By Erin Caine
Elm Staff Writer
Prolific songwriter David W. Jacobsen has been writing songs for over fifteen years and in that time has recorded ten albums. The most recent id “Begin the Chagrin,” an unconventional and anecdotal folk effort that, in Jacobsen’s own words, “presents a range of noble, relatable, pitiable, and revolting characters dealing with disappointment or causing it for someone else.” It is this interest in emotion, story, and flawed (but deeply human) protagonists that makes “Chagrin” an intriguing and multi-faceted work. Jacobsen, who studied music theory at Berklee College of Music, performs the vocals and guitar accompaniment for each track, with Stefanie Seskin and Chrissy Roberts providing additional vocals, Ralph Capasso on drums, and Dennis Reulbach on bass for “Do You Want Fries with That?”
“Settle,” the first of a whopping twenty, full-length tracks on the album, is about a man who tries to convince the person he loves to “settle” for him: “I can make you happy, though maybe not the most you could be,” he sings in the chorus. “We’re not getting younger so settle for me.” While not the most charming declaration of love, the song relates a protagonist who is all at once jaded and hopeful—a bit selfish, too, though speaking from a place of real affection. The second track, “Free Bird,” describes a similarly cynical character who is disappointed in how his career has turned out: “I thought I’d be like John and Paul,” Jacobsen croons, “songs would roll right off my strings. Instead, I’m at a wedding playing ‘The Wind Beneath My Wings.’” Though the lyrics come from a place of pessimism and regret, what keeps the song from feeling like a three-minute pity party is Jacobsen’s light, humorous tone. The speaker here, though certainly a bit discontent with his life, takes everything in stride. Jacobsen’s acoustic guitar strums on, untroubled, and anyone who’s ever felt stuck-in-a-rut can’t help but nod along.
The next few tracks trace the antics of a few less-than-noble characters, from a lovelorn schoolboy to a peeping tom to a man who’s fallen in love with his girlfriend’s sister. The song “Rosalind” features vocals from Roberts and flute from Seskin, a track that’s more reserved and melodic when compared to light-hearted and simpler songs like “Settle” and “Guitar Man.” The song is based off of Shakespeare’s comedy “As You Like It,” with Jacobsen assuming the role of Orlando as Roberts sings as Rosalind. Together, the two create a dream-like tune of pining and passion, set against Seskin’s sorrowful, medieval-esque flute accompaniment. “Dan Danielle” is a unique track in that its subject is a transgender woman that describes both her transition and her family’s subsequent reaction. Jacobsen sings, “Dan’s Danielle, that’s who she wants to be. That’s who she has to be.” The family’s response, in particular, is unexpected and a bit humorous. The mother is content that there’s someone else who can wear her hand-me-downs, while the sister is supportive, albeit a bit miffed that Danielle “looks much better in her skirts.”
“Chagrin” taps into that light-hearted, out-of-luck Americana folk vibe any grizzled average joe can feel nostalgic over, its tone overall a bit like Don McLean’s “American Pie” or Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.” If there was something to gripe over, it’d be the album’s lack of musical range. Even as folk efforts go, “Chagrin” clings a bit too faithfully to its image of a lone man with an acoustic guitar. Each song would threaten to be near-indistinguishable if not for Jacobsen’s fascination with character and story, and it is these stories that enthrall the listener.