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Fireworks on Ferris Wheels: Fireworks on Ferris Wheels
by George Graham
(Independent Release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 4/18/2018)
In the midst of the aggressive in-your-face texture of a much of commercial pop, there has been an undercurrent of more laid-back music, with a more contemplative sound and a kind of atmospheric or ethereal quality. Sometimes it takes the form of electronic ambiances, or other groups may go for a more acoustic or folky sound with in the course of their mellowness. This week, we have a worthy example of the latter. It’s the debut release by a duo who call themselves Fireworks on Ferris Wheels.
Amy Courts and Paul Koopman had both migrated to Nashville to try to make it in the music business, when they met at an open mic in 2004. They soon hit it off musically, working together, and leading to marriage. Ms. Courts eventually released two album on her own, while Koopman pretty much dropped out of the music scene, taking a non-musical job and taking a decade off from performing. The couple moved to Minnesota in 2011 and started raising a family. As they write in their web bio, they spent five years away from music on “parenthood, day jobs, home ownership, and leading worship at church.” But a one-off project that Koopman did attracted the attention of a producer friend in Nashville, who in 2015, asked for more music and inspired them to journey back Music City to begin what would become Fireworks on Ferris Wheels. The band’s name, by the way, came from their then-five-year-old son Elijah, who also created the drawing that they used for the recording’s artwork. They worked with producer Jim Reilley of the band the New Dylans, and came up with an engaging record that is folky and atmospheric with interesting lyrics that are often contemplative. They also include creatrive covers of a song each by Leonard Cohen and the Cure.
Amy Courts and Paul Koopman provide much of the instrumentation, but producer Reilley served as multi-instrumentalist with bass, electric guitar and piano; and drums, guitars and keyboards played by Eric Fritsch. The project took shape over nearly a year, with recording in both Nashville and Minneapolis. Koopman and Ms. Courts alternate lead vocals, and often do harmonies. The result is quite tasteful, with the instrumentation often scaling back to just a guitar or two, or sometimes building up to a rock band setting.
The album opens with a piece which is a good example of the group’s sound. Five. Fireworks on Ferris Wheels favors waltz time for several of their songs. Lyrically the composition is a rather serious one about an incident of an apparent assault and its aftermath. <<>>
Dakota, is set in the wide expanse of the West, with an appropriately rootsy sound, sung by Koopman. <<>>
Also taking a contemplative sound is Stronger Than You Think which has a guest vocal appearance by Jennifer Knapp, and a cello adds to the melancholy sound. <<>>
Koopman sings a piece called Shadows which is well-named both for its sound and lyrics. <<>>
The rockiest track on the album is I Won’t Be Satisfied, which one could well imagine a stadium rock group doing. Still, it’s nicely done. <<>>
The Leonard Cohen cover is a piece simply called Love Song. Fireworks on Ferris Wheels gives it a very nice atmospheric treatment, with Ms. Courts’ vocal about as far as one can get to Cohen’s deep bass singing. <<>>
Fourteener Waltz, with Koopman doing the vocals, looks back at a relationship, presumably the marriage between the two principal members. <<>>
The album ends with a piece called The River another melancholy-sounding track with seemingly allegorical lyrics about a parting. <<>>
Fireworks on Ferris Wheels, the new album by the duo of the same name, is a pleasing and artistically worthwhile recording that draws on the folky singer-songwriter paradigm and adds a nice atmospheric sound without getting too wispy. Amy Courts and Paul Koopman’s songs are first-rate and their album is quite tasteful. It’s the kind of recording that will grow on you with time.
Our grade for sound quality is close to an “A.” The recording is clean and has good clarity and decent warmth despite the rather atmospheric sound with generous reverb on some of the instrumentation. The dynamic range, how well the recording captures the span from loud to soft, is not great, but it’s better than the contemporary average.
There are a lot of singer-songwriters around, and a lot of rock bands with wordy lyrics, but Fireworks on Ferris Wheels creates a classy debut record that adds creative sonic touches to a duo singer-songwriter format, and makes for very enjoyable listening.
(c) Copyright 2018 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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