Paul Sanchez’s transformation from corporate rocker in Cowboy Mouth to one of the most distinctive New Orleans songwriters was among the happiest post-Katrina storylines in a city struggling to rediscover its identity. Sanchez made several excellent solo albums and collaborated with some of the city’s gifted songwriters and musicians in a collective creative renaissance that reached its apogee in the still-in-progress production of Nine Lives: The Musical.
Notwithstanding the culture-as-business stance that many of the most hardnosed critics espouse, creativity is a fragile commodity that is subject to sudden lapses. Through a series of personal and professional setbacks, Sanchez found himself at a dead end in 2012 and was forced to retire from making music. It was not just writer’s block—Sanchez says he’d somehow forgotten how to play guitar as well. He accepted the hardship, acquired a new perspective on guitar playing with John Rankin, and eventually the muse returned, bringing the kind of insight that only hard times can inspire.
The World is Round Everything That Ends Begins Again is the story about the joy Sanchez experienced in the process of regaining that inspiration. The album opener “Tomorrow Won’t Sneak up on Me” is a kind of preview of the latest Sanchez collaboration, written with Jim McCormick and Alex McMurray, who have formed a songwriters’ group along with Spencer Bohren. Producer Jay Weigel, who did an outstanding job on this great-sounding disc (recorded at Esplanade Studios), also gets a co-write on the song. Sanchez, McCormick and Weigel also co-wrote the unforgettable “Who Knows Why,” an instant classic that sounds like it could have been written by Fred Neil.
As usual, Sanchez makes spectacular use of his peers, including Erica Falls, Michael Cerveris and John Boutte on vocals, Shamarr Allen on trumpet, and his current backing group, Minimum Rage. That group’s multi-instrumentalist Sonia Tetlow co-wrote the hard-edged “Opposite of What It Seems” and bassist Mary Lasseigne contributed the anthemic “Celebrate (When the Day Comes).”
Despite all of his generosity as a collaborator, in the end Sanchez is alone with his guitar and ruminating about the fleeting nature of creativity and the precious, yes, magic that animates songcrafting. “Life goes by, you’ve got to know this / It’s gone in the wink of an eye,” he sings, a simple observation but at the same time a challenge to himself to make his work not just something to do, but a real reflection of his determination not to take life for granted. These very personal songs—the title track, “Can’t Live in Between,” “Life Goes By,” “Easy for Us,” “Out of My Head” and “Full Circle”—are what makes this the finest moment in Paul Sanchez’s career.