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(Tons-o-Fun Records 021169 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 12/5/2001)
Performing songwriters these days basically fall into two categories: the solo singer-songwriter, or member of a band. This week we have an artist who is a singer-songwiter whose music runs toward the electric and thus lends itself more toward a band setting, and thus he regularly works with a group. His name is Rob Gonzalez and his new second solo CD is called Somehow. It captures an electric band spirit, while focussing on his worthwhile songs that could easily stand by themselves in a solo setting.
Rob Gonzalez is based in the Boston area, but be was is originally from Wisconsin. He showed his musical abilities at a young age, learning piano, and by his teen years, was already playing gigs at a local college. After high school he began to perform full-time as a member of a travelling resort band, but by 1991, decided to get more serious about his music, and enrolled in the Berklee College of Music in Boston where he studied jazz piano. Once there though, he was soon drawn to the active Boston rock scene, and increasingly to songwriting. Eventually Gonzalez founded and headed a band called Darling Picassos, which came close to a national record contact, and began to attract attention in the music business. But the band eventually dissolved, and Gonzalez decided to go back to college, majoring in philosophy, which he says aided his songwriting.
Last year, he independently released his debut solo album, and now he is out with Somehow, a CD that nicely blends the singer-songwriter aspect with a catchy, classic-pop rock setting. The result is an impressive recording that both rock and singer-songwriter fans will find easy to relate to. He sings in an appealing, but somewhat nondescript voice on love lost and found, and some homesickness -- to which he alludes in his liner notes, still considering the Midwest his home, after a decade in the Boston area. He appears with his regular band, including bassist Spencer Hargis and drummer Paul Giovine. But the CD also has the help of a number of other players and two outside producers on some tracks: Anthony J. Resta, who produced a hit album for the band Collective Soul, and former Letters to Cleo bassist Scott Reibling.
The influences coming together on Somehow include some hints of 60s pop, plus more contemporary sounds like drum loops, as well as timeless rock elements, and an a little country on one track. And while Gonzalez covers lyrical topics addressed many times in the past by songwriters, he adds his own, usually positive viewpoint that helps to remind us why the subject of relationships is a nearly bottomless well of inspiration for lyricists.
The CD is arranged with the material with the outside producers first, then the latter sixty percent produced by Gonzalez himself with mostly his regular band. There is a distinct difference in sound between especially the first two tracks, produced by Resta, and self-produced material, with Resta's work aiming for wider pop audiences, not always to the benefit of the songs.
The CD opens with what amounts to being its title track I'll Get To You (Somehow), a song of parting. Produced by Resta, the arrangement combines hints of Sixties psychedelia with a trendy but annoying drum loop, which seems forced into the tune. <<>> Interestingly, for those of us who can live without the drum loops, Gonzalez included a mostly acoustic, and far better version of the song as a hidden track at the end of the CD. <<>>
One of the CD's highlights is Caroline, a clever story song, whose main character is an ambitious sort who finds fulfillment in an interesting way. <<>>
One of a brace of songs about homesickness is Lush Life, not to be confused with the Duke Ellington classic of the same name. It's another upbeat, appealing song that manages to have interesting facets, especially lyrically. <<>>
With some country influence is the first of the tracks Gonzalez self-produced, The Worst Thing about Suzanne, about developing a bad crush on someone who might not be the best choice. <<>>
California Rising brings a twist to the idea of lovers parting -- she goes away to California and ends up in the low-life there, and he longs for her return. <<>>
Gonzalez most articulates his homesickness on the song Missing Wisconsin, which he puts in the third person, with a female protagonist. It's another highlight of the album, both in terms of its writing and its straightforward roots rock arrangement. <<>>
The one track that left me perplexed on the CD was Hemingway's Ghost. The song is so full of hackneyed folksinger cliches in an album of otherwise worthwhile material that I am left thinking that it must have been done in jest. Or was it? <<>>
Gonzalez comes up with an all-purpose song that could be for a lover or just a good friend. It's called My Only Friend, and it's another example of Gonzalez' deft writing. <<>>
Rob Gonzalez' new second CD Somehow is an engaging recording by a very capable singer-songwriter who brings his experience formerly leading a rock band into his music. His attractive songs, combining a pop sensibility with astute lyrics, make for worthwhile listening, and for those who did not get to hear his limited-distribution debut CD, it's a nice introduction to an artist who is likely to be attracting more attention in the future. Gonzalez has a reputation for personable live performances, and that is reflected in the fact that the most satisfying tracks on his CD are those that use his regular band and not employ outside producers.
Our grade for sound quality is about a "B plus." The CD is mastered bit too loud for my taste, when more of the ebb and flow of the music could have been captured, but overall the CD delivers the performances well, with a generally clean mix, and the punchy sound can benefit the more pop oriented material.
While there are hundreds of good singer-songwriters out there releasing mostly independent CDs, Rob Gonzalez' adroit combination of the articulate lyricist and the rocker, makes his CD an edifying addition to the field.
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