Justin Furstenfeld, lead singer and writer for Texas rock outfit Blue October, set out last year on his Open Book tour, a series of solo acoustic dates to tie in with the third edition of his Crazy Making book of lyrics and notes. The idea was to present a collection of stripped down Blue October favourites and previously unheard songs, linked by spoken word accounts of their origins and his life along with audience Q&A sessions. Such was the success, he decided to commit it to disc, setting up an intimate session at his UpDown Studios, recording them on simple two track (guitar/voice) in front of what seems to have been an invited audience. All of the songs on Songs From An Open Book are taken from Blue October albums (Approaching Normal the only one not represented) and are punctuated by raw confessionals about where he was in his life when they came about.
Given the storytelling begins with Black Orchid, one of the first things he wrote and which got him kicked out of his high school band since the other kids parents felt a song about feeling suicidal wasn’t appropriate, and proceeds to document his experiences of depression, failure, schizophrenia, drug abuse, a failed first marriage and subsequent bitter custody case (which he lost) over their daughter (giving rise to the line ‘I might have been gone but I never walked out’) it’s not exactly the cheeriest of songbooks.
That said, his car crash life makes for compelling listening as he proceeds through raw to the bone but consistently melodic numbers like Schizophrenia, Calling You, Chameleon Boy. Sound Of Pulling Heaven Down and Hate Me, a turbulent cocktail of anger, passion, self-loathing and acceptance served in hushed howls and whispers, as well as a spoken version of the narrative intro to the custody case themed Any Man In America.
That he’s around to relate his demons and nightmares is down to his second wife, Sarah, who got him into rehab and stopped him using, giving him back his life and bringing notes of hope to his music, concluding the album here with the reborn clarity of Fear (“today I don’t have to fall apart”) and the defiantly triumphant I’m Not Broken Anymore.
It’s a pity about the members of the audience who insist on inappropriately whooping during the spoken passages (is it cool to cheer when someone says they’re on anti-depressants?), but otherwise this is an unexpectedly powerful work and a welcome reminder that sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel actually isn’t an oncoming train.
Review by: Mike Davies
Released on Up/Down-Brando
Order via Amazon