Paul Sanchez, Heart Renovations (Independent)

Songwriters need stories and much of the time it’s the story of their life that ends up getting told. A storyteller with a dull life doesn’t have much to work with. So a storyteller with a hard life is actually blessed.

So it is with Paul Sanchez, whose seemingly endless trove of tales encompasses a world of grief and heartbreak, hope and redemption. A New Orleans story. It might be a hurricane, a death, the end of a marriage—it’s all material for a teller of tales who grew up studying the likes of Bob Dylan, Steve Goodman and Bruce Springsteen.

In the latest episode things are particularly bad for our hero. But as long as he has his trusty guitar there’s just no stopping him from moving on. The starkness of his solitary voyage through these 20 songs is riveting, an ancient mariner’s tale, and Mark Bingham’s invisible production makes it all stand out like a classic etching.

Sanchez has his friends to help with the reconstruction, songwriters like Steve Brennan, Vance DeGeneres, Mari Kornhauser, Lynn Drury. Though he doesn’t appear in the songwriting credits, Paul’s buddy from the Write Brothers, Alex McMurray, gets a significant thanks that needs no explanation.

One song co-written with John Rankin, “The Good Life,” holds its place with particular resonance: “I thought growing old would take longer/ So many things I couldn’t wait to see/ But the years roll by and time it flies/ And it’s all catching up with me. Hope is a boat I’m here in the bow/ Looking to find what reminds me somehow/ The good life is now, the good life is now/ The good life is now.”

Sanchez does a good bit of chronicling all the things that went wrong, especially in his marriage, on “Nowhere,” “Fly Away,” “Already Gone,” “Time to Move On,” “Happiness Would Be My Middle Name” and “Three Quarter Time.” He steeps in the memories, wallows in his misery, finally staring at the bloody wall of his lost hope in the title track. But like the ship’s captain that he will never stop being, Sanchez picks himself up and follows the wind, cursing the road in “Planes, Trains, Automobiles” but rediscovering his muse during his travels on the marvelous Celtic trilogy, “Getting Drunk In Ireland,” “Rain in Acadia” and “In Galway.” The emotions in these songs is close to the surface, raw and oozing grief, yet Sanchez screws up the courage to keep writing and keep getting up on stages and sharing these murderous tales on a nightly basis. It takes its toll, but it also points his way forward. Along the way he relies on his friends, and in one of the album’s best songs, “I Still Believe,” he pays tribute to those companions: “My friends are the kind of folks who feel like they don’t fit in/ The ones who learn the hard way not to care/ First we’re all fine then we’re fucked then we’re all fine again/ We’re lost when we’re not going anywhere … I still believe I still believe I still believe.”