Charlie Shafter

Sometimes you encounter a musical artist for a first time and find yourself experiencing a warm sense of déjà vu – not a feeling that you’ve heard it all before, but a feeling that you’ve reunited with a person you’ve known for ages, someone with whom you share a connection. That’s the vibe conjured up by Charlie Shafter, a young singer-songwriter with an old soul – and a knack for forging a connection with just about anyone who crosses paths with his songs.

On his self-titled debut album, the 27-year-old Shafter weaves ten richly-toned tales that recall iconic writers such as Townes Van Zandt and Elliott Smith, songs that range into acoustic blues and the grittier side of country-rock on a panoramic trek through blue-highway Americana. Shafter doesn’t write songs that grab you by the lapel and shake you into listening; they’re more likely to throw an arm around you and whisper their way into your consciousness.

“I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a songwriter,” he says. “When I was a little kid, I’d listen to my parents’ records and they were mostly singer-songwriter type things. Those really made me appreciate what a good song was all about and made me want to do that – to write songs people would really be moved by.”

He succeeds in a big way on his debut. Buoyed by his affably gritty vocals and his warm, enveloping guitar tone, songs like “Sea Wall” and “Actor” wash over the listener, leaving a strong, sensual imprint long after their last notes resound. He takes a more direct approach on other tracks, like the gently finger-picked “Drunk on Desire” – which underscores the song’s hopeful plea for love – and a little bit of lustfulness on the side – with its playful melody.

On the other end of the sonic spectrum, “Dog on a Chain”(co-written with Ray Wylie Hubbard, who also lent his production talents to the project) finds Shafter mining the deeper end of both his vocal and emotive range in order to drive home the dark tones of the slide-and-organ laced bluesiness. That tune, a travelogue of cultural touchstones and sonic landmarks, finds him weaving down the dirt roads of memory, creating a picture that’s at once vivid and surreal.

“I hardly ever write an entire song about one thing,” he says. “I know what it all means, but when you look at it, it’s more like a collage than a picture. I can be writing a love song, but then throw in something that’s actually about my grandfather. I guess I like to let people fill in the blanks themselves – sometimes I can’t even do that for a couple years after I write a song.”