The welcome return of Vinnie James!
David Flanders | Syracuse, NY | 03/12/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It has been 16 years since I have heard anything new from the masterful Vinnie James. Yes, it's been a long wait... and probably worth it.
My first exposure to him was as an opening act (and who pays attention to those?) Fact is, though, he absolutely blew me away. This guy was, I thought, the next great star on the horizon. "Opening act" that he was, I felt he should be headlining ANY bill.
That was in 1991, the year Vinnie released ALL AMERCAN BOY, one of the best albums I have EVER heard. (As I write this review, only 6 people have written reviews for that album on Amazon.com... but EVERY SINGLE ONE of them (including my own) is a 5-out-of-5-star super-positive rating.)
So... The question is... Is THIS album that good?
The quick and flippant answer is, "C'mon - what is?"
Vinnie has come through.
Are there flaws with this new album? Sure. Mostly, any faults I find are where Vinnie has resorted to clever recording techniques rather than simply relying on his greatest assets, his voice and his fine guitar work.
For instance, a jarring echoing chant opens the album on "Lose the I" - this same chant plays MUCH better/smoother on the outro to the song. The opening is so harsh, and so un-Vinnie-like, that I personally would have tucked this track well into the body of the album, say around track 5 or 6. Or mellowed it out a bit, similar to the way the song ends.
Another trick is an "AM-sound" reverb reminiscent of some Pink Floyd tracks on "Queen of the Dance." It doesn't stop the song from being absolutely great, but it also isn't NECESSARY to make it great. Same is true for the rainstorm effect that opens "Children of the Garden of Eden.)
A children's choir opens and rejoins "Mister How Big is the World." It WORKS with the song okay, and maybe it's just me, but children added to ANY track on ANY album seems cutesy, contrived and winds up subtracting from the song, rather than adding something.
Not so much a recording trick as simply a fact of local influences (not that this is a bad thing), a huge Irish whistle/ bagpipe sound features on "County Line." There's a little Celtic sound to "Queen of the Dance" and even some of the guitar in "Homeless Man." (Welcome to recording in Glasgow.)
But enough of the minor complaints... Some BIG pluses outweigh any little negatives:
*Tight engineering and mixing, keeping background singers at just the right levels, good solid bass and drum lines that have power but never overpower.
*Virtuosity - Vinnie plays EVERY instrument on the album except the bagpipe and whistles. He is accomplished on guitar (bonus points for the clever interplay of acoustic and electric guitars on "Summertime!"), bass, piano, organ, drums (and other percussion instruments), and the harmonica. He also wrote and arranged all the songs, and self-produced the album.
*Cool almost-hip-hop funk groove/ sax, and unusual voice-synth thrown over "Save the World." "Save the World" was initially released to the world via the promo market, as the "track to push" for the RCA album, ANTIGUA, which was shelved by the company and has never seen the light of day. The RCA take was a more "smooth-jazz" version. The new edit here shows a heavy-duty maturity and confidence. This privately-produced version seems more like what Vinnie had in mind when he wrote the song - way more solid, forceful and memorable.
*Great lyrics that always seem to get across not only the story, but Vinnie's positive outlook on life.
*And, MAN - that voice! I swear, he could sing his ABC's - y'know, the way you learn in gradeschool - and it would come off sounding lush, mellow, and perfect. Jersey Shore sound like you've never heard. This isn't Bruce Springsteen or Bon Jovi. It's better than all that (and I LIKE Bruce and Jon.) This album comes off more like Van Morrison songs as recorded by Otis Redding (if you can picture that!) Even that, though, isn't an accurate description... mostly because Vinnie sounds like absolutely NO ONE you've ever heard before. I don't know if it's his AmerInd/African-American heritage or just a step up the folk-rock road no one else has taken yet, but his is a true one-of-a-kind voice - soulful, passionate, and soaked in righteous, heartfelt power.
Queen of the Dance
Save The World
Hello Angel (especially reminiscent of some of the best of ALL AMERICAN BOY.)
(No, "Summertime" is not a cover of the song you know. Neither is "Everlasting Love." All of the songs on the album were written by Vinnie.)
Okay, so this is not a PERFECT album (although I gotta say his 1991 release, ALL AMERICAN BOY is d*mn near what I'd call perfect.) But even with its (very) few flaws, ANY album by Vinnie is sure to stand head-and-shoulders above all but the VERY BEST things we get force-fed through mainstream media. This album is almost certainly better than anything you might be listening to right this minute. It is both a great blessing to have a new set of songs from this underrated master, and a criminal shame that so few "music fans" are paying attention. I would solidly give this album 4 stars out of 5... maybe even 4.5. What are you waiting for? Go buy a copy!