It seems like I’m frequently starting off these reviews by admitting my ignorance of the artist I’ve been asked to review. Hope you don’t mind, I certainly don’t, because so many performers of which I was totally ignorant end up becoming new favorites, and more than a few have become good friends and I feel fortunate to be able to watch their growth.
So once again, I come to you with my earphones in my hand to admit I was not familiar with Americana Artist Brad Heller, or the band that backs him, The Fustics. Yes, I said Americana, this CD does not incorporate too much from the blues, but since I’ve never actually committed to covering any one genre, please allow me to blather on.
Heller and company have been honing their chops in Wilmington, North Carolina, a town with I do have a passing familiarity. Relatives live there, my pal David Burgin is just down the road apiece, and during the Golan-Globus years, a number of movies got made there.
It ain’t exactly New York or Los Angeles, but it is a great down that has attracted a number of artists to the area, and frequently I have discovered (at least for myself) a number of performers that have chosen to lead quiet lives while making their music their way. Heller has released four previous albums (details on his website) and after listening to this album, The Sentence, it looks like I’ll be unlimbering my wallet and grabbing the previous four.
What’s my opinion? Money well spent!
Eternal Season kicks off the album with a smooth sound that flows very nicely with Heller’s lyrics. This blend of gentle folk rock is pleasing to the ears and stimulating to the mind. It’s just the first song, so there’s no telling what direction Heller and The Fustics will take going forward, but it’s a nice invitation to come on over, sit a while, and listen to what they have to say.
Thousand Days continues the mellow laid back vibe that the first song created, but with a funky bass line. Heller is delivering some good Americana style music that is great for an intimate setting, if you get a chance to do so, catch him out on tour, he’s currently working the Carolinas and Virginia. One thing for parents and my fellow radio producers, there is some language in the song that won’t be appropriate for younger ears, but it’s your call.
These first two songs are not the kind that will blow the roof off of a concert hall, but if you enjoy a quieter style of evening, these first two songs show a lot of promise. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good raucous night of wild debauchery and heavy blues, but every so often, I want to have a nice evening listening to quiet music and heartfelt lyrics.
The Sentence, the title track is next, and Heller performs this beautiful song with very light accompaniment, making the number sound very much like his folksy roots. That’s not a slight, some of the best music I’ve ever heard is quiet with meaningful lyrics. Quiet songs demand attention, especially in these days of over the top production numbers. Heller’s lyrics are absolutely riveting in this song.
Next up is Gone, and it too has a strong backbeat that sets the mood. It has a longer than average intro and once the vocals start, it’s easy to hear the pain in Heller’s voice and words. The imagery is one of desolation and despair. I love this one. While I doubt I will ever be able to play any of these on Time For The Blues, I’m dropping this album into my personal jukebox, and if I ever get a chance at an Americana/Roots show in addition to TFTB, several of these songs are going in.
Heller follows up with The Runner, with the drums having fun mixing a military style march with the folk/roots approach of the song. Once again, his lyrics are evocative and I look forward to hearing his previous work to see how he’s grown over the years. His voice is pleasant and it’s a terrible shame that music this good rarely finds itself on the airwaves.
There’s a bit of rocking going on with The Greatest Crime. Here he and The Fustics have given their audience to dance along in their seats or just tap a foot and bob their heads in time. Listen to his lyrics, there’s a little more going on in the song than just the surface interpretation. Also, a nice guitar break.
Bound For Nothing is next. This is one that echoes in your headphones. I like the rhythm section’s contribution leading to the other instruments coming in to add their power to the piece, but I also want to hear it done acoustically. Cool song and I’ll be playing this one in my head for the next few weeks.
He follows with Time’s The Enemy, and let me tell you brothers and sisters, there are fewer things truer than that. We all fight time, and unfortunately for us, he’s undefeated. Heller captures his feelings beautifully and puts together a song that rocks. Nice backing vocals and a distinctive guitar break.
Chasing Wolves starts off with a beautiful intro with guitar and vocals. I love the feel of the song so much, it pains me to not have a chance to share it with you. It quickly picks up a strong gospel flavor with keys and a stray tambourine. So far, this is my favorite track on the album. Nice understated harp work.
Continuing the gospel theme, Heller and company move on to Eucharist. More great lyrics come into play with sweet backing. That includes a back up singer who comes in here and there, I’ll have to find out her name, because that little touch greatly improves the presentation.
Comes A Time comes out of the gate with a great percussive shuffle. After ten songs of mostly mellow music, Heller cuts loose with one to get the blood pumping. It’s a very cool song and does its very best to give all the band members a workout.
I love the drums in the closing song, The Garden Tree. The guitar adds its color to the rhythm section and Heller’s words and voice do the rest. More tinges of gospel come from the keys and percussion, it seems to create a spirit – one of hope.
Okay, it’s fair to say that I enjoyed Brad Heller and The Fustics delivery on The Sentence. Sometimes one just has to be in a receptive mood, and I have to tell you, I’ve greatly enjoyed his work at this time.
I grew up on folk music before discovering the blues and I still have a great affinity for it. From time to time, I will probably explore different forms of music. Remember, I don’t claim to be any kind of an expert, I just a guy who loves music and loves writing about it. I loved this album and hope that I’ll be able to catch Heller while he’s on tour. If you would like to check him out, and I hope you do, the best place to start is at his website.