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Sweet sounds from the underground

There are exceptions, but for the most part I can honestly say that I dislike subway musicians.  I understand that these people need to make money.  I also understand that there are people who enjoy their performances.  I am just not one of those people.

I commute into New York City five days a week.  Each day on the way into work, I see the same Peruvian pipe musicians playing the same Enya-loving rendition of Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind.” The performance is pleasant enough, but the fact that the pipe player is backed by a pre-recorded track always leaves me feeling a bit cheated.  The monotony of song selection also gets to me.  After the fourth day of hearing the same song, I wished that I myself were dust in the wind. 

My return commute is rarely better.  Recently I had the unfortunate experience of waiting for an A train next to a flute player sharing his annoying version of the “I Dream of Jeanie” theme song.  Over and over again.  And he was accompanied by a bongo player.  I kid you not, faithful readers. The music is loud, the ceilings are low and the oncoming trains let out ear piercing, high-pitched screeches that combine to make my commute an aural horror show.  I try to protect myself with my trusty volume-pumping iPod, but even that does not help.  In some cases it even makes things worse, especially if the murky outside music slurps past my earphones.  Take it from me:  “Idiot Wind” by Bob Dylan and cover versions of television theme songs make for one disgusting mash-up.

But as I said, there are exceptions.  And singer/songwriter dorian is not just a pleasant sound in the New York Subway system, he is in fact a great talent.  I had my earphones on when I saw dorian at the Columbus Circle subway stop, but his calm demeanor and passion-filled expression intrigued me enough to remove the white buds from my ears.  And then I heard the voice. Strong.  Soulful. About 12 other commuters and I bobbed our heads in unison as dorian sang, “It’s a New York winter, worse than the last…” and perhaps for the first time, I dreaded the A train for coming so soon.  I quickly jotted down the URL on dorian’s CD and proceeded on my way home, the melody of “New York Winter” still going through my head.  My iPod remained on pause until I reached the second leg of my commute.

dorian’s four-song acoustic EP, “Seeds,” is an incredibly likeable sampler.  Formerly a California actor, dorian writes songs that gracefully balance hope and despair and he sings them with a voice that overflows with earnestness.  The lead off track, “Pretending It’s Not Happening” is a great introduction to the artist as we find him crooning, “I wanted to be an actor, well, I guess I wanted fame.”  The song is an exercise in soul searching as he denies his own aging and admits to burning bridges, but he ends the song with a promising refrain: “I’m learning, I’m living and dying to hold onto me.”

“New York Winter” perfectly captures the collective psyche of the struggling New Yorker, subtly touching on drug addiction, homelessness, blasting cold climates and the 9/11 tragedy without an shred of cliché.  On paper it may read as doom and gloom, but dorian cleverly keeps the misfortune at arms-length by telling the story through observation.  The song, as New Yorkers did and continue to do, rises above the struggle. 

The EP closes with a cover of Ray Charles’ “Born to Lose,” another tune filled with lyrics of hopelessness: “There’s no use to dream of happiness; All I see is loneliness.”  But dorian’s commanding delivery once again pries the song free of its dreary anchor.

On dorian’s website, he muses about other artists that people compare him to.  Ben Harper and Seal are mentioned.  I hear a style that is clipped from the Tracey Chapman and Babyface Edmonds playbook.  The one complaint I have with this collection is that the arrangements seem a bit too similar, but dorian is at work on a full length album and he performs with a band, so we can expect a more diverse mix in the future. 

Until the album comes out, these four songs make my commute a bit more enjoyable.  As for dorian, I believe that he is an artist that is primed for surfacing. 

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