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Thursday, July 24, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 77.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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MadTracks: 'My Darling Adeline' by Paul Otteson


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Stoughton's Paul Otteson seems an unlikely fit when he plays shows with fellow local singer-songwriters like Dietrich Gosser or Jeremiah Nelson. Otteson comes off a bit more delicate and mild-mannered than most others who play acoustic, inward-looking music around here. He has a high voice that he tends to use in melodies that bounce or flicker and can be a little tough to catch on to. But on his recently released full-length Robin Red, it's easy to see how a songwriter would admire Otteson's way with a narrative twist.

While Gosser (who shared the bill with Otteson at a release show last week at the Project Lodge) has framed many songs around oceans and Bible tropes, Otteson's song "My Darling Adeline" is a little more sneaky in its approach to grand gestures. On first listen, the song sounds like nothing of any great concern, clipping along lightly on drums, upright bass, and a pretty, descending guitar figure that compliments the quick patter of Otteson's singing. The narrator's a 12-year-old boy hopelessly in love with a 16-year-old girl.

Turns out our hero is a victim not only of childish whims, but also of one of history's great pranks. In the second verse, Otteson sings of one day in 1938 when "I turned the dial and faded smile / When I heard the news / Of the Martians' plan to seal our fate / With heat rays / And tripods strange."

That's clearly Orson Welles' infamous War Of The Worlds radio broadcast, and this boy is one of many who actually believes the world is ending, so naturally his first instinct is to find his crush, "confess my love / Warn her family of the threat above." Perhaps the overall tone of the song feels so modest because the narrator looks back on this episode of childhood folly with a sense of wonder and humor-he doesn't think himself "a creature driven and derided by vanity" like the kid from James Joyce's "Araby" or anything. Otteson's delivery is rather prim and the personality not especially tortured, but that makes it all the easier to appreciate a clever story told with kindness.

Otteson plays at the Project Lodge on Monday, June 11.


MadTracks highlights and provides MP3s of songs performed by local musicians. All tracks here are provided with permission of the artist. If you are a musician based in the Madison metro area and are interested in sharing your work as a MadTrack, please send a message.

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