By Jim Fusco:
You know, I’ve been putting this off for some time now, but I’ve been thinking of EXACTLY what I wanted to say since the first time I heard Jeff’s new album. When I saw Chris’ review, I really wanted to read it, but I chose not to before I wrote my own, as not to be swayed by his opinions, although 99% of the time we’ll disagree, at least a little bit.
What can I say about Jeff’s album that will put it into a light that those who don’t know him will understand. Well, I’ve already covered THREE songs off of it for the Laptop Sessions series- on two separate occasions, I’ve given up my opportunity to play an original song I’ve written in favor of a song from this album. And that chance only comes once every three weeks for me. That’s the respect I’ve given this album.
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. But, I listened to Jeff’s album 11 times, according to iTunes (I use my iPod in the car), and I’ve always found my iTunes play counts to represent only about half the times I’ve actually listened to something (probably because I’m turning the iPod on and off when I get in and out of the car). Actually, I find myself returning to “Greenlight” very often, even after it’s had its initial run in the car stereo.
Yes, I designed the album covers and put the whole thing together. Yes, I made the website for it and did the writeup. But, I still got to listen to this album and experience it like I haven’t done for many years now. Chris and I, in our better days, used to be true companions when it came to creative projects. There wasn’t a thing either of us could do without the other having a hand in it. It was a fruitful time that I know I’ll never get back. That’s the problem when other people, wanted or unwanted, enter your friends lives.
I never thought I’d get the opportunity to share an album with someone again. I thought, as with all of my projects in the last two to three years, any independent project I was a part of would be kept a total secret until “release day”. Not so with Jeff’s album, though. He brought his songs to me at every step of the journey, asking for advice and looking for some friendly words of both laud and criticism. I was happy to be that person, especially because I know that in many other situations, I’ve been replaced as that person. So, here’s a great toast out to Jeff’s wife, Sherry- always support Jeff in all his creative works, but thank you very much for not having a clue about music! 🙂
So, you would think that this review (I promise, it’s coming) is going to be nothing but a sales pitch with no criticisms. Well, I’m going to be truthful- I’m not putting in criticisms just for the sake of it, but I want to give my honest interpretation of Jeff’s album, “Greenlight”, and here it is.
I cannot comment on the track listing, ie. order of songs. I actually chose the order they should go in, so if there’s any criticism here, you gotta problem with me! 🙂 But, seriously, the track listing was chosen as a way to present Jeff’s great songs in front, his good songs in the middle, and ending with another great set. Of course, with an album of nine songs, there isn’t much of a cross-section to work with in those three categories. Take my word for it: the “good” section isn’t very long.
The album starts with “Shadows of Your Dreams”, a fast number that fades in (which I enjoy as an album-opener) and then gets it beat. This song is perfect at slot Number One (okay, one comment) because to me, it sounds the most like a song off Quilt’s (Jeff’s band) last album, “Expressions”, where Jeff wrote every song.
The production on the album is simply astounding. The clarity in both the vocals and instruments is nothing less than impressive. Jeff’s talents at ALL the instruments he plays is clearly apparent, as well. He plays some great guitar solos throughout and each song tends to have so much more than just a couple rhythm guitar tracks- he comes up with a different melody all together.
The only problems I have with the sound are minor, but I think are important to point out. I’m not sure if it’s an effect, but some (and “Greenlight” has MUCH less of this than previous efforts) songs have this odd Barenaked Ladies “Gordon” album vocals effect to them. You can hear it clearly on “Home” and it sounds like a fake double-tracking. It almost makes the album sound more dated than it needs to be. I don’t hate the effect, but sometimes I wonder what it might sound like without it.
The second beef I have with the sound is the dated sound of Jeff’s Roland Electronic drum kit. The sound isn’t bad, but some of the toms and cymbals sound very “late 90s”. One other problem I’ve noticed in some songs (most apparent in “What Not To Do”) is the fact that Jeff uses a metronome to keep time in his songs. There’s nothing wrong with that- kids, you should always use one in recording. I don’t, and my songs tend to speed up. But, Jeff is a bass player and a piano player both first and second. He’s a drummer third, at best. So, at various points in the album, I notice him coming in a bit too early or too late on some drum beats. The tempo of certain songs tends to plod, as well, when the metronome is used, as it doesn’t sound as dynamic as it could be. Now, don’t get me wrong- it is INCREDIBLY difficult to play to a metronome- why do you think I don’t use one? But, if you’re going to use one, it has to be correct, or the mistakes will be very apparent.
Now, moving on to more songs:
“Home” is not only my favorite song on this album, but stands as one of my all-time favorites. It has a GREAT tune and a great message about a man who loves nothing more than to come home to that special someone. The backing vocals are spot-on (something Jeff’s struggled with in the past) and the combination of percussion and a great bass line make this a standout track on ANY album. I have nothing but positive things to say about this song.
I also love the title track, “Greenlight”. It’s a bit slower, but I just LOVED it when Jeff played it in Fusco-Moore Studios. The song also tells of a man that is happy where he is, but realizes that there might be something more. The line, “What good have I done, for those that I know” is poignant and I love the way he sings. The middle 8 is a great change from the rest of the song and I only wish there were a high harmony on the “for me, for you” lines. The solo simply rocks on this song- the addition of the reverb makes it sit well in the mix. Jeff also busts out a piano solo in this song, which is also both well-played and fitting. The ONLY qualm I have with this song is the addition of the percussion on the chorus. I loved the way it sounded without the shaker track. The chorus had this great beat that I just gravitated to. The shaker takes that away for me and makes the song “faster” than it’s supposed to be.
That brings me to another thing I wanted to point out. Jeff is trying REALLY hard on this album. He’s trying to make these both great songs and great recordings. He tried, and succeeded, to stay in perfect pitch throughout the album. He also tried to make these songs sound fully-produced. That said, he may have tried a bit too hard on songs like “Greenlight” with addition of shakers that really didn’t need to be there. I can’t fault him too much because most of his efforts only helped the overall feel of the album and made it sound so professional.
Next, we have an instrumental that I’ve known for years, called “Jam Session”. I can’t say much about the content because, well, it’s an instrumental, but Jeff simply rocks this song. He is a great, professional musician. He plays the life out that guitar and piano, while the rhythm tracks add to the spontaneity of the song.
Next, is the best song ever written. Okay, fine- I’m biased- I WROTE IT! 🙂 I wrote “What Not To Do” because I was struggling with the idea that even though I don’t want my friends to fall into the same pitfalls I’ve fallen into, they’ll do it anyway because people usually learn from other’s mistakes. Jeff turned my song into a great production. That little guitar riff he plays during the opening chords is very R.E.M.-like and the production is great. If you ever get a chance to listen to the backing track to this song, you’ll realize how much work went into this song.
Another point I want to mention is a tricky one because I don’t want it to come across the wrong way. Jeff’s vocals, in prior albums, have always a bit “lackluster”. He sang the songs “flat”. I’m not saying he sang the NOTES flat- I’m saying that it was a weird combination of being on-key, but sounding a bit monotone. He tends to sing louder, as well, when he’s unsure of notes or having trouble hitting them. I bring this point up to explain how much progress Jeff has made with “Greenlight”. The feeling he puts into the vocals here is great and his voice has a softer quality to it now. Again, he really tried to make this album great, and with respect to the vocals, he definitely delivered.
“$500” is the weakest song on the album, in my opinion. But, I still enjoy it. The palm-muted guitars are great- he got a great sound out of his Fender. But, the bridge (before the chorus) harmonies are a tad bit off. I can’t really put my finger on it. However, the harmonies on the chorus have the same thing going on, but it WORKS! That “you know that I’m not rich” harmony is stuck in my head more than it should be. I love the guitar work on this song, from the acoustic in the background of the verses (great and unexpected) and the little back-and-forth strumming pattern before the “rock out” sections is really cool. Plus, you gotta love the slide at the end of the solo.
Jeff, in previous albums, always had a bit of trouble expressing his feelings in “mainstream-sounding” lyrics. For instance, in one song off of Quilt’s “Expressions”, Jeff explains to a girl that she’s “like a beaver in the heat”. It’s been like five years and I still don’t know what that’s supposed to mean. And the only conclusions I come to are dirty, at best. That said, Jeff really worked hard to make the songs on this album have great lyrics. They never sound awkward (maybe a bit on “$500”) and all are insightful and on-topic.
“Aware” is my second-favorite song on the album because of its great tune, fast pace, and great message about being unable to “see what goes on without me”. It has superb guitar playing and I love how Jeff’s voice shows so much emotion on the last “Oh, I’m not able to see” line. This song really defines the album for me.
“Searcher” is a song that showcases Jeff’s amazing talents on guitar and piano. Not only does he play great solos again, but the sounds he produces for the rhythm electric and piano are so interesting. I usually don’t like instrumentals all that much, but the sound is so captivating, I can never skip by it.
“Easy” is a great song. Not only does the song have a great story, but the chorus is infectious. It’s almost like two different songs, the way the instrument sounds change from the verse to the chorus. I love the “epic” sound to this track and that’s why it was chosen to end the album.
Jeff could charge whatever he wanted for this album because of how solid and impressive it is. As Chris said, “It’s pretty amazing when Jeff Copperthite and Jack Johnson come out with an album in the same week and I’m listening to Jeff”. So true. “Greenlight” makes a real case to case independent musicians seriously and I hope Jeff will continue to be prolific and continue with this amazing progression from album to album.