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Rick Sal: Six Feet Under the Sun
by George Graham
(Independent release, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 1/27/2021)
As much as I value musical eclecticism, I am also a sucker for clever melodic pop, music that is outwardly simple and singable, but also has a degree to depth to it. The Beatles were the archetypes for that, and as the decades pass, there are still artists who carry on the tradition. Recently on this review series, we have spotlighted albums by The Mommyheads and Hello Forever, to name two. This week we have another very good example, though in this case rather than being by a band, it the work of a mostly solo singer-songwriter. It’s the new release by Rick Sal called Six Feet Under the Sun.
Rick Sal, a/k/a Richard A. Salinas, of Austin, Texas, has an interesting story. He’s an experienced artist who released his debut album in 1988. But as he was starting on a second recording, life intervened, as they say. A job layoff, then a work career and family responsibilities kept him busy, away from devoting much time to music. He began writing some of the songs occasionally on weekends, and during other rare free time. But now 33 years later, with his youngest child sent off to college, he resumed work on that second album. He also has taken to traveling around in a motor home in which he built a studio, so this album was mostly recorded on the road, presumably taking inspiration from the places he visited. Also, prior making this album, he worked as producer for the band Good Latimer, from the Dallas/Fort Worth area, on their 2018 release Go Where It Snows. Salinas enlists a couple of the Good Latimer band members to help out on his new album, but it is primarily the artist himself playing most of the instruments.
Musically, the album is tuneful, catchy and draws on some influences from the 1960s. Lyrically, the album is also quite clever, with songs addressing things like missing a date because one’s truck broke down, on to more weighty subjects like pondering lives of friends cut short by accident or suicide. The production is crisp, with sophisticated arrangements, with the performances rising above the usual level of a one-man band overdubbing all the parts in the studio, or in this case, in the Rick Sal’s RV.
The album opens with Something Buried Deep with probably the album’s most unusual lyrics, about mysterious artifacts. The song is typical of the multi-layered creative but tuneful arrangements that mark Rick Sal’s work. <<>>
Another example of the hook-laden material on Six Feet Below the Sun is No Love Song Today, about a couple of kids experiencing first love, and then loss. <<>>
Everyone Wants to Be with You is another lyrically clever song about being in love with a very busy businesswomen, and having trouble scheduling a date. <<>>
Back in the day when music like this was making its appearance, there used to be quite a few rock songs decrying commercialism and the corporate world. A track called Off With His Head takes up the mantle on Rick Sal’s new album, with one of the more rock-oriented arrangements. <<>>
Rest Stop is another witty song, the one about having one’s truck break down while on the way to a much anticipated date. The song has a little country twang to it. <<>>
For me one of the more intriguing songs on the album is Abuelita. It’s a tribute to a beloved grandmother, but the tune is in a minor key and with more electric instrumentation, giving it a bittersweet quality. <<>>
The most melancholy song on the album is one called Gone which ponders lives cut short early. <<>> It builds to a kind of theatrical climax. <<>>
On the other hand, the most aggressive rock arrangement comes on another clever set of lyrics, the song Diane, expressing dismay at the poor choice of a man made by a friend. <<>>
Six Feet Under the Sun, the new album by Rick Sal, his second release, coming 33 years after his first, shows the Texas singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist in fine form. Recorded mostly in an RV traveling around the country, the album combines a sort of classic tuneful pop rock sound with smart, creative lyrics, with a deceptively simple sound that nevertheless shows the degree of sophistication in the arrangements that sets this music apart from more lightweight pop fare. The performances, with Sal playing most of the instruments, are classy and well above the usual for one-man-band overdubbed projects, but you can still come away humming the tunes.
Our grade for sound quality is close to an “A.” Recording on the road in an RV did not detract from the album sonically. The sound is generally clean and the mix has everything in the right place and audible. Dynamic range is about what one would expect for a rock-pop project.
What outwardly seems like lightweight pop, in the right hands, can be turned into something creative and still fun to listen to. Rick Sal’s Six Feet Under the Sun is a most worthy example. Let’s hope that it’s less than another 33 years before he follows it up.
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