February 28, 2017 | By Grayson Haver Currin
On his first Entrance LP in a decade, Guy Blakeslee’s songs are newly exposed and intimate, telling a story of love and loss with folk, pop, and echoes of Laurel Canyon.
Guy Blakeslee’s career has drawn no straight stylistic lines. After breaking from the knotty psych rock of his Baltimore band the Convocation Of… in 2002, Blakeslee reemerged in the early ’00s with a series of warped records and a new identity: a haunted Delta blues conjurer called Entrance. In the years since, he staggered and sometimes stumbled through brooding stoner rock with the Entrance Band and, more recently, alternated phases of anemic indie and instrumental escapism under his given name. He has seemed, through it all, inquisitive and impressionable, responding in real time to sounds that piqued his interest as a listener first and a musician second. But Book of Changes, his first full album in a decade under the Entrance moniker, is one of the most inviting sets of songs he’s ever made.
At its best, Book of Changes feels like a natural resting point for a songwriter who has spent the better part of two decades searching restlessly for the perfect sound. Somewhat surprisingly, it is a rather conventional distillation of folk, pop, and rock, dipping its toes into the echoes of Laurel Canyon and occasionally lifting its head to the narcotic heights of Roky Erickson or Love. There are traces of Phil Spector’s trademark Wall of Sound, Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra’s anxious romantic kismet, and the Zombies’ subtle psychedelia, all wrapped around songs that share the windfalls and pratfalls of a year lost to love, presented in chronological order. “Time will pass if you laugh or if you cry,” Blakeslee sings in full vibrato during “The Avenue,” the album’s pop-symphonic centerpiece of emotional uncertainty. “And the best of friends have to part sometimes/So why not you and I?” Turns out, Blakeslee traveled a long way just to ask old questions in unexpectedly simple ways.
Book of Changes is quite the production, though. It was recorded over a year and in nearly a dozen different studios on two continents with the help of some high-profile friends. There’s Pixie Paz Lenchantin and producer and engineer David Vandervelde—who cut a series of sterling albums a decade ago that align with Blakeslee’s ramshackle, anthemic aims here. There are passels of drummers, backup singers, and string players.
But Blakeslee is clearly in control, playing as many as a half-dozen instruments on some songs. That’s him with the perfectly pealing xylophone-and-piano lines during “Always the Right Time” and the mystic autoharp during the exasperated “Leaving California.” More importantly, he foregrounds his own love-and-loss story, dividing it into 10 acts of wide-eyed enthusiasm, waiting-by-the-phone unease, severe depression, and hopeful perseverance. He shares those feelings most effectively when the songs become a sort of pop music pulpit, a place for him to relay his story in open, verse-chorus-verse splendor. That happens during “Always the Right Time,” “Winter Lady,” and “Revolution Eyes,” the three songs that do the emotional heavy lifting and share the saturated sounds of Spector’s successes. “Revolution Eyes” even borders on heartland rock, like John Mellencamp forced into the studio with the War on Drugs. It is direct and disarmed in a way that Blakeslee’s music has rarely been.
Book of Changes is a good record built with occasionally great songs, especially that suite of Spector-like pop, but it ends with the same vexing questions about Blakeslee that have marked his entire career: Who is he? And will his output ever be more than a series of sometimes-marvelous conjurings, where he channels the ghosts of his influences (whether they be Neu! or Harry Nilsson) for an album or two? After all, even on this set, he slips into bolero camouflage (“I’d Be a Fool”), ambient musings (“Warm and Wild”), and western cover (“Molly”). At least these guises now feel like part of something bigger. Book of Changes is refreshingly exposed and intimate, as if Blakeslee has found a lingua franca for writing when it really matters. Perhaps Book of Changes is the start of Entrance in earnest, the beginning of a career that feels like more than a string of confidently executed echoes.