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(Amarca Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 3/9/2011)
When you think of singer-songwriters, the image that usually comes to mind is that of a folkie, wielding an acoustic guitar. But though there are fewer of them, singer-songwriters whose instrument is the piano are significant factor. Think of Jerry Lee Lewis, Randy Newman, Laura Nyro, Billy Joel, Elton John, Bruce Hornsby, Ben Folds, and Jamie Cullum, to name a few from various generations. I think it's true that the instrument shapes the way such artists create their songs. The piano naturally encourages more interesting compositions musically, with more harmonic depth, though what the artist does with those possibilities is what makes the difference.
This week we have a new recording by a singer-songwriter and pianist who puts his instrument to good use, and he's an appealing vocalist. Scott Chasolen's new CD, his third, is called Fracture.
Scott Chasolen grew up in Wayne, NJ, and according to his bio, started playing piano by ear, more or less by accident at age 12. By age 16, he was performing in bands around New York City, and was studying jazz. While in college, he was keeping a busy schedule while performing with the instrumental jam band Ulu, with whom he played for some seven years and toured extensively. Ulu released four albums during its tenure. Chasolen came to be knows for his collection of vintage keyboards that he played with the group.
In recent years, Chasolen has been a member of the popular Pink Floyd tribute band The Machine, which has been touring the world.
During his stint with those groups, Chasolen has been working on his singer-songwriter facet that combines some of his musical interests with lyric writing and his eminently likable vocals. He released his debut solo album Solitude Speaks in 2003, did a acoustic collaboration in 2005 with another singer-songwriter Katy Pfaffl, who happens to be his wife, then did a more electrically instrumented recording called Magnify in 2007. His new album, Fracture mainly consists of a group called the Scott Chasolen Trio, rather like a jazz trio with his piano, bassist Adam Minkoff and drummer Josh Giunta. But he also brings in a number of the vintage keyboards for which he has been known. While there is a little of the jam-band and fusion aspect of Chasolen's music from Ulu present on Fracture, this is very much the singer-songwriter record, and many of the songs are centered around that perennial topic of lyricists, love and relationships. Most are fairly upbeat and positive -- there's not a lot of blues on this CD.
Leading off is a track called Novocaine, which might take a bit of its influence from the Pink Floyd material Chasolen plays with The Machine. <<>>
Hinting at a kind of old-fashioned Tim Pan Alley song is Leftover, a well-written piece apparently about missing one's significant other, when the two have to be separated. <<>>
Chasolen gets out some of his vintage keyboards, including a Wurlitzer electric piano and spacey synthesizer on There She Goes, which takes on a funkier direction than most of the rest of the album. It's another good piece of songwriting craft. <<>>
I think that one of the highlights of the CD is I Didn't Mean to Let You Down. Its apologetic lyrics have a degree of charm, while the tune itself has the interesting musical ingredients that are the sort of thing you expect from a piano-playing singer-songwriter. <<>>
Also with a lot going for it is the song Evolve, with some of the best lyrics on the album and a fairly sophisticated arrangement. <<>>
Another kind of mea-culpa song is Scatterbrain, an upbeat piece that regrets being overly distracted which brought about some untoward consequences. <<>>
About as close to conventional rock as this album gets is a track called Larceny, with lyrics about a kind of mysterious character who was apparently up to no good. <<>>
The CD ends with one track that is a bit of a cliche: Don't' Give Up. While the positive lyrics and the tuneful melody give the song potentially wide appeal, most of this has been done before. <<>>
Scott Chasolen's new CD Fracture is a worthwhile recording from a singer-songwriter whose instrument is the piano, and all that implies. His compositions are intelligent and generally musically interesting. The small band with just keyboards, bass and drums, and only occasional guitar as played by session engineer Ryan Ball provides a tasteful setting for the songs and never gets overbearing. And Chasolen has a perfect kind of voice for these songs.
Our grade for audio quality is an A-minus. The sound is clean, studio effects are at a minimum, and Chasolen's vocals are respected. There is the usual excessive compression that squashes out some of the music's dynamics, but it's not as bad as on many CDs.
Scott Chasolen keeps busy with his keyboard playing gigs. It's nice that he can turn his attention to his singer-songwriter facet, which he does with great effectiveness, bringing his keyboard work to bear on his new CD Fracture.
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