A Melodic Stroll Through “Walking Softly”
by Marian Pierce
I picked up Jim Dorman’s EP, “Walking Softly” after I listened to him playing instrumental acoustic guitar at a Portland farmer’s market. Jim composed all 7 tracks on the EP which starts with the sweet, summery “5 Minutes from Now” on an instrument called the harp guitar. If the harp guitar was a human voice in this song I’d call it a soprano, with a controlled vibrato and lovely upper register, though the tenor notes are also clear and true. On his website, Jim wrote of his inspiration for the title of this melodic, catchy song that, “People always talk about what the best time of life is. My answer: ‘Five minutes from now. You’ll want to stick around because it’s going to be amazing!’”
“Easy Duz It,” the second song on the EP, has a bright yet full-throated sound and a foot-tapping melody. Played on the 12 string acoustic guitar, the song is a playful, rhythmic skip, a youthful jaunt, with a blend of finger picking and chords. The melody has propulsion, a pleasing forward velocity to it. The slowing at the end and the resolute final chord were particularly satisfying. I found my whole body moving in time to the music and couldn’t help smiling when I listened. This song doesn’t brood. It says, “easy duz it, everything’s going to be alright.”
In the third track on the CD, titled “Harpalicious Improv #1,” Jim again plays the harp guitar, fitting given the title of the song. If I thought the harp guitar was only a soprano, this song proved me wrong. The arresting beginning is deep-voiced, bluesy, and like the opening to a good story, made me want to listen to every note. Jim says in what he calls his “liner notes in the cheap seats” that he improvised this and I could hear it in the piece. It’s creative, has a jazzy feel and contains great musical surprises. Just when I thought the song had ended, two more notes sounded as if raising their hands.
Jim composed “Song for Alice” for a friend of his who died before she ever got to hear it. The song is sometimes hopeful and sometimes melancholy as it switches between major and minor keys. This is a gentle piece with a wistful edge. It’s easy to listen to, but it’s not easy listening. The same could be said of the entire EP.
There are two other versions of “Easy Duz It” on “Walking Softly.” Jim plays the second version, the 6th track of the EP, on the harp guitar. Compared to the cheerful version in Track 2, this version had a more mature, measured, weighted sound. The 12-string version is a sunny yellow, but the deeper notes in the harp guitar version enhanced the beauty of the melody, changing its color from yellow to gold. On the extended version in Track 7, the color returns to yellow — a jaunty yellow with more flourishes and accents. The musician is having fun with the song and so did I.
In my first few listens to “Walking Softly,” “Harpalicious Improv 1” was my favorite song. But as I listened more, “Sky Rabbit,” which Jim wrote for his wife, grew on me. On his website, Jim says “the melody for this just fell out of the air.” The song has mystery to it and an undertone of quiet reflection and even sadness. It contrasts major and minor keys, high and low notes, bright and dark, earth and sky. If I’m not mistaken, I heard the influence of Latin music. It grows in complexity – I almost want to say thoughtfulness — and I felt the ending, haunting and resonant, was Jim’s best. I’m looking forward to a full-length CD from this artist.