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by George Graham
(Independent Release, As broadcast on WVIA-FM 5/20/2015)
The usual image that people have of a singer-songwriter is that of a guitar-strumming folkie, sometimes supplemented by a band. But there is a long-history of singer-songwriters whose instrument is the piano, from Jerry Lee Lewis to Carole King to Randy Newman to Billy Joel to Bruce Hornsby. This week we have a very nice new album by a trio called Nonpronto who are basically a band with a piano-based singer songwriter at their center. It’s their first full-length album, called Unready, they released after several download EPs.
Nonpronto consist of three Chicago-area musicians who have jazz backgrounds: pianist vocalist and principal songwriter Dan Collins, with bassist Josh Murtha and drummer Luke Angle. They started the band in 2012, and been doing a good number of shows. They previously released four EPs between 2012 and now. Some observers have drawn a parallel between Nonpronto and the Ben Folds, an alternative rocker in a piano trio setting, or a vocal version of the alternative-influenced piano trio The Bad Plus, but Nonpronto are more traditional in sound, with the songs relying on their strong, intelligent material, appealing vocals and classy musicianship, rather than on a high-energy alternative sound. If one could draw a parallel, they are reminiscent of Carole King with a touch of Billy Joel, though their music is more understated. The jazz background of the players helps to remind one of Bruce Hornsby. Nonpronto, perhaps because of budgetary considerations, or more likely by artistic choice, eschew added players or extra production. They keep it simple which works well because the material is strong. There’s no need to fancy up the songs. Dan Collins occasionally uses a little organ and synthesizer, but the acoustic piano is the instrumental center of the music. Vocally, he’s got a pleasing tenor in a style that could be from any time in the last 50 years. Collins and Murtha share the lyric writing duties, and they create literate songs though they don’t really break much ground. There is the usual majority of compositions about relationships in various forms, plus a couple of bits of light philosophical musing and one song based on history. Their sound is clean and unpretentious. literate songs though they don’t really break mu
Opening is one of the album’s strongest tracks, Stand and Hold It Up, an appealing love song which highlights the band’s straight-ahead, honest piano-centered sound. <<>>
Another well-written song both musically and lyrically is the following track Wake Yourself a composition about struggling economically in these days of income inequality. <<>>
A bit of philosophy comes on the song called Time Was an Invention considering the irresistiblity of the flow of time. <<>>
If We’ve Changed is a song of traveling, and trying to move on presumably to a new life. The musical setting is more laid back, occasionally reminiscent ot Bruce Hornsby. <<>>
The song with historical lyrics is unambiguously named Dust Bowl. The subject is a bit of surprise for an album like this, but it’s very well-done and another of the Unready’s most memorable tracks. <<>>
For me one of the more enjoyable songs is Uninvited September about dreading the end of summer. The group’s jazz background is apparent in the song’s harmonic structure. <<>>
Another song of lyrical introspection is Simpler Time which the title again clearly indicates what it’s all about, looking back on the time when one was growing up and things seemed less complicated. <<>>
The album ends with one of its more energetic tracks, Out of Town, another song about traveling as a cure for what ails you. <<>>
Unready, the debut full-length album by the Chicago-based piano trio Nonpronto is a thoroughly worthwhile record of good old-fashioned intelligent songwriting, performed in an uncluttered musical setting, following in a long-running tradition of piano-based singer-songwriters. Pianist, vocalist and composer Dan Collins has created some fine new songs, though edgy innovation is not the band’s forte. In the three years the group has been together, they have been releasing on-line digital EPs steadily and some of the songs from those short-format recordings are consolidated into Unready which is available as a physical recording. Fans of Ben Folds and Bruce Hornsby will likely be attracted to the piano-oriented sound, but the songs are quite worthy irrespective of instrumentation.
Our grade for sound quality is close to an “A.” It sound as if different pianos were used on different tunes, some better than others, but the recording quality is pleasingly clean and refreshingly unspoiled by the inappropriate studio effects that seem to be almost a requirement in the alternative rock world. The dynamic range is could have been better, but the recording is not all that badly volume-compressed.
Trendy music can be entertaining and sometimes exciting for a while, before it wears out its welcome. By using tried-and-true ingredients, creativity and a generous helping of good taste Nonpronto has created an album that is likely to have real staying power.
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