A little bit Tom Waits, a little bit Elvis Perkins, “Darlin’, I Am Fine” is a quirky slow-burner—chamber pop at once dexterous and skewed. An unusual assortment of instruments (brass, winds, strings) trade off in the background with odd little licks and frills, adding to the song’s forceful if carnivalesque vibe, however slowly it insists on moving. Anchoring the ensemble is Bell’s cello, alternating long, melancholic bowings with tetchier scratchings, all in service of lyrics that manage quickly to assert via subtext the exact opposite of the title’s pronouncement.
Two-thirds of the way through, at 2:36, the idiosyncratic arrangement coalesces into an oddball instrumental interlude. Tom Waits famously gave his musicians an instruction during the recording of Rain Dogs to “play it like a midget’s bar mitzvah” (that’s a direct quote; I don’t mean anything insulting by the term and I don’t think Waits did either). Our instrumental passage here may not conjure the aforementioned bar mitzvah but we might be at the after-party.
Christopher Bell is a cellist, multi-instrumentalist, and engineer based in Jamestown, New York. “Darlin’, I Am Fine” is a track from the album Rust, which the prolific Bell released in September 2015. If I’m counting right Rust is Bell’s sixth full-length album, dating back to 2012; before that there were five EPs, the first coming out in 2009. In March 2015, Bell also released two albums collecting all of his work up to 2013; you can see everything on his Bandcamp page, and listen to and/or purchase all of it.