CD Review: Anthony Da Costa 'Typical American Tragedy,' 'Bad Nights/Better Days'

Anthony da Costa is refreshingly honest.
Anthony da Costa is refreshingly honest. (By Robert Berkowitz)
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Friday, April 24, 2009

ANTHONY DA COSTA "Typical American Tragedy" ABBIE GARDNER/ANTHONY DA COSTA "Bad Nights/Better Days"

ANTHONY DA COSTA doesn't graduate from Pleasantville High School in New York until June, but for the past three years the teenager has been one of the most talked-about singer-songwriters at the annual Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis. Tall and gangly with glasses and a Beatles mop top, da Costa boasts an appealingly boyish tenor and the ability to turn his passionate feelings about American foreign policy or his latest girlfriend into songs that have a distinctive personality.

What's most appealing about da Costa is that he never pretends to be something he's not. He never acts as if he's a foreign-policy expert or a world-weary adult or an experienced lover. Whether he's writing about Iraq, the music business, his parents or a pretty girl, he always sings from an adolescent's perspective of new discovery and impulsive feelings. He may be a prodigy with lyrics and melodies, but he's always honest about who he is.

On his solo album, "Typical American Tragedy," he sings to his parents, "I'll probably do what is wrong before I do what you think is right/Though you say be home by 11 p.m., I'll be back in the morning light." He delivers the song not with angry rebellion but with a sad realization that he won't be able to avoid hurting the parents he loves. "Ain't Much of a Soldier" is a young infantryman's bewildered lament, while "Fiddle Girl" is a lively burst of infatuation for a fellow musician. Da Costa dips into bouncy folk-rock on "Dance to This Song," but mostly he relies on his acoustic guitar with tasteful help from his friends on fiddle, organ and dobro.

One of those friends is dobro player Abbie Gardner, and da Costa has released a duo album with her, "Bad Nights/Better Days." He wrote most of the songs and sings most of the leads on this 13-track contemplation of young love, both its exhilarating highs and its torturous lows. The lovely ballad "Let Me Die in Your Arms" is the kind of unreserved declaration of love available only to the unscarred, while the despairing lament "Nothing Left" exposes the romantic wounds that don't close until one grows older. With its skillful use of cello, violin and bass, this album's chamber-folk sound represents a sonic leap forward for one of our most promising folk musicians.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Opening for Guy Clark on Saturday at the Birchmere (703-549-7500, Show starts at 7:30 p.m.

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