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"While brilliantly describing the way a heavenly republic ought to work, David Olney never loses sight of the hurtful way this one operates. So the girl he loves smiles, and then she cries and his heart quakes with the sight of the one and nearly breaks at the sight of the other. This is life not only observed but lived at the deepest level, and conveyed to everyone who hears it with commanding artistry and a vision of the biggest future there is. I feel privileged to hear it. - Dave Marsh


What the reviewers are saying:

On his new album Migration (LoudHouse), singer-songwriter David Olney uses mythology, religion, and other broad metaphors to tackle everyday themes; Lenora imagines two lovers as a pair of birds, one of which gets shot down by a hunter's rifle. The material often runs the risk of being insufferably precious, but Olney has a rough, low-key delivery that redeems even his most overwrought imagery. His baritone croon is appealingly muted, as if he's telling a secret, and his voice easily conveys desperation, melancholy, fear, and sensuality. He can also be mordantly funny: on My Lovely Assistant he applies a rollicking oompah melody to John Hadley's lyrics, which portray a brokenhearted magician exacting revenge on his cheating assistant by really and truly sawing her in half. It gives you the unsettling feeling that Olney's enjoying the story a little too much. - David Whiteis - The Chicago Reader

The Wheel (2003), David Olney's debut on the local LoudHouse label, was a near-perfect production, a brave and unusual song cycle. The veteran Nashville performer is back with Migration, a well-matched companion to the previous work. The 11 tracks are packed with wonderfully crafted songs: the gypsy strains of The Song, the soothing Light from Carolina, and the powerful Speak Memory. Migration also proves Olney is as strong a solo songwriter (Speak Memory) as he is a collaborator (All the Same to Me with Gwil Owen). With the tender sway of Lenora, Olney swears allegiance to love: "Tonight we will gaze at the stars in the sky. Tell me, Lenora, do they laugh, do they cry?" Olney's sense of humor is on display with the clever My Lovely Assistant, written with John Hadley, again ruminating on age-old questions of the heart: "Love is the ultimate mystery. Love is its own crystal ball. Love is the perfect illusion. It's really not magic at all." Upside Down closes the disc with Olney's signature bite, visceral vocals delivered in gospel rhythm. If his next album is anywhere close to these two, Olney might be his own toughest act to follow. - Margaret Moser - The Austin Chronicle


1. The Song
2. Speak Memory
3. Lenora
4. No One Knows What Love Is
5. My Lovely Assistant
6. Light From Carolina
7. All the Same
8. Ace of Spade Blues
9. Oh Lord
10. Birds
11. Upside Down

Artists featured on "Migration"

David Olney - Vocals, guitar
Mike Fleming - Bass
Pat McInerney - Percussion
Deanie Richardson - Mandolin, fiddle
Michael Johnson - Classical guitar
Thomm Jutz - Electric & classical guitar
Carole Edwards - Background vocals
John Hadley - Background vocals
Gwil Own - Guitar
Robb Earls - Organ


"David Olney can bring rugged passion to even the smartest lyric. His songs aren't just smart, they're wise, and he sings masterfully!" - Brian Mansfield - USA Today

"It is fitting that you find a Van Zandt-like daring in many of this Nashville craftsman's wonderfully detailed examinations of the human condition. Olney gives us an album with the most original mix of heart and fury since Tom Waits' "Mule Variations." - Robert Hilburn - The Los Angeles Times

At 13, when David Olney first picked up the guitar, he found himself drawn to Woody Guthrie, Jimmy Reed and the other musicians in his older brother's record collection. While he was trying to learn folk music, popular artists such as Ray Charles, Elvis, The Stones, The Beatles and Bob Dylan provided the background music of his life. It was during a brief stint at the University of North Carolina that he decided to pursue music as a profession. It was a wise decision. With six solo albums on Rounder/Philo, five albums on various European labels and Omar's Blues on Dead Reckoning, David has earned a place as one of the most respected singer songwriters in Nashville today. Numerous artists including Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Del McCoury have covered his songs. David has the soul of a rock 'n' roller and he writes like Faulkner might have had he listened to lots of Randy Newman. Be prepared for wonderfully skewed lyrics and some of the most dynamic music around. - Performing Songwriter

Emmylou Harris, who has recorded three songs by David Olney, wrote the liner notes for Olney's new album, "Migration," praising the songwriter's "marvelous stories" and complex characters. Harris right: Olney is one of the finest lyricists in the Americana movement. He inhabits his characters so thoroughly that we listeners can see through each character's eyes and feel through each character's fingers.

"The Song" revives the analogy between the carpenter and the artist, but Olney breathes new life into the conceit by making us feel the grain in each piece of wood. Similarly, he reawakens the metaphor about magic and love by assuming the persona of a vaudeville magician who can perform every trick by making "My Lovely Assistant" fall in love with him. "No One Knows What Love Is," Olney's rewrite of Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone," confesses a similar bewilderment at love's unpredictability.

On "Ace of Spade Blues," Olney becomes a gambler who rues the day he ever believed that his cards had magical properties. The album takes its name from "Lenora," a song about a migrating bird in search of its mate. Olney becomes the bird, describing the curve of the Earth below, the moon over one wing and the rustle of the wind in his feathers.

There are some terrific songs on "Migration," songs that Harris or any good singer with an imaginative producer could bring to life. One hopes they will. - Geoffrey Himes - The Washington Post

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By Robert K. Oermann

"I think if I was ever going to do any other kind of self expression or artistic endeavor, I would probably be an actor."

The speaker is acclaimed singer-songwriter David Olney. no one who has ever sat transfixed at one of his live shows would deny his talent as a thespian. Moving from song to extraordinary song, Olney can be scary, hilarious, tender, enraged, loving or ironic. But he is always dramatic and unforgettable.

His records have these same qualities. Few have amassed a catalog of recorded performances that is so striking, distinctive and compelling. When most people think of a "singer-songwriter," they think of a confessional, inward-looking lyricist. David Olney will have none of that. Instead, he inhabits characters and roles that his lyrics create.

Migration, his latest LoudHouse Records collection, offers plenty of illustrations of that. In "Lenora" he is a migrating bird whose heart is broken when his mate is killed. Olney is a magician driven mad by love in "My Lovely Assistant." In "Oh Lord" he is a prisoner condemned to die. He is a gentle folk troubadour on "Birds" and "No One Knows What Love Is," a roaring rocker on "Upside Down" and "Speak Memory," a ferocious blues man on "Ace of Spade Blues," a country boy on "Light From Carolina," a lover in "All the Same to Me" and a philosopher in "The Song."

"I always liked theater and plays," says Olney. "And I always kind of looked at songwriting that way. Instead of it being a way to explain to people what was going on inside me, it was more like, 'Here's a role I can take to do that.' For me, it worked out that I could get into things on a much deeper level by going through another character."

On previous albums, he has enacted Jesse James, John Barrymore, Omar Khayyam, John Dillinger, Barabbas, a World War I prostitute, the iceberg that sank the Titanic, a caterpillar, a boxer, a millionaire, baseball players, a huckster following Jesus and any number of criminals, low-life scoundrels and social outcasts. David Olney's dramatic flair has made him one of the world's great musical individualists.

"My first obligation is to the song. Then way down in second place, a distant second place, is to the audience. But I do believe in being a good entertainer. I've played a lot of gigs where there weren't many people there - I always made sure that the ones who were there, but something they will remember."

An ever-larger number of people have witnessed his memorable performances. In addition to playing America's biggest festivals and finest acoustic clubs, Olney now tours annually in Europe. He has issued albums on Dutch and Italian labels, and performed for fans in Germany, Ireland, Scandinavia, England, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland and Holland.

Rave reviews in The New York Times, USA Today, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Miami Herald, The Los Angeles Times and elsewhere continue to build his popularity. Versions of his songs by others have also enhanced his reputation as "a songwriter's songwriter." Key artists who have sung and/or recorded David Olney songs are Emmylou Harris ("Deeper Well," Jerusalem Tomorrow"), Steve Earle ("Saturday Night and Sunday Morning"), Del McCoury ("Queen Anne's Lace"), Johnny Cash ("Jerusalem Tomorrow"), Linda Ronstadt ("Women Across the River) and Linda & Emmylou as a duo ("1917").

So Migration appears at an upbeat time in David Olney's long career. A native of Lincoln, Rhode Island, the tunesmith has been playing guitar since age 14. From the start, his roots were in folk music. One of his guitar teachers was his older brother, who owned records by Leadbelly, The Kingston Trio, Woody Guthrie and other notables. Young Olney was also drawn to the moody, melodramatic music of Roy Orbison.

"I was probably 15 when I learned the lick to ray Charles's "What'd I Say" on the guitar. As soon as I got it down pretty good, my first impulse was to go stand in front of the mirror and watch myself do this. I 'sold out' right away! If my impulse was to go watch myself in the mirror, it wasn't like I was in it for 'art.'

"I did pretty good in public school right up until around then. Then I went off to prep school. That was a disaster. I graduated, but that's about all I did. Then I went to Chapel Hill to the University of North Carolina. Pretty much washed out of there in a couple of years. But by then I was into music, so it didn't make any difference.

"I don't think I even thought about writing songs until Bob Dylan got really famous when I was, like, 16 or so. And I didn't even think much about it even then. When I moved to Chapel Hill, I'd play old folk songs, blues songs or Carter Family songs in the clubs. So the first songs I wrote were supposed to sound like old folk songs. I'd stick one in the middle of a set, and if no one noticed that it was one I'd written instead of a folk song, then I thought it was a successful songs. From around 19 years old on, songwriting was kind of all I did. That was going to be my way of expressing myself."

He joined Simpson, a band headed by future playwright and author Bland Simpson. Olney's passionate rendition of Leadbelly's "Black Betty" on the group's 1971 LP was later aped by Ram Jam to become a big pop hit. Around this same time, song poet Kris Kristofferson issued his debut album. Olney was electrified when he heard it.

"That record is one of the reasons I came to Nashville," he recalls. "Being from Rhode Island and moving to North Carolina was a big deal for me. I always felt this outsider-ness. But when I heard that Kris Kristofferson record, I went, 'Wait a minute. This isn't just about guys in a bar or a honky-tonk. These are lyrics that belong to everybody.' I wouldn't have thought to come to Nashville otherwise."

Olney arrive in Music City in 1973. He signed contracts with several publishing companies and had every intention of being a mainstream songwriter. He struggled to find his true songwriting "voice" until he wrote the recklessly romantic "If My Eyes Were Blind" in 1975. Thereafter, peers like Rodney Crowell and Guy Clark began praising his vivid works.

He formed a band to showcase them. At its first show, Olney began "testifying," and the band began rocking. Word spread quickly. In 1978-85, Dave Olney & The X-Rays were stars of the Nashville nightlife circuit, opened for Elvis Costello & The Attractions, appeared on Austin City Limits, recorded two hot LPs and served as one of the founders of Nashville's alternative-music scene. Lathered-up performances by its theatrical front man became the stuff of legend.

"No one knew who the hell I was before the X-Rays. When the band ended, I was basically back to Square One. But that's when I found out whether I really liked my job or not. If you haven't gotten famous or made some kind of mark and you have to face the stark reality that maybe this isn't going to pay off in a material way, then you find out whether you like it or not. To me, that was kind of a lucky break."

He began to delve deeper than ever as a songwriter. Eye of the Storm (1986), Deeper Well (1989), Roses (1991), High Wide and Lonesome (1995), Real Lies (1997) and Through a Glass Darkly (1999) all garnered critical acclaim in Philo/Rounder. In between came his highly entertaining 1987 album with The Nashville Jug Band, theatrical song cycles based on William Faulkner's "Light in August" (1993) and As I Lay Dying (2001) and seven more solo CDs for various independent labels.

In 2003, LoudHouse issued The Wheel as his first recording of thematically linked compositions. It became one of Olney's most applauded CDs. Migration is its successor. "Talking again about the theater aspect of what I do, I think of making these records as like having a repertory company. It's like, 'This is what we want to do. What part can you play?' Think of the old episodes of Gunsmoke with Kitty, Doc, Festus and the regulars. It wasn't just a shoot-'em-up. That show was a repertory company with character development.

"That's my model. Deanie Richardson is a fiddler, but she is also the whistler on My Lovely Assistant and plays mandolin on everything. There's a lot of stuff she can do. I've been using [bass player] Mike Fleming for coming on 20 years. Robb Earls and his Vortex Studio have been with me since the 1990s.

"One of the things I had in mind with this record was to do something different with percussion I told Pat McInerney, 'Bring whatever you want, but don't bring a drum set. I want these rhythm tracks to kind of build up organically. Think about it as if you didn't know anything about drums and found them in the middle of a forest. Like, gee, what can I do with this?' The other thing was, I wanted to play more electric guitar myself. The baritone electric is me. And the lead guitar on Speak Memory.

"As for the singing, it's acting. It's how much of yourself can yo bring to the people? If it's the whole of your humanity, you can even sing wrong notes. I feel like I was able to 'focus' on this record in the same way that I did on Deeper Well. Somehow or other, I'm 'in' this record more than any other record I've done."

Robert K. Oermann, "the dean of Nashville's entertainment journalists," writes bi-weekly columns for Music Row Magazine and has been published in more than 100 other national periodicals.

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"David Olney's Keen Sense for Sketches and Stories Have Shaped His Identity As A Master Songwriter"

In her fine new biography of the great Sandy Koufax, writer Jane Leavy describes a poster of the legendary pitcher that former U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky used to keep pinned to the door of his office at the University of California at Berkeley. Capturing Koufax at the midpoint of his delivery. the poster contained everything Pinsky wanted his students to know about the act of writing: "balance and concentration; a supremely synchronized effort; the transfer of energy toward a single, elusive goal."

An avid baseball fan himself, David Olney would probably appreciate the exquisite power inherent in Pinsky's analogy. One of Nashville's most literate storytellers, Olney has spent the better part of three decades fusing his particular brand of country-blues and roots-rock with a novelist's eye for detail. Indeed. to hear a David Olney song is to experience a sort of soulful symmetry, a balance of theme, plot. and imagery usually thought to be the province of the playwright or poet. One Olney trademark involves placing a well-known historical figure in a newly-imagined context. He's also adept at recasting familiar tales in perspectives that haven't been considered before.

"I started out doing that with Bible stories," he says. "It's difficult for me to buy those stories, in a religious sense, but the stories themselves have a whole lot of power. I wanted to go back and look at them from a different angle, and not worry about the moral aspect of it, or the religious part. I just wanted to present the story, and see if I could still convey the power of these things. I found that that worked pretty good for me, because I didn't have to worry about revealing the details of my personal life. Instead I could ask myself what I might do if I were that person, in this situation."

Indeed, over the years Olney has cast his songs with such unlikely characters as Omar Khayyam. John Barrymore, Barabbas, King David. and even the donkey that carried Jesus into Jerusalem. And while his new album, The Wheel, mostly eschews these devices it nonetheless marks a high point in Olney's talent for bringing a maverick spirit to themes of Shakespearean dimension. In the past decade, in the process of covering Olney's material, artists such as Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt have introduced that gift to a wider audience, but such peer recognition was a long time coming.

Born and raised in tiny Lincoln. Rhode Island (it's a dot on the map northwest of Providence, Olney came south in 1966 to attend school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His original idea was to study English, but that goal was soon abandoned as he threw himself into the area's then-burgeoning folk scene. Mostly he performed cover songs in the local clubs - Marshall Wilson's newly-opened Cat's Cradle was a focal point - but occasionally he would slip an original into the set. If no one noticed that it was my song''' says Olney, "then I figured it was a success."

After a brief detour to New York in 1971, where he recorded an album with North Carolina musician/writer Bland Simpson, Olney relocated to Atlanta in 1972. By then he had written a handful of songs, and though at the time he believed they were good, he now says he had yet to find his own style. That changed in January 1973, when Olney got a job opening a show for Townes Van Zandt at a bar called the Last Resort in Athens.

"I remember specifically hearing 'Pancho And Lefty', and being just floored,'' Olney recalls. "I suddenly realized that there was this whole other way of writing. I would say that his songs were clearly in the folk tradition, but the quality of the lyrics, and the poetry in them, was so stark, and unembarrassed. Hearing that gave me the courage to write things that came directly out of me, instead of trying to write things that sounded like old folk songs, or soul songs, or songs that sounded like somebody else. I saw that not only might that not embarrass me but it might be really cool, because clearly that's what was going on with Townes."

Duly emboldened, Olney headed for Nashville later that same year. Sleeping on the apartment floors of such friends as Tommy Goldsmith and Steve Runkle, he at first sought work as a country music composer on Music Row, finger-picking his tunes in front of publishing company executives. No one was interested.

They would say, "Well, that's folk music, and that's not happening,''' says Olney. "That forced me to go back and re-learn all these songs, using a flat pick. After that I went back to the publishing companies, and they still didn't like them. It wasn't discouraging, because there were so many other people who were going through the same thing. But it was frustrating not to make any money at it."

Olney took jobs bussing tables, installing motel furniture - anything he could find that would help pay the rent. He also got a gig playing at a pass-the-hat bar called Bishop's Pub, where he performed every night for a year. It was there, while sharing the stage with other aspiring writers, that he began to sense there was something in his writing which distinguished it from everyone else's.

Nonetheless, a crisis of confidence eventually ensued, and he found himself back in North Carolina. Strangely enough, it took an Eagles song to shake him to his senses.

"I was there (in North Carolina) for about six months, and I was thinking I might next go back to Nashville, to the point where I was living with a girl and needed to get a job," he recalls. "Once I drove to Raleigh to find work, and went to a Red Lobster, to see if they needed a dishwasher. And the guy started interviewing me like I was going to be part of upper-management or something, starting as a dishwasher. And I just thought, "This not for me."

"So I was driving back, and the song "Take It To The Limit' came on the radio. I actually had to pull the car over. "When you're looking for your freedom and you can't find the door? Take it to the limit one more time." It's kind of weird to have your life turn around on an Eagles song, but when I got back, I handed the car keys over to my girlfriend and said. 'I'm leaving tomorrow. I gotta go back to Nashville.' And I hitchhiked back.''

Enter the X-Rays. Although he continued to write "quiet'' songs, over the next several years Olney garnered a reputation as the leader of one of the stormiest rock 'n' roll outfits ever to set foot on a Nashville stage. According to Olney, his original idea was to start a country band, but the group he put together quickly morphed into something else.

"We had rehearsals and stuff, and it seemed like it was a country band, but then the first gig we did was really loud rock 'n' roll," he says. "We had a fiddle player, so he immediately quit and it became electric guitar rock. We did some ballads, some slow songs, but it would just get loud, all the time."

Along with Pat McLaughlin's group, the X-Rays helped pioneer Nashville's new wave movement. and Olney's star was clearly on the rise. The band released an album, titled Contender, on Rounder in 1981 (joining a roster that then included George Thorogood), and even appeared on "Austin City Limits". Various incarnations came and went, but Olney remained at the group's center, penning nearly all the songs and gaining notice as a charismatic front man. He enjoyed the notoriety, but he also never felt quite at home in the guise of a dyed-in-the-wool rock 'n' roller.

"We got popular, and that was wonderful, to have people know who you were,'' he says. If I was feeling kind of down. I used to just go for a walk in town, and wait for someone to honk their horn at me.

"The experience of doing the X-Rays was great, and playing with the people I played with was wonderful. But it made me realize that rock 'n' roll is almost like a religion. You really have to throw yourself into it, and you can't hold any part back. And I realized that there was a part that I was holding back, that I missed - and that was the quiet, Townes-like songs."

If Olney was looking to throw off his rock 'n' roll persona, then Eye Of The Storm, his first solo album, achieved that goal with room to spare. Released in 1986 on Rounder's Philo imprint, shortly after the X-Rays had gone their separate ways, the mostly acoustic album had a tentative quality, as if Olney were looking through bleary eyes at an uncertain future. And in fact that was the case, at least in some respects. Whereas with the X-Rays he had grown accustomed to playing to packed houses, as a solo performer he often found that his audience consisted of himself and the bartender.

"That was probably the time I felt most down, in Nashville," Olney recalls. "I was 36 years old - no spring chicken - and it was like, "What's going to happen?" That's where I first recorded 'If It Wasn't For the Wind', which was how I felt at the time. The good thing that came out of that is that I realized I was going to keep writing songs. It didn't make any difference if I couldn't see what the payoff was going to be; writing songs was just something I did."

By the time Olney was ready to record his next effort, writing songs was more than just something he did, it was something that had blossomed into a full-bodied artistic endeavor. Deeper Well, released on Philo in 1989, became the pivotal album of his career. In Olney's words, "Everything came together on Deeper Well: the songs, the playing, the production, and ultimately, even the timing."

Emmylou Harris was looking for material for her 1993 album Cowgirl's Prayer when her friend Kieran Kane gave her a tape of songs.
"Jerusalem Tomorrow," a tune from Deeper Well that had been brought to Kane's attention by Kevin Welch, was on the tape. A prototypical Olney composition. "Jerusalem Tomorrow" tells the story of a Bible-era huckster-turned-Jesus apostle who might or might not resume his huckster ways. Olney was in a particularly bad way when he learned, to his great joy, that Harris had chosen the track for inclusion on her album.

"At that time I had written another song that had just gotten ripped off," he explains. "A version of it became a minor country hit. And I was so discouraged, thinking l had been in this town for so long, and that's how they take notice of you, by ripping you off. It was very distasteful. Then, about a week later, I found out that Emmylou was doing 'Jerusalem Tomorrow'. At that point, it just seemed to me that I had to let this other thing go. Otherwise, I couldn't enjoy the fact that Emmylou did my song."

Two years later, Harris made the title track of Deeper Well the centerpiece of her landmark album Wrecking Ball. Her patronage also led to a Linda Ronstadt cover of Olney's "Women Across the River" (on 1995's Feels Like Home). Later, on their 1999 duet album Western Wall, Harris and Ronstadt recorded "1917," Olney's harrowing World War I vignette told from the point of view of a kind-hearted French prostitute giving comfort to doomed soldiers.

Throughout the '90s, over the course or four more albums recorded for Rounder, Olney continued to sharpen his gift for inhabiting characters and offering up later stories without regard for tidy moral summation. Whether contemplating the mind of a Depression-era gunslinger ("Dillinger"), examining the psychic turmoil of the pardoned thief who shared Jesus' prison cell (|"Barabbas"). or expressing David's regret at slaying Goliath ("If I didn't Know I Couldn't Do It"), Olney's empathy was such that he often came off as a medium visited upon by haunted souls from an epic past.

"I'm 54 now, and having children . . . . you begin to see the circle of life. It happens even more clearly with pets. They're on a different schedule, so you see them as they're born, and as they grow up, and as they die. The older I get, the more precious time becomes."

Olney is trying to explain how his new album, The Wheel, came to center on the transience of life and its circular nature. More than any other album of his career, The Wheel forsakes skewed tales, instead focusing on philosophical ruminations about the brief time we're allotted in this mortal world. It's tempting, of course, to ascribe such thoughts to the events of September 11, but in fact Olney penned and recorded nearly all the songs for the album prior to that day.

"Some of them were written a long time ago," he says. "I had actually recorded 'Big Cadillac' (the stormy rocker that opens the album) about ten years ago, but I wanted to do it again. And then once I got going I started writing a bunch of new stuff. 'Chained And Bound To The Wheel' is a new song. With that one, I had just read King Lear and wanted to get some of that imagery in."

As it turned out, much of The Wheel ended up being made without a record contract in hand. Although Olney is quick to express his gratitude to Rounder for their support, he sensed after his last album for the label that it was time to move on. Omar's Blues, released in 2000 on Dead Reckoning. appeared at roughly the same time the artist-driven label that Kieran Kane and Kevin Welch had put together threatened to disintegrate.

For the new album, prior to each recording session at Robb Earls' Sound Vortex Studio, Olney would run the players through a rehearsal of four or five songs, in order to save studio time. Olney handled most of the guitars, while long-time friends Deanie Richardson, Mike Fleming and Pat McInerney fleshed things out on fiddle, bass and drums, respectively. Additional help came from Earls. Mike Henderson and Tommy Goldsmith, with Earls' wife Carole Edwards contributing a couple of beautiful between-song vocal interludes.

Edwards also duets with Olney on the final track. a round inspired by Moondog, a brilliant and eccentric street musician Olney saw during his brief stay in New York in 1971.

"He wore a Viking suit, and he was blind, and it seemed like he was about eight feet tall,'' Olney remembers. Later I found out he was an accomplished musician who had had songs recorded by Big Brother & the Holding Company. Anyway, a while back I ran across a used CD by him that had a bunch of rounds he'd written. There were about twenty of them, along with a sort of classical piece, and each one was about a minute long.

"That got me to thinking that maybe I could do that. It's kind of a cool idea, because you write a melody, and then you just sort of write one line. And then you write another melody and stick a line in that. You don't have to worry about rhyming or anything."

Other high points on The Wheel include "Boss Don't Shoot No Dice," a John Hiatt-style rocker (written with Janis Ian) based on the famous Einstein quote about God, dice, and the universe; "God Shaped Hole'' (not the Hayseed song of the same name), a wordplay-rich romp triggered by Sartre's comment that God is dead, but that he left a God-shaped hole in human beings; and "Revolution,'' a sung-spoken ballad that likens the changing of the seasons to the overthrow of a government.

Tellingly, two of the three closing tracks are drop-dead gorgeous love songs, delivered by Olney in a voice that's rough enough around the edges to command authority, but also tempered with more than a trace of vulnerability. As the title implies, the album also exhibits a gemlike symmetry in both theme and structure.

"Having a thematic concept helps me to stay focused on a project," Olney says, down-playing this rare and distinct talent. "If there's a kind of connection between the songs, when you go into the studio you don't feel you're starting anew every time."

"It's anybody's guess, of course, whether someone with the profile of Emmylou Harris or Linda Ronstadt will decide to put his or her own spin on any of these songs. It's also likely that Booka Michel - the respected Austin musician/entrepreneur who picked up The Wheel for release on his Loud House Records label - wishes simply for as many listeners as possible to be- come privy to Olney's work.

Regardless, Olney himself is content with the way his own wheel has turned. "I've been thinking a lot about how when you're young, you really want fame badly.'' he says. "It seems like such an odd thing, to crave the approval of total strangers. But you really want it, and for a number of years I was quite disappointed that I didn't get that.

"And then I thought, if I had gotten that, I wouldn't have written the things that I did write. l don't know if this is sour grapes, or if maybe I'm getting wise in my dotage, but I feel very fortunate that not many people know who I am. I can go out and do other things, and live a normal life. I write songs because that's what I do. The feeling of finishing a song is one of the most satisfying feelings I've ever felt!"

Russell Hall lives in Anderson, South Carolina, where four years ago he gave up life in the corporate world to begin writing about music full time. He's been a fan of David Olney ever since first hearing his superb 1997 album Real Lies.

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