Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of seeing Tall Heights (for the third, and favorite, time) at The Sinclair in Cambridge, MA. It was a fantastic show in an intimate space, full of the usual swoons and sing-alongs, and I went with one of my best friends on the planet who makes everything that much better. It was my first real experience of fandom—powerful enough that I think I actually batted my eyes and cried. I even managed to swipe the set list. I’d be embarrassed if I wasn’t so excited that it happened! See photo below for the extent of my smile.
In any case, before Paul and Tim—the duo that makes up Tall Heights—began their set, The Sinclair surprised us with opener Dietrich Strause. Normally, I’d be angry. More waiting? For my favorite band that I never get to see? Rude. But this…this was something different. Dietrich was the best kind of surprise, and a pleasure to watch perform. He’s exceptionally talented, charming, and visibly comfortable on stage. When he responded to my tweet after the set, I was pleasantly surprised, since having star potential and remaining approachable are generally mutually exclusive. He offered a copy of his debut album, Little Stones to Break the Giant’s Heart, and I was hooked.
Dietrich’s voice is reminiscent of Amos Lee, but his sound is like Dave Matthews’ “Baby Blue” meets Zac Brown Band’s “Colder Weather” and Mumford & Sons’ “Ghosts That We Knew.” It’s a soft, folky album, full of southern memories and country visions, and it never fails to tug on all the right heartstrings.
My favorite, by far, is Little Stones’ “Annie Dear.” Maybe it’s the seamless combination of acoustic guitar, piano, violin, and percussion, but I can’t turn it off. It’s sweet, sad, but not too soft. “I told her in the pasture, I’m afraid of growing old,” Dietrich croons, and I’m suddenly teary-eyed, thinking of graduation days to come and the bittersweet changes the real world promises to bring. “The sky feels as big as it did when we were young,” he says. Bigger, I think, and how simultaneously paralyzing and reassuring it is to hear someone else say it. This song is, little by little, helping me face my fear of the coming months and embrace the end of my time at Wheaton.
A close second comes in “In the Well,” which is conveniently placed at number two on the track list. It’s the kind of song you reach for when you’re driving on familiar back roads in the lazy afternoon, and you’re silently reflecting on what you love about your life. “I love my home,” is always a go-to of mine, but also, “the earth is a beautiful place,” “music is a beautiful skill,” and “love is a beautiful thing.” It’s slightly more upbeat than “Annie Dear,” but equally evocative in a grateful way.
“Unsinkable” comically laments an unrequited love. The intro reminds me of the intro to “Story of My Life” by One Direction, which I find incredibly catchy and exciting, and “she’s unsinkable, unbreakable; it’s unbearable, unthinkable, how unlovable I am to her,” is probably the best-humored way anyone has ever been rejected. He even makes a joke about his height (which is admittedly not much taller than me). A solid anthem when you’re looking for a “his/her loss” mentality.
Track 4 is “Lady Ponderosa,” which is really, really great, but I cannot take is seriously because of a viewing experience with “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” If you watch the show, you know what I’m talking about, but I hope you don’t and that you can enjoy this for me.
“Lemonade Springs” is the longest song of Little Stones by a full 30 seconds. From what I can tell, it’s all guitar and vocals, which effectively lends itself to being one of the most emotionally-charged pieces I’ve ever had the pleasure to hear. Dietrich “oohs,” he coos, singing of haunting memories and tragic loss. “I watched my girl be pulled into the earth, and I’m haunted by my breath when I sing. And at night I hear her shouts in the running river’s mouth, in the bluebird and the lemony spring.” I don’t know what happened exactly, but I shed a silent tear as I watched him remember. Truly beautiful.
Halfway through the album is a 52 second interlude of what sound like trumpets and french horns, titled “The Sleeping Wilderness.” It’s a peaceful, quiet respite and mimics “Lady Ponderosa” just in time to move on to “Bootlegger.”
“Bootlegger” is a goodbye song to a love who never returned. “I thought I’d be fine waiting, just be a little shaken, a bottle only breaks if you drop it.” This resonated with me three times through, and made me uncomfortable enough (in a good way), that I turned it off after the second listen. And the entire rest of the album digs just as deep, never disappointing in momentum or effect. Without giving away the rest of the playlist, I’ll leave you with this: Dietrich is not to be missed. His talent is evident, but his raw grasp on love and loss is what makes him truly unique.
Stay musical, my friends.