Musicians are some of the best multi-taskers, and Tim Cheesebrow, a a singer-songwriter from St. Paul, Minnesota, is no exception. Over the past twenty years, Tim has been a performing musician with over one hundred twenty shows a year, written seven albums of original material, published a book on songwriting and its effects on the mind and body, and spent nine years operating a nonprofit to teach young people about songwriting. If that wasn’t enough, Tim is also in the process of getting a master’s degree in education and has recently opened Plaid Squash Studios, a home studio business meant to offer an affordable way for musicians to launch their songwriting projects.
Despite his multitude of commitments, Tim’s music proves his talents and dedication to his craft. Much like the previous release that I reviewed in A Trip To Wellness With Tim Cheesebrow, his latest record, “7,” showcases Tim’s obvious talent. Recorded and produced in his home studio, many of the record’s tracks call on the talents of Minnesota’s finest studio musicians. Despite a steep learning curve and many hours of labor, Tim says he “enjoyed every minute working on this project.”
“Almost Through the Dark” launches us into a cheerful mix of bouncy bass, light acoustic guitar, and twinkling piano. Tim’s voice, even more fine-tuned than in the album I previously reviewed, is clear and crisp, flowing easily over the instrumentals. The lyrics are easy to understand and take to heart, leaving listeners feeling uplifted and ready to take on life’s challenges: “Every winter ends in spring / Every wrong in reckoning / We find forever somewhere in between / You can feel the fire start / In the wild reaches of your heart / When you think it’s all going to fall apart / You’re almost through the dark.” Easily one of the most cinematic tracks I have heard in a while, “Almost Through the Dark’s” sweeping instrumentals, carefully-selected white spaces, and inspirational lyrics sound like something out of a movie.
“Gospel” takes the upbeat aesthetic of “Almost Through the Dark” and twists it into a brazenly swinging track that’s even more full of life. The twanging bassline, a huge part of this added attitude, complements the mirrored whistling and guitar riffs. Well-placed and clever in their delivery, the guitars really shine through in the mix.
The vocal harmonies also work to give “Gospel” extra dimension. Besides another layer of musicality and talent, they also emphasize the phrasing and delivery of the track’s lyrics: “The rain was streaming down my window / The streetlight gave an amber glow / You were standing on the corner / Your collar up against the cold / You check your watch in vain / You missed the midnight train / Son’t know what you’re gonna do / Something in my bones / Seems to already know / I been waiting for someone like you.”
“Make Myself” begins with a lightly clicking percussion line that drives the track’s other instrumentals forward. The vocals are much more subdued, matching the piano’s tones in their sweet simplicity. Much like in previous tracks, vocal harmonies add extra depth to the piece, emphasizing the lyrics and their delivery of a message to find your own way in this world: “Following your footsteps isn’t working anymore / I’ll make my own way, find my own truth / No one ever changed the world following the rules / It seems safer to stay with everybody else / But the path I’ll take’s the one I make myself.” The juxtaposition between male and female vocals in “Make Myself” sweetens it, giving the track an extra little bit of something that takes it to the next level.
The next track, titled “What are We Waiting For?” slows the momentum built up by the previous songs in the perfect place. A more somber love song full of emotion, “What are We Waiting For?” is a lyrically-focused slow dance for the ears. Simple in its construction, it allows its lyrics to take a wonder down a detailed memory lane over the softness of its instrumentals: “We were sixteen driving in the moonlight / With a backpack of stolen chokecherry wine / Thinking it was going to be our last goodbye / I knew that something this good would have to end / In a heartache I’d never feel as sharp again / You told me it’ll just take some time to mend.” The specificity and simple beauty of “What are We Waiting For?” are its biggest strengths.
“Never Need Another Reason Why” is comfortably paced with a slight country twang echoing through its vocals and instrumentals. Its easy rhythms make for a soothing musical experience with beautiful crescendos and decrescendos as we move through each verse and chorus. The musical construction of the piece is simple, but solid, like so many of Tim’s greatest works. Sometimes less is more, and in “Never Need Another Reason Why’s” case, it allows the choruses to shine in beautiful contrast: “The fullness of a finite life / Is measured in the drops of time / Like the one shared right now ‘tween you and I / I’m gonna keep on trying to be / Like the lion at the heart of me / And never need another reason why.”
“Keep You Small” is a moving ode to the joys of parenthood, and the complex sadness felt when childhood comes to its inevitable end. Thrumming stand-up bass notes back twangy electric guitar rhythms, creating the perfect background for memories of childhood to move in an audio slideshow through listeners’ ears. The story told in the lyrics is general enough that many parents will be able to relate to lines like “Don’t get me wrong / I can’t wait to see the men that you’ll become / There’s just a part of me that misses the pieces of you we’ve given up,” but specific enough to make the song still feel special thanks to such as the images represented in phrases like “We used to sleep together, safe and warm in each other’s arms / Didn’t always do much sleeping, but our bellies ached from laughing hard / We used to look into your eyes and see nothing but possibilities / They’re not the same, now your gaze reflects too much reality / The mystery that’s troubling me….” It’s easy to picture “Keep You Small” making at least a few parents cry.
“The Wire” takes “7” in a very different direction from the previous tracks with its “Hotel California” vibes. The similarity of their melodies and vocal style set a deliberate tone for the track, but still keep things original in a way that I can really appreciate. The track’s weaving, loaded instrumentals and prowling vocals make its lyrics stand out as they form a story, verse by verse and chorus by chorus: “We all began as strangers between dirty dust bowl fields / Turning dimes into dangers the crowd thought were real / Wearing masks over our masks on every lime-lit night / When the circus came to town we were always quite a sight / And I walked every wire for you.”
“The Wire” is one of my favorite songs of “7” for its uniqueness and placement in the album’s order, as well as the imagery and powers of skillful storytelling that it employs.
“Let Love In” keeps the bassy undertones of “The Wire,” but brings us back to the musical themes from earlier in the album with bright guitar tones and steady rhythms behind clearly-defined lyrics. Tim’s masterful use of story is shown once again with specific details in the track’s lyrics, lending it the authentic feel and individuality that is so often missing in today’s music. The optimism of “Let Love In’s” lyrics are refreshing compared to the usual doom and gloom of many love songs heard on the radio, too: “There’s so much out there that I’ll never know / Fear has taken far too much, it’s time to let it go / Hey, I want to feel the light on my skin / Hey, I’m ready to let love in.”
The slower, less saturated instrumentals in the introduction to “Ragged Edge” provide a nice contrast in the album’s running order. Clearly focused on the lyrics in a similar style to “Make Myself,” “Ragged Edge” gives us a soft, easy listening experience as we relax and focus on the lyrics floating above gentle guitar strums and light piano notes: “Sitting in an old cafe / Warm light falling on my face / Grateful for a moment’s escape / Trying to see the silver lining / When I don’t know where hope is hiding / Missing from the old, familiar places.” Although not necessarily an obvious stand-out from the album as a whole, “Ragged Edge” has the power to stand alone as a track just as strong as its neighbors.
“I Won’t Let You Down” returns to the country twang of “Never Need Another Reason Why.” Its chugging instrumentals manage to be solid and airy at the same time, a perfect balance of upper, mid, and low tones to complement the male and female harmonies throughout the track. Every note feels well-placed and purposeful, particularly through the final verse, which claims that “You can feel it in your body / feel it in your bones / Dancing on your skin / It won’t leave you alone /
Tuning in and letting go / floating on waves of radio / That is how I want you to know /
I want you to know….”
“I Wish I Knew You Better” employs tranquil guitar plucking and softly brushing, Cabasa-like rhythms to back emotional, regret-filled vocals. The lyrics remind listeners that they should cherish the people around them, because it’s too often that we lose them before even realizing how much they mean to us. Tim admits that there are “So many people I should cherish but I won’t / Living like we have forever when we don’t / All the friends I barely know /And it’s my fault / For always finding something else to do and reasons not to call.” “I Wish I Knew You Better” is a heartfelt tribute to those we don’t always appreciate when we should.
“Whatever You’re Looking For’s” jazzy piano melodies bring a new feel to the final track of “7,” but complement the stylistic choices of its previous songs. Building drum beats echo the increase of tension leading up to each chorus, creating a beautifully blended crescendo and resulting plateau as the lyrics grow stronger, too: “I could be whatever you’re looking for / I’ll be it, if you need it, I’ll see that I’m / Whatever you’re looking for / What we’re feeling, it’s real and I’ll be / Whatever you’re looking for.” Bringing “7” to a close with style and signature talent, “Whatever You’re Looking For” is a great choice for a final track.
As for where Tim is going in the future: “I wish I knew. The world keeps on throwing crazy things my way and I just do my best to say “yes” as often as possible. My hope would be that I could someday have enough support to make music full time. Until that day comes I will keep on making records, playing shows, teaching classes, and supporting my family any way I can.”
Join Tim on his crazy journey:
“Teaching Artist” Page
***Like all of my reviews, a submission fee was charged for this post.***