When somebody says, ‘It’s cut and dried,” there’s a finality to such a statement. It’s not open for debate, and there’s no alternative solutions. The hand of cards has been played decisively and the game’s all over. There’s similar feeling of finality to folksinger Ren Daversa’s “Cut and Dried” single from her Saltwater album.
Daversa begins by singing, “Can you read my mind? /If you can, you know I’m just killing time/It’s pretty cut and dried.” She sings and plays it over a slightly bossa nova groove. It’s not, however, the sort of lighthearted romantic rhythm one usually associates with that style of music first developed in Brazil in the 50s and 60s. Instead, when she sings, “We might be running out of time,” you realize there’s also an urgency to her words.
While Daversa sings with a gentle, loving tone, her words are as sharp as a two-edged sword. She at one point warns, “Watch your back because your best friend’s got a knife.” It’s not exactly clear what she’s warning of and singing about. It could be any number of things. It might be about the way friends can be two-faced. Smiling faces, as the old soul song said, sometimes they don’t tell the truth. Then again, she could be singing about a literal knife. I know; you can’t imagine such a sweet voice describing murderous violence, right?
Maybe that’s one of the reasons the track is so effective. There’s a cognitive dissonance between the sweetness of that voice, and the harshness of these words. Then again, Daversa is a folksinger, and folk music has a long tradition of popularizing murder ballads. Before metal and punk rock came along, some of the best true crime music was that being made by folk artists.
In a few places, Daversa can be quite cryptic. For instance, she also sings, “justice is blinded when they come from either side.” Just what could that mean? Is it a comment on a recent court trial? Perhaps it’s one of those beautifully confusing Elvis Costello-like lyrics. It can pretty much mean whatever you’d like it to mean or describe something personal to each listener. Speaking of being cryptic, Daversa also sings, “So much to talk about/But nothing left to say.” That’s either a contradiction or a paradox. Whatever you make of it, it makes you think.
That’s probably the whole point of this lyrical exercise. Ren Daversa wants to make us think. She’d like us to do aural doubletakes as we’re listening to her sing. She’s succeeded, perhaps, if we ask ourselves, ‘Did she just say what I thought she said?’ a couple times along the way. Sure, upon first listen, we likely will think, ‘Ah, isn’t that singer just the prettiest little flower?’ Then we’ll lean in closer to our speakers and hear what that lovely little singing voice is actually singing about.
Even if you don’t like your music to be overly challenging, you’ll still likely enjoy this song. It’s so beautifully played and sung, you could miss her whole points and get just as much pleasure from it. Ironically, though, you just can’t say the message of this song is even the remotest bit cut and dried.