New Band, New Direction

Saratoga (Alias)
Paul K & The Prayers

By Tim Roberts

In an interview he gave to the LMN, the basis for its cover story on him in its August 1997 issue, Paul K said he wanted to move toward a more folk-country sound. After his adventures in a glossy production (1997's L_ve is a Gas) and a big, pretentious work (1998's rock opera/film soundtrack A Wilderness of Mirrors), Paul has settled comfortably into where he wants to be with Saratoga.

Made at Ramcat Studios in Louisville, Saratoga is lyrically loaded with the themes and colors that run through all his works: loneliness, imperfections, disillusion, loss (of anything), dishonesty. The personae in his works are crippled emotionally or mentally. Those themes are by no means any reason to avoid this recording. For Paul, there may be no answers yet. But there is always forgiveness, compassion, hope.

Compared with Paul's previous two works, the instrumentation on this one is mostly acoustic, quiet, understated. It begins quietly with guitar and harmonica in "on the floor," flirts with a soul sound straight from Stax on the verses in "Once it happens," and gives us full-throttle gospel in "the Judge (on judgement day)." The slow album-rock quality of "1992 / snakes live in the desert" is one of the louder selections, a song about dissimilar views of important parts of a relationship ("When your idea of joy is a tiny smile / When your idea of torture is a broken nail . . . / When your idea of romance is a tepid hell. . . ") and its inevitable crash-and-burn. Paul also includes a nod to his inspiration - Townes Van Zandt - with his cover of "Harm's Swift Way."

After the final track has spun, Paul does manage to put a positive cap on the Saratoga experience with a hidden track: his lightly swinging, lounge version of Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust." It is a reassuring touch of love and hope following a bruising exploration of the heart's dark areas.

The copy of Saratoga reviewed here was a promotional version from the label. There are no personnel listed. However, on backing vocals is the unmistakable, full soulfulness of Ms. Niki Buehrig.