Music Review: Jim Fusco’s “Halfway There”

Originally posted 2009-04-13 23:55:34. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

RATING:  4.5 / 5 stars

By Chris Moore:

When Jim Fusco released What About Today? in May 2005, his official website claimed that “this album will prove to be Jim’s best work to date.”  I didn’t think about it much at the time, but that tag of “to date” is key, particularly now — four years later — as he releases a new album.

Now, his website asserts that Halfway There is “his most professional and mature album to date.”

There is certainly something very appropriate about the title of this new release.  Careful listeners will certainly appreciate the conceptual and thematic connections.  In most places on the record, Fusco seems upbeat and generally optimistic, and yet there is a clear feeling of being stuck in a transition phase.  “You go on for miles then you stop,” he sings in “On For Miles,” possibly referring to his fiancee (now only months away from their wedding).  On “Exception,” he sings, “Why can’t we be an exception to the rule?”

Fusco is even more blunt on “I Got You,” as he wails, “I’ll always have you here and shouldn’t that be enough?”

Halfway There is truly unmatched — as promised — in Fusco’s catalog in terms of not only sound quality and “professionalism,” but also lyrical content and overall effect.  This is an album that should draw listeners in and make them feel something.  From the opening track, this is apparent, as much from the snarl of the verse as from the fed-up indifference of the chorus.  The guitar solo is emotive and supported with a classic Jim Fusco — no, better — bass riff.

Go on: I dare you not to get it stuck in your head.

The Best Indie Album of 2009!

The Best Indie Album of 2009!

“Go Back to Him” sets the tone for an album that does what great albums are supposed to do, leading you from highs to lows as you wind your way through its eleven tracks. Perhaps due to his experience with the recording process (and life in general) or an array of new equipment and instruments, Fusco’s vocals are warmer, his guitar effects are more unique and authentic, and the overall sound quality is higher.  The volume level is impressive — sometimes to0 much so, as I’ve had to turn down a couple tracks during pronounced, high-pitched guitar parts.

Indeed, longtime Jim Fusco fans will find traces of sounds here and there that are reminiscent of past work, but this time around there is sense of evolution and a clear progression.  “Our Love Doesn’t Translate” should clearly be the single, as catchy and pretty as it is, weaving a tale of two lovers who don’t always understand each other or see eye to eye.  “A Night Away” is the distortion-drenched track for this album, showcasing just one of many energetic guitar solos and — although he sings “I’d rather be ashamed than proud and angry” — some considerable resentment.

The standout track of the album is “I Got You.”  It is placed perfectly on the album, just past the halfway point.  It begins as a quiet song, just an electric guitar, then a bass, and finally a lead vocal.  When the drums shake and roll into place about a minute in, the song picks up speed and continues its slow assault until just over a minute and a half in when Fusco belts out the first chorus.  The lyrics are my favorite on the album; indeed, this would be the first song I would discuss with him if I were to sit down for an interview.

The album closer, “Ruins,” makes a final and interesting statement on the overall theme of the album.  Using the metaphor of ancient historic ruins for a relationship, Fusco sings, “There was a time when everyone had admired you from afar… But nature has a way of tearing apart what we’ve built, and if it stands, it’s eroded away.”  He leads up to the conclusion in the chorus, “I guess that’s what you call progress.”  The song itself is a dark, haunting number, and you won’t find a better mix anywhere on the album.

As “Ruins” fades, you are left with a momentary silence before a quiet hum fills the speakers.  Almost a minute later, a guitar fades in to the pop powerhouse that is “Winning You Over.”  Not officially included on the album, all I can say is that this song fits firmly into the company of such songs as America’s “Here and Now” and the Wallflowers “Empire In My Mind” — all quality tracks that make you wonder, “Why not include this on the album proper?”

Fusco has said the song was recorded much later than the other songs and didn’t really fit into the album as a whole, which does make sense.

Halfway There is easily his best, most accessible and enjoyable album to date — it is clearly a prime time for Fusco to attract new listeners while impressing his current fanbase.

In his review of Jeff Copperthite’s 2008 album Greenlight, Fusco wrote, “As an independent artist, I’ve found that people don’t take our music seriously. They won’t listen to it in the car like every other album they own. They won’t recommend it to their friends and write online reviews. It just doesn’t happen very often.”  Halfway There is an infectious record.  I’ve already listened to it a half dozen times in the car alone, not counting just as many iPod listens, and I don’t see a time coming when I will want to take it out.  (Well, maybe when the Dylan album is released later this month… :-))

Oddly — perhaps sadly — this level of mastery comes at a time when Fusco, for the first time, has eschewed all the frills, including music videos, enhancedCD content, and even his own original design for the album cover.

Fusco at work in the Meriden, CT-based FMP Studios

Fusco at work in the Meriden, CT-based FMP Studios

This is yet another visible sign of advancement — he brought in talented and accomplished painter Ben Quesnel to design and create an original work that would be used for the cover.  If you watch Fusco’s Laptop Session for “Our Love Doesn’t Translate,” you can see the painting in all its glory.

The album isn’t perfect, though.  The fourth track, “Write it All,” is both a writing collaboration and a rare duet — his first since My Other Half.  Fair warning: that second voice is disconcerting and may lead listeners to frisbee-toss their discs out the windows of moving cars.  (Actually, that second voice is me!)  In all seriousness, “Write it All” is perhaps my favorite collaboration I’ve ever written and performed — and there have been many — with Jim, and I think fans of MoU will especially appreciate this track.

Another notable collaboration showcased for the first time on this album is with longtime friend Alberto Distefano.  “Go Back to Him,” “Our Love Doesn’t Translate,” and “Ruins” were written while on vacation in Italy, and the influence of a new environment with a rich history and unique language is apparent in the writing.  His previous album may have been “purely Jim Fusco from top to bottom,” but the injection of a second perspective seems to have sparked new and different ideas and perhaps even a new era for this already established, accomplished songwriter.

If you’ve made it this far in reading my review, there really isn’t much more that can be communicated in words.  The bass is bassier.  The guitars are crisper, more jangly.  The vocals are as ambitious as ever.  Truly, this is an album that deserves your attention —  it’s only the second great album of 2009, in league with Bruce Springsteen’s Working On A Dream.

Click HERE to listen to the album for free!

Trust me, you’ll be glad you tuned in.

“The Voice” (Moody Blues Cover)

Originally posted 2008-01-27 23:00:32. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jim Fusco:

And now, pinch-hitting for an under-the-weather Jeff, is Jim Fusco!  I’m sitting in to bring you yet another great acoustic cover song music video here on the best music blog around: The Laptop Sessions!  Tonight, I bring you one of my favorite songs from the Moody Blues, “The Voice”, from their #1 album, “Long Distance Voyager”.

Actually, this tune is climbing up my all-time favorites list as it has all the criteria for a song I would love: a catchy tune, faster paced, that glorious late 70’s, early 80s sound that’s not too overdone, and a great guitar solo.  Of course, I’ve stripped all of that out in my version here, except for the tune and the tempo, but I think it gives a different take on the song as a whole.  And that’s what you should expect from all of my cover songs- a different take on my favorite songs of all time.  And, if you like the same songs I like, you’re sure to love my original music, as well!  Visit my website at http://jimfusco.com and take a listen!

I actually recorded a full version of this song a few weeks ago, complete with synthesizers! I think it sounds just like the original and was a lot of fun to try recreating the sounds.  There’s something about that synthesizer sound that the Moody Blues used.  They hired Yes keyboardist Pat Moraz and updated their sound for the late 70s.  Of course, they didn’t have Mike Pinder’s mellotron anymore, so they had to have something to replace it.  I know the songs probably sound very “80s” to everyone now (“The Voice” is very heavily based on synthesizers), but to me, the music has worn pretty well.  There are some 80s songs that I can’t even listen to.  The synthesizers sound so fake and dated.  But, the music of the Moody Blues during the Pat Moraz years doesn’t sound embarrassing like those other songs from the same time period (like the synths the Beach Boys used on “Love You”).

But, again, my acoustic cover song versions take away the synthesizers (and everything else, for that matter) and give you the song in its raw form.  I want people to know what the song really sounds like.  It’s interesting, though- you’ll actually hear all of the other parts in your head as you listen to my cover video.

By the way- if you haven’t heard “Long Distance Voyager” yet, please get a copy!  It’s an amazing album and features some of my favorite songs of all time in “The Voice” and “Gemini Dream”.  Plus, there are great contributions from drummer Graeme Edge (“22,000 Days”) and Ray Thomas (“Veteran Cosmic Rocker”).

Okay, look for a new cover song music video from Jeff tomorrow and again on “Original Wednesday”, as no matter the circumstance- you’re getting a Session a Day in ’08!


“Here Without You” (The Byrds acoustic and 12-string electric cover song)

Originally posted 2009-05-19 22:54:03. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jim Fusco:

Welcome, welcome to yet another Jim Fusco Tuesday here on the Laptop Sessions acoustic cover songs music video blog.  Actually, tonight, you get two for the price of one: I have Chris Moore with me to record this session!  And boy, did it come out great.  If your connection can handle it, click the “HQ” button and listen to the better audio feed of this one.  It’s in full stereo (I LOVE my microphone) and the levels are perfect!

And tonight debuts my brand new 12-string electric guitar!  And what a way to bring it in.  I knew I had to do a Byrds song.  No, it’s not a Rickenbacher.  Who can justify spending literally 8 times more for the same essential thing.  My version is from Dean and I love it.  It looks great and plays even better.  The sound is there, too- just like all my favorite 12-string songs.  Look for more in the future.  I can’t wait to bust out my new lap steel guitar, as well.  In a couple weeks, I’ll be getting an HD cam, so all my Laptop Sessions will be in high definition.  How cool is that?  At that point, I’ll be able to start my new mini-series entitled “Jim’s Guitars”- stay tuned.

Gene Clark wrote tonight’s song and it was off of the Byrds first album, “Mr. Tambourine Man.”  Now, this isn’t the greatest album, but it really could have been.  That is, if half the album weren’t Bob Dylan covers and other cover songs.  Not to knock cover songs, but the songwriting of Gene Clark (and in the future, the rest of the band) was so far ahead of its time and his songs are simply timeless.  This song takes me back to when I was at Wesleyan for 5 weeks in the summer of 2000.  I was at a program called “CCY”, the Center for Creative Youth.  Good fit, eh? :-)

Anyway, those five weeks seemed like a whole lifetime at the time- everything that happened in one day seemed like a year.  So, even not seeing someone for two days made it seem like you were living “here without you”.  Needless to say, this song was all I listened to when I got back that summer.

I have to keep tonight’s post short because of my marathon video editing job last night.  I need to catch up and this is my only opportunity.  So, without further ado, I hope you enjoy the great effort put out by Chris and myself tonight on the Byrds’ classic song, “Here Without You”.  You won’t be here without us for too long, as Jeff will be back on Thursday for another great cover song music video.  Until next week!!



Reflections on Rock Music: The Subtleties of the Playlist

Originally posted 2009-06-22 23:50:42. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

For those who don’t know me, it can safely be said I’m a music dork for the ages.  And so, with that distinction clearly in place, it is with great honor that I present to you an article for the Laptop Sessions new music blog dedicated to what is perhaps my favorite digital innovation:

The playlist.

For anyone that owns an mp3 player and certainly anyone that uses iTunes, playlists offer new and unique ways to group your songs.  Whether you’re making one for yourself, a friend, or significant other, there are countless formats you can use.  Here are the major categories:

1.)  The Artist Compilation

This is the ultimate test of your knowledge and love for a given artist:  Can you create a compilation of a band or artist’s best songs?  Here’s the added twist:  In my personal opinion, I think compilations should adhere either to the length of a CD (about 74 minutes) maximum, or 20 songs at most.  Giving yourself a boundary to work within forces you to nix some songs that just shouldn’t make the cut, even if they do remind you of the first time you kissed your significant other, or whatever.

The trick here is to compile a set of tracks that are both comprehensive and satisfying in one grouping, taking care to order them in an interesting manner that gives the compilation a life of its own.  Sometimes, chronological is okay.  But if you’re just going to choose tracks and throw them randomly into a playlist, then please don’t even try.

These are valuable playlists to have, particularly for more under-the-radar bands like Ben Folds and (until last week’s “Best of” release) the Wallflowers, as well as artists whose greatest hits come in multiple and/or unsatisfying formats, like R.E.M. and (until recently) Bob Dylan.  Even when you love albums like I do, you may just want to hear a mix from time to time.

2.) The Artist Catalog Playlist

Similar to the artist compilation, the artist catalog playlist focuses on one band or artist.  However, this is for true fans only.  The playlist comprises a chronological collection of any and all tracks you can get your hands on.  Oh yeah, I’m talking about all those demos, live tracks, and soundtrack cuts you’ve accumulated over your long career as a fan.

Personally, I drop all the studio albums into the playlist first, ordering them by release date, and then I add all other tracks around those mainstays.  Even when a track has technically come out previous to a studio album during the same year, I put the tracks after the album.  My reasoning?  Hey, the albums are — hopefully — the first, best source for great tracks and provide some great structure to what could be an exhaustive (and exhausting) playlist.

This works very well for bands with popular, lengthy careers — like Pearl Jam — or more under-the-radar artists, such as Wilco (I spent more time than I should have compiling my “Wilco, etc.” playlist, which includes a ton of Jeff Tweedy solo work, Golden Smog, Loose Fur, and more) and Jim Fusco (don’t even ask — of course I included such great rareties as “Parody Writer” and all the bonus tracks on releases like My Other Half and the enhanced CD section of Formula).

3.)  The Themed Playlist

Perhaps the most popular of all playlists, I think anyone who considers him/herself a fan of music or of life in general should have to make at least one themed playlist for someone special, or at least for personal use.  Just last night, my friend Dana Camp was describing the track listing of a “Date Playlist” that he has.

Recently, I’ve made playlists for the drive to the beach, rush hour traffic, the unfortunate bank overdraft/identity theft crisis of a friend, and you better believe that I had a downright melancholy compilation prepared and put to good use while I was broken up from my girlfriend last year.  These sorts of playlists are the most versatile, and the degree to which you take the song choice and track order into consideration say at least as much about you as the tracks say about the artist/band.

4.)  Long Format Playlists

Last but not least we come to the long format playlist.  Similar to the artist catalog playlist (which can be played straight through in chronological order if you prefer), this list is most often played while your iPod or other mp3 device is in shuffle mode.

My favorite examples of this type are the “Albums by Year” compilations I put together recently.  On my iPod, I have playlists titled “Albums – 1990,” “Albums – 1991,” and so on up to the still-expanding “Albums – 2009.”  Because I’ve been spending a lot of time working recently, each day I choose a year and just let it play.  This is fun and fascinating because you can laugh and say, “Wow, I haven’t heard that song in FOREVER!,” as well as begin to appreciate in retrospect the songs and albums that came out during the same years.  For instance, I didn’t really fall in love with albums and music in general until the turn of the millennium.  Now that I’m listening to the 1991 playlist, I’m coming to appreciate the juxtapositon of Tom Petty’s more straightforward Into the Great Wide Open with the more alternative Ten (Pearl Jam) or Temple of the Dog (by the one-off band of the same name), as well as the atypical acoustic format and vocal clarity of R.E.M.’s Out of Time.  What will it be today?  Maybe I’ll go back to the hey day of my early musical roots, circa 1997 or 1998…

…and then remember why I came to love the Sixties music of bands like Bob Dylan and the Beatles!

Seriously, though, I hope you have enjoyed my breakdown of playlist formats.  If you have any of your own, please comment — I would LOVE to be able to think of more ways to effectively utilize the playlist functions of my iPod.