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(independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 1/5/2011)
I don't know which are more numerous: rock bands or singer-songwriters. They're in almost every town across the country trying to do their own music and perhaps make a bit of an impact. Maybe it's my taste, but I think, that as far as album releases are concerned, there seem to be a lot more bad rock bands than crummy singer-songwriters, though I have heard a many of both.
This week we have yet another singer-songwriter CD that once again proves that as simple a musical form as the so-called "folkie" is, it can be a constant source of worthwhile and engaging music in the proper hands. The new recording is by Tom Prasada-Rao, a 16-year veteran of the recording scene, and it's called Goodnight Regret.
Tom Prasada-Rao has an interesting background and resume. Born in Ethiopia of parents from India, he grew up in the Washington, DC area, was educated in Maryland, England and India. He currently lives in Dallas, Texas, where he runs a recording studio. He has had a career for some time now behind the scenes -- serving as a producer for numerous artists, and teaching extensively. He originated the songwriting curriculum at the University of Virginia's Young Writers' Workshops. He currently teaches in a Montessori school in Dallas. In the mid 1990s, he became quite popular on the folk festival scene, but in recent years has kept a lower profile with his behind-the-scenes jobs. This is his sixth solo album, but he has also been a member of a couple of groups, including one called the Sherpas with Tom Kimmel and Michael Lille. And with his wife Cary Cooper, he was half of the Dreamsicles. Now for his first solo album in some ten years, he re-emerges with one of those recordings that is the epitome of why the folk-based singer-songwriter remains so viable as a musical form -- it's a collection of attractive, lyrically thoughtful and downright interesting songs that are very nicely performed in a mostly acoustic context with a small group that can range from being solo, to something with that comes close to being a band.
The title of the album, Goodnight Regret represents a theme that runs through a number of the lyrics. Prasado-Rao said that one of his students at the University of Virginia brought in a song by the band Fugazi to consider. Prasado-Rao found himself fascinated by a lyrical line, "bonsior regret a demain." That inspired him to write what became the title track for the CD that same day. A collection of songs vaguely tied to the subject of regret ensued, some written by Prasado-Rao himself and with collaborators, including Ms. Cooper, David Wilcox, Michael Lille and others.
The CD opens with Last One Gone, a tune Prasada-Rao wrote with David Wilcox. It's done in a solo setting. It's metaphorical lyrics include some autobiographical references, such as Prasada-Rao's grandfather in India who was physically active until age 105. <<>>
Gitanjali is a series of poems from India. Prasado-Rao said he has the word tattooed on the inside of his arm. The song by that name shows a little Indian influence with its somewhat metaphysical lyrics. <<>>
With a considerably lighter direction is I Dream of Jeannie which recalls the crush Prasada-Rao had on the star of the 1960s TV series. <<>>
One of the most appealing songs on the CD is Have Faith in Me, a four-way co-write. The solo performance enhances the introspective nature of the lyrics. It's another of those regret-related songs. <<>>
Also in an intimate musical setting is Invisible Ink, and it has a similar lyrical theme. <<>>
With a small band and a little Brazilian influence is the track called Smoke and Mirrors. It likewise hews to Prasado-Rao's general lyrical direction for the CD. <<>>
One of the more unusual pieces is called Leonard Cohen. The words, also into self-examination, are spoken rap-like while the instrumentation is anything but hip-hop, with a kind of spacey aura and a banjo in the mix. <<>>
The title track Goodnight Regret ends the formal part of the CD. Its title is aptly descriptive, taking the form of a lullaby considering that which is the subject of the regret. <<>>
With the Goodnight Regret having been released at the end of 2010, there is a Christmas-related song, Angel Wings which is probably the most positive set of words on the CD. <<>>
Singer-songwriter Tom Prasada-Rao has been on the scene for more than 15 years, releasing CDs by himself and with groups, and attracting attention on the folk coffeehouse and festival scene. But he has also been maintaining a career as a teacher, studio owner and producer, and as his bio says, raising two young stepdaughters, thus keeping a lower profile as a performer. So this is his first solo CD since 2000, and it's a winner. There are great songs that have the literate quality fans of the genre look for, along with well-constructed and interesting music, and tasteful, understated production.
Our grade for sound quality is a "B." The mix is nicely done. The music has a pleasingly, intimate sound, but we'll deduct points for the usual dumb, herd-mentality compression of the sound to make this intrinsically quiet music as loud as a rock album.
Tom Prasada-Rao is one of those names on the singer-songwriter and folk scene who commands a a lot of respect from his fellow artists. Hopefully new CD Goodnight Regret will allow him to raise his profile some among wider audiences.
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