“Shake the dirt off your shoes, come on take a seat, knock that chill off your bones,” sings Charlie Shafter on “Billy Creek,” the lead single from his highly-anticipated second solo studio album, When I Was Yours And You Were Mine (Due out January 18). It’s a warm invite next to Shafter’s fire that’s as satisfying and serene as we’ve ever heard from the accomplished singer-songwriter.
There’s an organic and effortless tonal mood to When I Was Yours And You Were Mine that just feels comfortable. Shafter says the majority of the songs were second take cuts. There’s a fine line that Shafter walks throughout the airy storytelling album. You get a soothing balance that feels as though these songs are fresh and new to Shafter and company—as if they’ve been inspired on the spot—yet as though they’ve been telling these stories for decades on end.
Shafter was joined by Dwight Baker (The Wind & The Wave) and contemporary Josh Abbott at the production helm. They recorded at Baker’s Austin studios Matchbox Studios and were joined by a cast of seasoned musicians and longtime collaborators Rick Richards and Starfire On The Mountain.
To call Shafter a “songwriter’s songwriter” is, in some respects, a backhanded compliment to the Texas by way of Illinois songwriter. His refined songwriting chops rely on a well-read vernacular and an aged perspective that feels wise beyond his years. Still, songs like the welcoming anthem “Billy Creek,” the lush opening “Leave Her Wild” and the southern gothic rambler “Black Wind” display Shafter’s knack for sharp fingerpicking melodies and aesthetically pleasing rhythms.
“I tried to make the songs simpler,” says Shafter. “Sometimes you can say more when more when you simplify it instead of trying to show off your vocabulary.”
The vast majority of When I Was Yours And You Were Mine came in a complex and highly emotional state in Shafter’s life. Shafter became a father for the first time while simultaneously went through a tough breakup. Still, life has a way of moving on and restoring order through the ups and downs.
“A lot of this album was written after Lou’s mom and I broke up,” says Shafter. “I suppose it’s like my Blood on the Tracks.” Songs like the heart-wrenching “Thought Too Soon” warbles on like a howling wolf while Shafter laments. The album-closing “Two Wolves” too echoes out with an emptying remembrance of an earlier time. Shafter’s torn and we are too.
“If you love something, set it free,” may be an old adage that’s worn with time, but it rings true throughout Shafter’s resonating gorgeous opus. He never comes and says it outright. But it’s plain as day.
Still, Shafter’s songwriting isn’t solely focused on heartbreak and moving on. Shafter often describes his songs as collage pieces. The haunting country blues storyteller “Baltimore” is one of his most pristine examples. “I was looking at my bookshelf,” explains Shafter. “It was drawing from these references to the names I was seeing—Sylvia Plath, William S. Burroughs, and so on.” The wandering “Periwinkle” and rustling Bob Dylanesque “Queen With No Country” see Shafter offering sage advice while the dreamy “Savannah” and banjo-laden “Old Time Religion” highlight Shafter’s keen eye for observational storytelling and acute sense for narrative.
Shafter is a calming force and unquestioned presence throughout When I Was Yours And You Were Mine. He shapes up to not only be a gifted songwriter, but a commanding voice within the Americana and country scene.