Singer/songwriter Michael Friedman isn't from St. Louis, but a glance at the liner notes for his debut CD, Cool of the Coming Dark, might fool you into thinking you were looking at a local release. In the late '80s and early '90s, the West Virginia native studied literature at Washington University, where he befriended fellow roots-music aficionado (and RFT contributor) Roy Kasten. Last winter, Friedman came back here to record at Undertow Studios, snagging Kasten as producer and Nadine's Adam Reichmann as engineer. He also managed to land some of St. Louis' finest musicians for his backing band, an alt-country all-star team that includes Chris Grabau; Bob Reuter; Anne Tkach and Merv Schrock of Nadine; John Horton and Gary Hunt of the Rockhouse Ramblers; and Andy Ploof and John Wendland of One Fell Swoop.
With that kind of supporting talent, it would be hard to strike out, and Friedman doesn't. A dark, grainy romanticism saturates the 10 tracks on Cool; at his best, Friedman brings to mind bookish country/folk artists such as Bob Neuwirth, Lucinda Williams and Kris Kristofferson. He's as likely to name-check Homer or J.D. Salinger as Merle Haggard or Son House, and he shifts from talking about Jesus ("that hippie boy who danced in Galilee") to reminiscing about his own adolescence ("cruising the Blue Ridge Parkway full of beer and ecstasy") in the space of a single song. Friedman isn't a very good singer from a technical standpoint -- his high, tentative rasp flutters around the key like an exhausted moth -- but it's hard to imagine a better vehicle for these rough and luminous story/songs than his weathered near-whisper.