Greg Schatz, “Small Peace of Mind” (Independent)

There was a time when singer-songwriters were assumed to be sensitive, which usually meant they were angst-ridden or at least lovelorn. Not the case with Greg Schatz—who may well be sensitive, but angst-ridden he ain’t. There’s not a trace of self-pity to be found anywhere on these twelve songs, which prove that you can make a smart, resonant singer-songwriter album while keeping the music and lyrics on an upbeat.

Not that everything is rosy in Schatz’s world—the angry girlfriend in “Get a Hold of Yourself” turns out to have a gun pointed at him, and “Welcome to Crazy Town” is less about New Orleans than the whole country since around November. But the personality in these songs is that of a good-natured raconteur who takes things in stride—anyone who’d venture an almost-rhyming couplet like “I know a guy with an old pickup truck/ It doesn’t run so well but he don’t give a darn” isn’t the type to overanalyze. “The Devil That You Know” is about a life where things clearly aren’t going great, but the lyrics gently suggest picking up and moving on; while the lightly funky groove (and Susan Cowsill’s harmonies) imply that things will get better after all. “Roll Like a River” says in so many words that life tends to work out, and it takes a skilled writer (and another funky groove) to make those sentiments convincing. Even a tune with the foreboding title “Everybody’s Got to Die Somehow” turns out to be a stringband stomp with a rhyming list of ways one could check out—but ideally not anytime soon.

This is Schatz’s second album in two years with a band dubbed the Friggin’ Geniuses, including familiar names from the Iguanas (drummer Doug Garrison) Gal Holiday (guitarist Dave James) and all over the place (guitarist Alex McMurray). His own piano is solidly in the New Orleans R&B tradition and it sounds like he’s writing more with the band in mind, doing a swamp-pop homage (“Claudine Please Come Back Home”) just for the fun of it. If you had these folks behind you, you’d probably be an optimist too.