If you're a serious fan of popular music you will, from time to time, inevitably find a CD that is destined to occupy a revered place in your disc player for months.
Such is the case with "River Songs," the wonderful new CD from the Badlees. The eagerly awaited album — which hits record stores today — does not disappoint. It will reaffirm your love and passion for music, and will put a broad smile on your face with seemingly effortless ease.
Although The Badlees have been performing many of the songs from the new album in the local clubs for months, that doesn't take away any of the enjoyment of hearing them all compiled on this lyrically outstanding, eclectic, at times moody and very well-produced album.
Opening with the upbeat instrumental, "Grill The Sucker" it's clear right from the get-go that the Badlees have — as they have stated in recent interviews — returned to the ethnic sounds which highlighted 1991's "Diamonds In The Coal." Just a look at the CD's instrumental credits shows, in addition to traditional instruments, mandolins, harmonicas, dulcimers, fiddles, harps, kazoos and organs.
"Angeline Is Coming Home," the first single, soars with enthusiasm and joy — a glorious celebration of the homecoming of a very special person and one who has overcome great adversity.
"Resplendent in dignity," sings vocalist Pete Palladino, "Angeline is coming home."
Co-penned with longtime Badlees collaborator Mike Naydock, the song also serves as an early indictor that The Badlees don't follow suit with the rash of the current angst-driven "life is horrible and I hate performing music" icons. The message that life is good — and music is good — is as clear as the ever-present smile Palladino sports on stage.
"Fear of Falling," a terrific, mandolin-enhanced number, deals with the hard reality of failed high aspirations. Offering an array of smart, insightful lyrics, the inspired song also possesses great single potential.
It's easy to get stuck hitting the 'ol repeat button on the instantly likable "Angels Of Mercy." Possibly the best track on the album, the song reveals a somewhat jaded, yet somewhat complacent person, comfortable with his place in society — and despite his misgivings, content in knowing he leads a happy, somewhat charmed life.
Fun, fast and refreshing, the song's well-delivered line "If I were you and you were me — I wouldn't blame you for not liking me" displays the quick wit and irony which frequently surface on the album. Guitarist Jeff Feltenberger's rhythms — along with drummer Ron Simasek and bassist Paul Smith — lay down a solid and forceful backbeat to the slew of interesting things happening deep in the mix on "Angels Of Mercy." Some songs grow on you slowly. This one hits you like a ton of bricks.
The Springsteen-esque "Bendin' The Rules," also a Badlees/Naydock collaboration, is another of the CD's highlights. Featuring skilled songwriting of which few are capable, the song's haunting chorus freely acknowledges our own shortcomings in the eyes of the God, but asks for understanding.
"Maybe the good book/
came from the divine/
Or maybe it was written/
just to keep us in line/
The mistakes of the sages/
make the rules for the fools/
So father forgive me/
for bendin' the rules."
The up-beat "Gwendolyn" has had fans dancing in the clubs for months, and its high-spirited recorded version fulfills all expectations. The Feltenberger-penned "Ore Hill" — loosely based on the life of his great-great grandfather — is a another moving and thought-provoking piece. Offering a vivid, visual depiction of a life cut short, the track's soft, emotionally played instrumentation only enhances its beauty.
The catchy "Nothing Much Of Anything," offers a stomping chorus, nice hooks, and serves as a fine segue between "Ore Hill," and the album's 8-minute epic "Song For A River." Delivered by Bret Alexander in a deliberate, spoken manner, the track excels in story-telling and drama, with Feltenberger's soulful backing vocals and Palladino's passionately sung chorus lifting the song to its pinnacle. Vastly different from anything the Badlees have done before, "Song For A River" is a stunning progression for the band, demonstrating added versatility and potential for a group blessed with a talent that seldom comes across this writer's desk.
It's somewhat ironic that an album this good is an independent release, and there's almost a feeling of guilt in enjoying it all to ourselves here in the confines of Pennsylvania. Music like this should be shared by the masses, and this record simply outshines many highly-touted CDs coming from the major labels in New York and L.A.
Some might say that "River Songs" marks the true arrival of chief songwriter and guitarist Bret Alexander, but it's simply not so. Worthy of comparison to a young Springsteen or Mellencamp, Alexander has been crafting wonderful songs for years. "River Songs" is simply the latest — and possibly the best.
So if you've got an extra $14, take a dip in this river. Its water is cool, refreshing and sometimes enlightening.
Unabashed, unlimited, undeniable praise?
"River Songs" takes you on a remarkable creative voyage in 48 minutes, and will have a permanent spot in your CD player.