Cleveland's Brian Straw To Play Release Party on Saturday at Happy Dog

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click to enlarge Singer-songwriter Brian Straw. - Pete Larson
Pete Larson
Singer-songwriter Brian Straw.
Baby Stars/Dead Languages has been an ongoing endeavor over the past six years for singer-songwriter, gallery owner and audio engineer Brian Straw. Now, he's finally realized this full-length album. Due out this week, it's “his first proper release in 15 years,” according to his bio.

“There’s some anxiety attached to the release of this record,” reveals Straw. “Some of the material is deeply personal. And letting go of it is exciting and also awkward. Will I be understood? Am I revealing too much? …writing music is therapy for me. It’s how I’m able to unfold emotionally. And I put all that into the song. It helps me heal.”

This will be Straw’s fourth full-length LP and will be a double LP. It's self-produced and will be released under imprint, Land Lover. His other albums, currently out of print are: Once You're Lost You're Encouraged to Stay Lost (2000), Backfeed Pools (2001) and Bleeding Sun (2006). His music has been described as “American primitive” and offers a Damien Rice modality with its subtle arrangements and delicate instrumentation on songs such as “Underground” and “Needle In the Creek” while songs like “Shame & Desire” and “Out of Doors,” the latter of which is a clear single, offer a more Ryan Adams timbre.

Indiana-born, Straw has been mired in the Cleveland music community for over 20 years, moving here around the age of 21 on a whim and was one of the early co-operators of legendary underground free space venue, Speak-N-Tongues. Keeping to that sense of community, Baby Stars/Dead Languages features several prominent Cleveland-based musicians such as Bill Lestock, Nick Cross, Tony Cross, Mike Tolan, Rob Kovacs, Dan Price and Emily Keener.

“I put a band together about six years ago with the Cross Brothers and Mike Tolan, and we recorded four songs,” explains Straw. “Three of those songs ended up on the record. Most of the rest of the record was recorded over the past few years.”

Straw also incorporated the criminally talented while equally obscure, forever transient, Akron native, Joseph Allen Beltram’s brilliant song, “I Still Dream of You” into this new release. Straw puts his more calculated and mesmeric spin on this sadly subterranean tune from Beltram’s latest album, Your Man Alone, which was just released Sept. 1, of last year.

“I heard Joey play 'I Still Dream of You' and thought it was such a beautiful song,” says Straw. “I was close to finishing the album but something was missing — a hit song! I don’t really write hit songs and Joey was happy to lend me one.”

Straw’s version offers a more somber delivery of the tune but both versions translate the core tender sentiment of the song which kicks off with the brilliant and beguiling opening lines, “I still see you through stained-glass eyes
all the colors of my fractured mind/Like a dagger straight and true
I still dream of you." Like Beltram’s songs, Straw’s lyrics can offer insight into the writer’s personal life like in the song “Keys To My Room,” which presents images of a friend overdosing on drugs in their car with six cans of Narcan next to her. The tune has a droning quality harmonious with the song’s deeply personal and grim narrative.

“Keys To My Room” is a dark song about my relationship with a close friend battling heroin addiction,” says Straw. “It began as a poem I wrote to her and evolved into a song. Tragically, I lost her to an overdose after the song was recorded.”

Chemical abuse is something Straw has contended with. Having not taken a drink of alcohol since 2017, he insinuated that part of the reason it has been so long since his last release is that he had been, “drunk for a decade,” as he affirms in his bio.

“Quitting drinking allowed me to feel healthier in multiple ways,” continues Straw. “Certainly physically and mentally but also creatively. When you solve a big problem like drinking you discover hidden rooms to explore. Not all the rooms are pretty. I invented new voices and learned how to express them in those rooms…”

Straw keeps busy with an elastic gambit of expressive outlets. In addition to writing and performing music, Straw also runs the studio/gallery space, Survival Kit, housed in the renowned art hub, 78th Street Studios, and he recorded and mixed notable Cleveland records such as the tremendous and brilliant Golden Gloves by Little Bighorn.

“I have worked with many different artists and curators over the years. Notably, Jonathan Richman and Mourning [a] Blkstar as a producer,” continues Straw. “We’ve had Waxahatchee and Kevin Morby perform in the space recently.”

Straw plans to put a band together towards the spring. In celebration of the release of Baby Stars/Dead Languages, Straw will play two sets on Saturday at the Underdog in the basement of the Happy Dog on Detroit Ave. The first performance is at 7 p.m. with Kid Tigrrr and the second is at 9 p.m. with John Kalman.
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