Friday, August 16, 2013
CD Review - "Excuses" by Town Hall Brawl
This is a singer/songwriter’s album. The songwriter in question is almost entirely Diane Forsyth, with a bit of help here and there. Town Hall Brawl is her band, and it consists of Don Forsyth on electric and slide guitar, Billy Reed on keys, Marty Vadalabene on drums, and Diane herself on vocals and bass.
I say this is a singer/songwriter’s album because that’s a wide a category as is available to me. I don’t want to put this CD (or this band) into a bag like “Blues” (although they can get real bluesy), or “Alt-Country” (although some tunes have a strong country flavor) or even that catch-all, “Americana.” These folks play Diane’s songs in a way that transcends categories. Each song is an individual piece, and this bunch of veteran musicians has enough skill and experience to make them come individually alive. The level of craftsmanship here brings The Band to mind, or some of Dylan’s latter day efforts, “Love and Theft” perhaps, or “Modern Times.”
Diane voice and delivery make me feel right at home, with a warm, familiar feeling like we’re sitting on the steps of her front porch talking about life. Her songs are all about life – days gone by, regrets, anger, embarrassment, hard work for low pay, the need to just pull it together and keep on keepin’ on. Except for Billy Reed’s lilting instrumental tune, “Daytrip to Havana,” this isn’t a particularly cheerful album. But it’s the kind of album that’s likely to make a person feel better – like a good long conversation with a friend. I’d be hard pressed to pick out favorites from this set – the concurrent variety and consistency of material here is one of the album’s strong points, if that makes any sense.
The music itself is fine. Don Forsyth is an excellent, creative guitarist, and I particularly liked his intense slide work. Billy Reed is great throughout – he’s played with everyone in town, and his versatility shows on this recording. He’s the central support for many of the songs, creating an underlying fabric that holds the songs together. Marty’s crackling drums are just right, and Diane’s simple and solid bass works well for the songs she writes and sings. Seattle legend Conrad Uno was at the board for this recording, and the overall sound and production is up to his internationally renowned standards.
The CD design and packaging of this CD is unusually good for a local release, with cool artwork by Jenica Cruz and a full lyric booklet. A first class effort all around! Cheers for Town Hall Brawl!
By Mark "Tall Cool One" Dalton
From The Equal Ground
"Ragweed" is a pleasing wave of bright rock featuring excellent piano comping and male/female harmonies. "I gotta get my shit together" sounds like an eloquent turn of phrase the way lead vocalist Diane Forsyth announces it on the chorus. The guitar bends and weeps a solid solo just before a closing refrain and atypical tom heavy cadence. I knew just what I wanted to hear out of "Daytrip To Havana" and it delivered. Havana brings to mind a certain style, one of Latin or Afro Cuban roots that jives just a little more sexy and danceable. It's a strong instrumental with appropriate breaks and quality execution with both dynamics and emotion. At times, I felt as if I was hearing an island version of "Baker's Street" infused with "Black Magic Woman.” It’s a very cool track.
Along the lines of its predecessor, "Work" has an attractive Latin sound. It doesn't hit you over the head with it either, subtle rim work and block hits are all it really takes. The lyrics are phrased to glide while the chorus breaks it down and gives an irresistible sense of half time. This song engages a rhythmic urge, but I wonder if it just falls short of dance floor material. Town Hall Brawl hits their stride when they lilt the material with just a touch of jazz and especially 6/8 time movement. There are some great examples of that on this record, both medium tempo and slow - I'm talking home run slow. Case in point, "Excuses.” The head can't help but sway and bob along as this track churns out some sweet butter.