Not everyone gives a shit about lyrics. For some, they just don’t make or break a song. For example, my brother once believed that Lynyrd Skynyrd was singing “Sweet home, Dalai-Lama” and it didn’t occur to him, nor did he care, that such a line made no sense at all. Michael Gaither’s fourth album, Hey Karma, is for those who not only need clever lyrics but enjoy obsessing over every minute detail. Gaither is a supremely talented storyteller, whose stripped back acoustic style spotlights his charming wit, dripping sarcasm, and love for zombies. His music isn’t exactly mind-blowing, but it isn’t supposed to be. Everything being played is to support Gaither’s words. If you want a big, catchy hook to sing mindlessly then you might have to look somewhere else.
Gaither is a songwriter’s songwriter, and as such his voice is an acquired taste. His withered, reedy singing instantly reminded me of country legend John Prine, but annoyingly also my 9th-grade guitar teacher, who was hellbent on showing me his “fresh” take on “Hotel California.” I, thankfully, overcame such an obstacle out of sheer respect for Gaither’s unique approach to Americana. The magic is all in his lyrics. A former journalist, and comedian, it is clear that he has the observation skills and twisted worldview needed to dissect the monotony of everyday language that we are too despondent to realize is actually pretty ridiculous.
Take album highlights “Best of Breed Romance” and “It’s Nothing Personal (The Layoff Song)” as shining examples. Gaither hilariously uses cliched office jargon as a way to start and end a romance. When he approaches a crush, he starts off their meeting with, “I would like to engage in a dialogue,” and when she inevitably leaves him she formally states, “These are unplanned actions I had to take/changes I couldn’t anticipate.” It’s no accident that these are the same words, anyone would use when applying for a job or having to fire someone. It’s an analogy that is funny, accurate, and kind of heartbreaking. Is the way we approach our dating lives becoming THAT similar to the way we approach our professional lives?
There are tons of great little moments throughout the album. I’m especially keen on opener “Mix-Tape” in which the singer clearly knows how unfashionable, yet intimate, it is to put together a mix cassette tape for the girl you like. To be fair, if she isn’t moved by Otis Redding, Smokey Robinson, or George Carlin then maybe you shouldn’t be together, dude! The funniest, though, easily has to be “Moving To Boise (Zombie Free). It’s a classic road trip song except that the singer is running away from a zombie apocalypse and is in complete denial over the bite on his arm.
Even though most jokes land, the albums isn’t without its filler. The worst offender by far is his inferior cover of Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns, and Money.” I like Gaither all the more for being a Zevon fan, as we are a beautifully warped breed, but Gaither lacks the edge to make it work. He sounds way too nice to be gambling, and whoring himself in Honduras! Anyway, these are only minor squabbles. If you appreciate a well-thought set of lyrics then Michael Gaither is your man and Hey Karma is the mix tape you’ve been eagerly been waiting for.
Written by Shawn Thicke
*edited by Danielle Kenedy