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Music Review: Ready to Run by P.J. Pacifico

Music Review: ‘Ready to Run’ by P.J. Pacifico (Viper Records)Ready To Run Amazon

Musician P.J. Pacifico sounds different on his new EP release. Does the change in direction work?

Singer-songwriter P.J. Pacifico is going through some changes, as reflected in his latest release, an extended play (EP) disc entitled Ready to Run. The time he spends writing songs in Nashville is now augmented by time spent in the City of Angels. The influence of Los Angeles can be seen on the cover of Ready, which pays homage to Jackson Browne’s Late for the Sky album. And Pacifico is co-writing songs with the team of Garrison Starr and AG, women who also handled the production on this release.

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Pacifico has come to terms with his status as a long-term cancer survivor (Hodgkin’s disease), a theme that runs through the five songs on the EP. And he’s gone retro, focusing on capturing the sound of the 1980s on this grouping. Does it all work? Well, let’s take a look at the songs on Ready, four of which can be seen and heard on YouTube.

“All for Something” is the first track, and it opens with the sound of a heartbeat. It sounds like a Sting recording crossed with Paul Simon during the latter’s Graceland period. Pacifico is reflective as he sings: “Baby, nothing good ever comes easy/And everybody knows it/I swear it’s all for something/If you’ll keep holding on.” The song could either be about a lost love or surviving a dreadful disease. This is a song that remains with the listener for a day or two after hearing it.

“While You Were Looking Away” is like Simon melded with Browne. The lyrics are definitely Browne-ish: “Nobody could have loved you better/It wasn’t getting any easier/Oh, I ran out of reasons to stay/While you were looking away/You don’t know what you want/You don’t want what you have/And now there ain’t no one left/You can blame me for that.” Note that Pacifico feels guilt, something that’s also true on the next track.

“Among the Living” is clearly about Pacifico’s experience with disease and his guilty feelings over having survived while others did not: “I was surviving/I want to forgive myself/For I’m among the living.” It’s a good song, but it’s marred by the heavy-handed production. There’s too much bass and Pacifico’s voice is at too low a range. “Living” would have been more effective if given a George Harrison-style arrangement. Still, Pacifico gets off a great line: “The thing that might kill you/Just might save your life.” He should know.

“I Want Your Love” is the track that’s not on YouTube, but it should be. It sounds like a Bruce Springsteen composition and production, with a bit of Ryan Adams thrown into the mix. The song closes out, quite interestingly, with Beatles-like sound effects. A very effective song, it should have been the single.

“Ready to Run” closes out the set with another overly-produced song. The sounds bury the vocal and the melody. In terms of reflecting the ’80s, this comes off as more Bryan Adams (“Run to You”) than Browne (“Running On Empty”). “Ready” would have been more memorable if delivered in a humble, pensive Browne-like style.

Ready to Run

It’s understandable that artists like to change things up, and it’s admirable that Pacifico’s taken risks on this new release. But I found there’s an overall sameness to the tracks due to the heavy, boomy production. This makes listening to this EP somewhat tiring. Make that more than somewhat.

I may well be in the minority, but I’d love to see the talented Pacifico return to the quieter guitar-based, almost folk rock sound reflected on earlier songs like “Half Wishing,” “Champions and Guardians,” and the beautiful “Lakeshore Drive.” I think Pacifico is in his natural sweet spot when he’s channeling the sound of the 1960s and ’70s.

Long-time Pacifico fans will no doubt want to pick up Ready to add to their collection. For those new to him, I’d suggest sampling his work on YouTube to see if you prefer his prior or current sound.

Recommended, with some reservations.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by a publicist.

This review was first posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-p-j-pacifico-ready-to-run-ep/

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Only Love Can Break A Heart

Brian DolzaniIfIDont-covergrab2

Music Review: Brian Dolzani – “if i don’t speak a word…”

Is Brian Dolzani’s new album a sign that the best is yet to come from this singer-songwriter?

There are certain albums that we use to mark time. Consider this chronology… In 1969, Neil Young released his first, self titled, solo album which demonstrated that he was a distinct artist apart from the Buffalo Springfield. In 1991, Matthew Sweet released Girlfriend, a mix of ballads and joyful hard rock pop that resulted in its becoming the best-selling album on college campuses that year. And in late 2012, Brian Dolzani released his lower-case entitled 12-song collection, if i don’t speak a word…

Dolzani’s website uses three words to describe his album: Introspective/Heartfelt/Intimate. It’s a start.

My first impression, upon hearing an early sampler with 5 songs from word, was that Dolzani sounds more than a bit like early Neil Young. He also has a freshness and love for his craft that calls to mind the younger Matthew Sweet. It just so happens that both Sweet and Dolzani are admirers of Mr. Young, and sing one or more of his songs when they perform live.

Dolzani has a great way with words and phrases, some of which are only caught after listening to his songs more than once: “I spent a lifetime looking for a lost clue…”, “I fell in a forest and nobody heard it…”, “History is yours to steal…”

The CD begins with “Older Now,” which sounds like a track from the Crosby, Stills & Nash album. The singer is still trying to figure out life, and we’re the beneficiaries of his confused pondering. Track two, “Reasons,” sounds like Leo Sayer in its melancholy tone and lyrics. Which takes us to “Whether or Not,” the best song never recorded by Neil Young and Crazy Horse. The singer is battered and bruised by life and love’s indifference, “I lose blood and it matters not to me…” He wants to see the face of the guy who his girl now loves more than he. Although the band behind Dolzani is a bit too synchronized to be Crazy Horse, any Young fan will agree that this is a fine song in the style of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere or After the Goldrush.

In “Before Midnight,” the singer asks his girlfriend to respond to his questions: “Are we still good together? Are we still in love?” Here, Dolzani comes across like an early day Jackson Browne. He interacts well with the instrumentation, singing with it and not overpowering it. “Sail This Sea,” is a divorce song that might have been written by Phil Collins. “I’ve been trying so long, and all I got was another song.”

The protagonist of “Broken” views his life as a mess, with the pieces of his body lying on the floor. The singer has been knocked down, but he’s ready to get up and rejoin life; he’s healing even if it means having to revisit “old feelings, old dreams.” It’s a Tim Hardin-style song that reminded me of “No Regrets.” In “Not As Lonely,” the protagonist tries to convince himself that his world has not ended because his lover has left him. It recalls “I Thought I Knew You” from Sweet.

“Hey Dad” is Dolzani’s tribute to his late father, a man who was not perfect. It’s enlivened by a Beatles Revolver-style backing track. “Wilted” includes a Harvest era melody harmonica, as the singer concludes (in words that almost sound lifted from Young), “Happily ever after is a fantasy…” The protagonist in Young’s “The Loner” would identify perfectly with this song.

“Fair” is about the unfairness in a relationship in which one party loves more than the other. The sentiments are similar to those on Sweet’s “Nothing Lasts” and it’s bolstered by a nice steel guitar. In the piano-based “Autumn in Central Park,” the singer expresses ambivalence about love. “Even when you know that you’re in love/There are times when you’ve had enough…”

The album concludes with “I’m Sorry Now”. The singer is down (“I’m sorry for the way I can make you feel like you’re dead.”) but there’s a tone of hopefulness for the future on the edge of his voice. It makes for a fitting conclusion to the album, except that it feels like an idea for a song rather than something fully realized.

I think most will find this to be a pleasant and enjoyable collection of songs. Its weakness is that it suffers from a lack of variety in tone. As one person remarked, “A little bit of that guy goes a long way.” On Girlfriend, Matthew Sweet sang a number of heartbreak ballads, but he also unleashed four wild and heavy rock songs, “Divine Intervention,” “Evangeline,” “Girlfriend” and “Does She Talk?” Perhaps Dolzani can find two or three lead guitarists to similarly embolden his next recording session.

Bear in mind that Brian Dolzani is a very talented and creative musician. He may now have to live with the knowledge that – as stated by the reknowned philosopher Snoopy – “There’s no heavier burden than a great potential.”

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This review originally appeared on the Blogcritics Music site:

http://blogcritics.org/music/article/music-review-brian-dolzani-if-i1/

To hear the complete album, if i don’t speak a word…, go to:

http://www.briandolzani.com/wp/listen/

A review copy of the CD was provided by a publicist.

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Coming Up Next…

if i don't speakBrian Dolzani vertical

A music review! We take a look at the album, if i don’t speak a word… by Brian Dolzani.

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Photographs and Memories

I Got a Name: The Jim Croce Story by Ingrid Croce and Jimmy Rock (Da Capo, $25.00, 307 pages)

In I Got a Name: The Jim Croce Story, the wife of the late singer-songwriter has put together a moving, direct, and fully engaging biography.   The 300 pages seem to fly by and Ingrid Croce – assisted by her second husband Jimmy Rock – has done something that most musician biographers fail to do.   She uses the lyrics to 33 Jim Croce songs to demonstrate how the events in Croce’s life directly shaped his music.

Jim Croce knew individuals named Leroy Brown, Big Jim Walker and Willie McCoy; they were not just figments of a wild imagination.   His ballads and love songs were usually based on the often contentious relationship between himself and Ingrid.   One story told by Ingrid reads like a scene out of film…  Jim and Ingrid have a major dispute, and Jim walks away leaving her sobbing in the bedroom.   A couple of hours later, by way of apology, he returns to sing her a song he has just written – I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song.

Ingrid does not pull any punches about Jim’s flaws.   He had a lot of anger (much of it having to do with his parent’s insistence that he not “waste” his college education on a music career), abused prescription medication, and was often unfaithful… However, her love for him as a person shines through on every page of this sometimes emotional work.

One of the shocks for the reader is finding out that while Croce made millions of dollars for his record company, he never saw any of it during his short life of 30 years.   Near the end of his life, he had no more than $40 in his pocket, saved out of a weekly travel per diem of just $200.   It took years and decades of litigation for Ingrid to receive what was due.

“I know he will be with me forever.”

It was shortly before his death in an airplane crash that Croce appeared to be coming apart at the seams.   (A psychic had earlier told him that his son would be raised with only one parent.)   He wrote a letter of love and regrets to Ingrid:  “I know that I haven’t been very nice to you for some time…  I know that you see me for what I am…”   It was a letter that she was to receive after his death.

Croce also told Ingrid in the letter of his plan to separate himself from life on the road and rededicate himself to his wife and toddler son:  “…I want to be the oldest man around, a man with a face full of wrinkles and lots of wisdom.   Give a kiss to my little man and tell him Daddy loves him.   Remember, it’s the first sixty years that count and I’ve got thirty to go.   I love you.”

A long life was not to be, but we have Jim Croce’s amazing music to remember him by.   We now also have this loving remembrance from a strong, but still somewhat heartbroken, woman.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.  The Foreward to I Got a Name was written by Arlo Guthrie.

Note:  The song I Got a Name, featured so well in the film Invincible (set in Jim Croce’s hometown of Philadelphia), was the one song sung by Croce that he did not write.

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Exiled on Main Street

Mick: The Wild Life and Mad Genius of Jagger by Christopher Andersen (Gallery Books, $27.00, 363 pages)

One would suspect or expect that a biography of a singer-songwriter-musician would deal mostly with the person’s music.   That’s not the case here.   Andersen’s quite tawdry bio of Mick Jagger might have been subtitled A Salacious Sexual Biography.   Yes, readers, there’s little about The Rolling Stones music in this account – other than some interesting background on the development and failure of the Her Satanic Majesties Request album – and what is contained within the pages are events you’ve read about elsewhere.

“Marianne’s (Faithful) ex-husband…  certainly appeared to be in a position to know who was sleeping with whom.”

What you likely won’t read about elsewhere are the specifics about seemingly every sexual encounter – with males and females and housekeepers – that Sir Michael (Mick) Jagger has had in his lifetime.   (Based on this account, that’s about 1% of the population of the earth, and may include a few aliens from other planets.)   The writer seems to  not only find these details interesting…  He appears to be obsessed with them.   Sadly, he does not provide a reason for us to care about these personal encounters as the nexus between the sex and Jagger’s – and the band’s – musical creations (with a couple of rare exceptions) is missing.   In other words, what’s the relevance of a bedroom diary?

This is clearly an intimate biography that’s supposed to sell based on its titillation value.   However, and you’ll have to trust me on this, the reader’s patience for dealing with “shocking” material is pretty much used up in the first 100 pages.   After that, it’s just more and more of the same jaded tales.

It’s a missed opportunity as Andersen has a nice, engaging and flowing writing style that makes for quick reading; but, there’s no substance for the music lover to grab onto.   Andersen’s also a bit too fawning when it comes to Jagger, meaning there’s minimal critical perspective or analysis of his subject’s actions.   Further, it’s hard to know what’s real and not real, true or untrue, in this telling as the listing of the author’s sources is quite vague.   A number of the “facts” cited seem to be at least questionable without authentication.

Even if every sexual event listed in Mick were to be documented, the question remains as to what it all means for the curious and/or Jagger’s fans?   The overly spicy details might have been interesting when Jagger was still a young man, but he’ll be 70 in July, and his most loyal fans are enjoying their retirement.   Why is it, exactly, that we need to know now about what happened back in the day?

This is a biography that reduces its subject to an almost microscopic level.   Jagger, a very successful artist in and of his time, comes off as a .5 dimensional character.   As Mick himself once sang, “What a shame.”

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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When You Wish Upon a Star

Last Night at Chateau Marmont: A Novel by Lauren Weisberger (Washington Square Press, $15.00, 384 pages)

“You have to be ruthless about your privacy.”

Lights, camera, action!   Lauren Weisberger’s latest novel makes the reader feels like she’s watching a movie.   Devoted wife and nutritionist, Brooke Alter, has supported her talented singer/songwriter husband, Julian, for years as he refines his talents.   Brooke works two jobs and yet still manages to attend most of Julian’s performances at local New York City bars and nightclubs.

All through these formative years, Julian and Brooke manage to keep their relationship healthy and meaningful.   Then, the obvious occurs when Julian’s marginal contract with Sony becomes a ticket to stardom thanks to a photo opportunity with a gorgeous woman.   The story line is foreseeable.   The studious, devoted wife of a dedicated musician must learn to cope with his success and fame all the while trying to keep in tact her own career as a registered dietician.   The paparazzi provide more fodder for Julian’s notoriety with more than a little help from him.   Brooke is thrown into a melee of popping flashbulbs and tabloid lies/half-truths.

Along the way the reader meets the families and the friends of both Julian and Brooke.   Brooke’s BFF, Nola, is a real treasure.   We should be so lucky to have her for a buddy.   A few real-life rock stars and acting celebrities are thrown in to heighten the mood and give a sense of scale to Julian’s newly anointed status as a rock star.

This reviewer had a malingering sense of impending doom for Brooke and Julian’s relationship and Brooke’s career.   Author Weisberger builds enough tension to keep the reader’s attention and foster plenty of sympathy for Brooke’s plight.   No spoiler alert needed.

This is chick lit at its most polished and predictable best.   Why go to the trouble of courting fame and fortune if you can’t enjoy it?

Recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Last Night at Chateau Marmont was released in trade paperback form on June 14, 2011.

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No Direction Home

The Ballad of Bob Dylan: A Portrait by Daniel Mark Epstein (Harper; $27.99; 496 pages)

He didn’t really know where he was going and he didn’t care much.   He just liked the feeling of freedom, walking alone in a strange town on a day when nobody…  was likely to meet him or greet him.   He could go “invisible,” a word and an idea he relished.   Since the age of twenty-three he could not go anywhere where he was not recognized.

Bob Dylan has said (and it’s repeated in this work) that he has only read the first of the many books written about his life.   That’s because after he read the first bio of Robert (Bobby) Zimmerman, he felt like it was all fiction – it did not seem like he was reading about his own life.   To some extent, I share the feeling after reading this huge tome on Dylan’s professional life in music.

When I read Dylan’s own Chronicles I felt like I had engaged with the man…  His all-too-unique voice came through so clearly and he seemed intelligent, clever and likeable all at once.   But after reading The Ballad of Bob Dylan, I felt as if the man, the musician, had suddenly become invisible again.   “You’re invisible, you’ve got no secrets to conceal…”   (“Like A Rolling Stone”)

The role of the modern biography should be to transform a legendary human being, living or dead, into flesh and blood.   When I read the equally long (480 page) biography of the boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson by Wil Haygood, I felt as if I’d spent days in the presence of an athlete that I’d never met.   More importantly, I felt sorrow when I finished the true tale as I knew that I would begin missing the feeling of being in the presence of the late Sugar Ray’s bittersweet personality.

As a research document, The Ballad of Bob Dylan is fine.   It adds to the historical record giving the reader citations as to the inspirations for Dylan’s songs (religious, personal and otherwise), and telling us – sometimes for the first time – about his interactions with other musicians.   But the read is simply flat, very much like reading a college textbook.   For me, many interesting facts got lost in the presence of too many uninteresting facts.   And looking at the singer-songwriter’s life by reporting on a select number of performances that were separated by decades just seemed too clever to me – the game was not worth the candle, as the law professors say.

If you’re a Dylan fanatic, then you will no doubt purchase and read this biography no matter what any review states; and there are two other new Bob Dylan biographies that you’ll need to buy at the same time.   But if you’re just curious about the man who is about to turn 70 (and maybe new to the whole Dylan craze), I would humbly suggest that you instead purchase the trade paperback copy of Bob’s own Chronicles: Volume One.   You might also ask one of your older relatives to lend you their vinyl or digital copies of Subterranean Homesick Blues, Highway 61 Revisited (“The album that changed everything!”  Rolling Stone), Blonde on Blonde and Blood on the Tracks.   In this way, you’ll come to know both the man and the musician at his oh-so-fine, once upon a time, peak.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.  

Chronicles: Volume One by Bob Dylan is available from Simon and Schuster Paperbacks ($14.00; 293 pages).   Sweet Thunder: The  Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson by Wil Haygood is available in trade paperback form from Lawrence Hill Books ($18.95).  

“The best is always fragile, Sugar Ray Robinson once said, and it took a writer of Wil Haygood’s magnificence to appreciate what this meant in bringing the great boxer back to life.   Sweet Thunder is a jewel from beginning to end.”   David Maraniss, author of When Pride Still Mattered and They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967.

Slight Return:  I made this note to myself while reading The Ballad of Bob Dylan, “This book is like a brief for a lifetime achievement award.   It did not help me to understand who the man is.”


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