Bob Carpenter

Morning TrainSilent Passage
Silent PassageSilent Passage
First LightSilent Passage
Before My TimeSilent Passage
Now And ThenSilent Passage
Down Along The BorderSilent Passage
Gypsy BoySilent Passage
MagdalenaEight Demos 1979
One More TeamEight Demos 1979
DreamingEight Demos 1979



Contributor: Kasper Nijsen

Another forgotten legend from Canada, Bob Carpenter hailed from an Indian reservation near North Bay, Ontario. He showed up in studios in LA and Toronto in the early 70s to record a scattering of stunning folk songs. Then he slipped off the radar again. Next thing we know he’s living in a Buddhist monastery in the hills near Escondido, California, coming down occasionally to play local bars. In the nineties he fell victim to brain cancer and returned to Canada, where he passed away in 1995.

Tragically, the release of his magnum opus Silent Passage was delayed until 1984 and never found its deserved audience. It features a respectable array of musicians, including Lowell George, Leland Sklar, and Emmylou Harris. Carpenter himself has an unforgettable voice, unpolished but tremendously powerful, that sounds like it surges upward from great depths of despair and sorrow. Yet there’s a strength in it too, a steely determination to keep on going no matter what.

Maybe early Tom Waits is a worthy comparison but there’s no urbane irony or wit in Carpenter’s voice. His songs evoke an older world of supernatural sailors, wandering gypsies and mystical searchers. There’s a strong religious current in his lyrics too, though he deals in doubts rather than offering answers. The second verse of Before My Time is illustrative:

Before the final curtain fell
Across my weary eyes
I’m sure I saw the ghost of truth
At least a thousand times

In terms of themes I would place Carpenter somewhere among the likes of Judee Sill, Bill Fay and Bruce Cockburn. Unsatisfied by the facts of existence, he always seems to be reaching for something beyond. It’s telling that as the album cover an etching of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner was chosen: another solitary traveler to another world who returned – sadder and wiser – to tell his story.

Since there’s no weak spot on Silent Passage, I would be content with any selection of songs. I wished to include a few from the other Bob Carpenter release as well. Eight Demos 1979 is not in the same league as Silent Passage, but it´s a pleasant song collection in its own right, that sometimes offers a glimpse of the wilder seas charted by the former album. I was surprised to find that in some of the songs – Magdalena in particular – the melody and singing reminded me of Jimmy Buffett.

Bob Carpenter really doesn’t need any other champion other than his own voice, and since all the songs from Silent Passage are on YouTube, that’s the best place to begin discovering his music. Or you can wait until 19th August, when No Quarter finally reissues Silent Passage.

Remains for me to end with one of my favorite lyrics by Bob Carpenter or anyone, from Before My Time:

And now I know the story
Before I turn the page
The games I played for glory
Have vanished with the age

And I can only love you now
And you can do the same
For I have learned that love somehow
Can brush away the pain

Bob Carpenter Chords

Before My Time on YouTube

Morning Train on YouTube

Down Along The Border on YouTube

Bob Carpenter on iTunes

TopperPost #332

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