RATING: 3.5 / 5 stars
By Chris Moore:
Typically, when an artist releases his first solo album, it lacks the polished sound that a more experienced artist would offer. However, this is certainly not the case with Greenlight, as Jeff Copperthite has been recording albums with his band Quilt since 2002. Although collaborator Scott Poglitsch wrote the majority of the songs on their first album, Patchwork, Copperthite wrote all the tracks for Expressions, their subsequent 2003 release. A solo record has been inevitable for some time.
Now, five years later, the aptly titled Greenlight has arrived.
The opening track, “Shadows of Your Dreams,” fades in to unveil Copperthite’s careful balance of guitar riffs, characteristic double-tracked lead vocals, subtle backing vocals, guitar solos, and drum fills. This is an excellent opener, setting the tone and laying the groundwork for what he is capable of.
Track two turns it up a notch, kicking off with a snare shot reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s infamous 1966 live version of “Like a Rolling Stone,” which was preceded by a taunt from a crowd member and Dylan’s command for the band to “play f***ing loud!” “Home” is far from angry, but it has all the energy of the aforementioned Dylan tune and is clearly the single of the album. Here, the vocals are even more honed and the guitar solos blend even more smoothly into the veneer of the track, providing accents and filling out the song.
As “Home” fades out, the title track begins tentatively with a minimalist arrangement, putting emphasis on the lyrics and eventually building up to include more prominent drums and acoustic guitars. The song details Copperthite’s journey, which can be taken either literally as a drive home (which is a nice follow-up to the previous track) or more symbolically. Each verse follows the progression of a traffic light—first red, then yellow, and finally green. In between he explains his journey, progressing from “Standing still in my life” to relating how “Inspired by the life I hold, I took the wheel and drove. I feel invincible; everything is manageable.” He seals the deal with another well-executed guitar solo.
“Jam Session” gives Copperthite the opportunity to focus on his instrumental skills, highlighting the piano and, as if he hadn’t already demonstrated his devotion to them, guitar solos.
The fifth track, “What Not To Do,” begins with bass, minimal drums, and then acoustic guitar, soon followed by the most prominent backing vocals of the album. This is not a surprising choice of arrangement, considering that this is a cover of a song penned by labelmate Jim Fusco, who is known for his Brian Wilson-esque devotion to harmonies, and his girlfriend, Becky Daly. (The song was specifically written to be given to him and was part of a musical swap that the two participated in.) An acoustic guitar solo continues the trend to good effect.
Copperthite gets angry for “$500,” directing his distortion guitars and biting lyrics at his former landlady, as he explains in the digital booklet. This is a great placement for this song, as it infuses new energy into the track listing. It is the oldest of the songs—recorded in 2004 when he had first considered a solo project—but adds a new, emotional dimension to the album that is further explored in “Aware.” The seventh track is not angry; rather, his concern is, “Oh I’m not able to see what goes on without me; here I can only be aware of what is around me.” While he concedes that “Perhaps I am scared of something that’s not there,” he is still concerned and can’t quite get the thought out of his mind. In a sense, this song focuses on his acute awareness that he simply cannot always be aware of what is happening.
“Searcher,” the eighth track, is Copperthite’s arrangement of a song originally composed by Yasuaki Fujita for “an old Nintendo game.” He writes in the liner notes that this was the first song he recorded before beginning to write new material for Greenlight—perhaps it was this song’s driving beat or combination of distortion-heavy guitars and piano riffs that inspired Copperthite to continue to write.
The final song is a healthy blend between slow ballad and upbeat rocker, opening with subdued electric guitar and vocals and gradually building up with drums, bass, and distorted guitars to the chorus, which can in and of itself be connected thematically to many of the album’s other tracks.
It is apparent that Copperthite put his heart, soul, and sweat into the creation of Greenlight, and for that reason, it is one of those rare albums that authentically exposes the songwriter, for better and for worse. In a year filled with superstar releases—Ringo Starr, R.E.M., and Sheryl Crow, among others—this is an essential album, if only for its celebration of honesty and of all the components of great rock’n roll.