaphorically — that when he sings about not connecting with someone he loves, he's also singing about not connecting with a bigger audience. And he does it with just the right lack of self-pity to make what he's bemoaning interesting.

The music on Burden of Proof is mostly straightforward singer-songwriter pop-folk-rock, with regular appearances by the Tosca String Quartet. I gather the sound on Burden of Proof, which is tasteful without being too mild, is tidier than the Bob Schneider music you'd get if you saw him in a club in Austin, Texas. But Schneider's musical experimentation and precise arrangements really pay off on a regular basis here, as in the sad-sack-lovely song "Weed Out the Weak."

One element that prevents Schneider from disappearing up his own despair is the way he regularly snaps out of his own self-consideration to focus on the person in front of him. Thus, a song like "Please Ask for Help." Against spare arrangement, Schneider's voice rings with convincing sincerity as he politely recognizes that someone he's fond of could use some assistance. The melody he builds around the title plea is the musical opposite of an intervention — it's the sound of discretion, of communicating that he's here if you want him.

Schneider regularly breaks up the pensive mood of Burden of Proof with some excellent lighter-hearted music. Nowhere is this more plangent than on the pretty, acoustic-guitar croon in "The Effect."

Ultimately, Burden of Proof strikes me as a collection of songs about self-doubt, executed by an artist making music that avoids a trace of self-doubt. The resulting tension between the lyrics and the music makes for frequent drama. It might be drama of a quiet sort, or of a subdued stubbornness, but it's compelling drama nevertheless.

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