As Bob Dylan preps a new release, and, sadly, John Prine passes away, there is current and renewed attention on the legacy of the singer-songwriter. And, even as he remains a vibrant and colossal rock star, Bruce Springsteen, too, ages into the echelon of national treasure in this musical category. This is where we find Stoll Vaughan and his latest album: as one of the potential successors to that daunting lineage.
There will no doubt be references and comparisons of this record to those of the aforementioned icons. It’s completely unfair to begin with, (no one begs to be held to the standard of Dylan and The Boss) but it does show the company of artists Vaughan’s stripped-down songs evoke. He’s poetic and a bit ornery, finding lyrical homes for guns and tombstones and love affairs as cold as the ground in Kentucky, and intent on letting a relatively quiet album do some loud talking.
His acoustic guitar fills just enough space with warm, full-bodied confidence; a sturdy foundation for aching breaths of harmonica or droplets of barroom piano. Sparse seems the best word, but without the pretense of weighty silence. Instead, Vaughan chooses direct, unadorned pathways through his words and worlds, as on “Desires of Despair,” sounding much like a cut from Springsteen’s Nebraska sessions.
He turns up the tempo on “Entertained,” and it’s the first track to suggest a cut that could be just as affecting with a full band as it is with Vaughan flying solo. There is a gorgeous major-key instrumental, “Will of Man,” that shows off quite tasteful guitar work, as well as Vaughan, essentially alone, accompanying himself and his Joe Strummer-like ode to “Maria” with just stomps, claps, and a solitary harmonica.
Within these ten tracks there is genuine vulnerability; something that Dylan, Prine, Springsteen, and Strummer long understood as the link between an honest song and an honest performance. With Desires Shape, Vaughan submits himself, as exposed as he’s ever been, into the highest circle of the singer-songwriter, sounding humble, reflective, and home.