The Commons’ final CD, American Ghost, was released in 2007 and was hands down one of the best discs of the year. Dark, lush and emotionally raw, it was pretty much dismissed as too depressing or morose which was not the case at all. Face it, local popularity practices filial cannibalism. They eat their own. While performers share the common bond of music, the primitive lure of accolades is much stronger than the selflessness act of pointing kudos towards fellow artists so someone gets “consumed” to allow the big fish to swim freely in the small pond of handclapping Joes. In lamen’s terms, in today’s local music scene, if you aint trendy, skinny and loaded with scarves you might get pushed into the feed trough.
The Commons’ American Ghost would be the last project for the band, but it wouldn’t be the last for the writer. Keith Monacchio spent the last couple of years playing solo and working on new material and the result is an interesting disc entitled, The Long Evening, a poignant and decidedly rebellious push away from Commons territory that focuses on a much more personal sound that Monacchio is well-known for live. The overall feel of this disc is refreshingly confessional, a telling of life’s observances, whispered regrets and humility all wrapped up in the possibilities of all things coming around right.
First song on the disc, “Novocain,” galloped out of the gate with urgency and aggressive Pete Townshend-like strumming. The song soars with elated determination, “You made me feel like a great big wall, like a nation’s deadliest missile…like I was 20 feet tall,” to crashing into relationships’ misguided confusions with, “Cant stop me now, cause I’ve already let myself way down. I’m in over my head, from the things you said. And when you approached me as a friend, was it just pretend?”
“Indiana Jones” spotlights cool horn arrangements courtesy of Producer Sean Glonek. Jump rhythms and guitar upstrokes give this smoky spooky tune a Van Morrison vibe. Glonek is another guy who works quietly under the radar, churning out great productions and music from his own SRG Studios in Hamilton, NJ. Horns came courtesy of Benn Clap, Ceilidh Madigan and Neil Winkler.
“The New Normal” ambles in with the country tinged magic of Jerry Steele. This angst filled number tackles the subject that every real musician has to ponder sooner or later. It’s that tip of the hat towards life’s realties that take you away from the dream. It happens to almost all pickers and grinners, but some tough dogs stay with the program, even though it ultimately puts them on the outside of their own social circles. As Keith so poetically puts its, “All my friends are getting’ married. Buyin homes and paintin’ walls and startin’ families. Hey, but not me man, I’m off that track. Don’t know if I’ll ever make it back. Cause I got some livin’ to do. I don’t mean to sound condescending, but everyone I know is growin’ up, while me, I’m growin’ old.” 1970s influences of Tom T. Hall and Glenn Campbell hit hard here—one of my favorite cuts on the disc.
“The Set Up” is tongue-in-cheek Monacchio at his best. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when I heard the lyrics on this one.” The Set Up” sounds suspiciously like when friends try to talk you back into a social situation that makes them more comfortable with you and the way they think you should fit in. Yep, back in the saddle of love. As Monacchio says, “Check her out well she’s just divorced, she’s good to go from a reliable source. But oh no, not this time and not that one, it’s been too long and my game aint strong.” This is another song that is catchy as hell and ready for the radio right off the bat.
When it comes to building arrangements, Monacchio’s composition sensibility is a two-headed monster, half pop tunesmith, half cynical bastard, his narrative keeps you smirking in agreement as if he was sitting at the kitchen table talking to each one of us personally about the awkward car crashes that life throws us into. “Careful now, his glue’s not dry, and all you crazies need not apply.” Yep, don’t we all know that one? Catchy Fender Rhodes riff from Sean Glonek sends this song into the catchy final choruses with simplistic style.
It takes guts for a writer to display their thoughts honestly. What gets put on paper isn’t always the true revelation of the writer as they can obviously disguise the content and move the meanings of the composition around like pawns on a chessboard. “She Stumbles Gracefully” reveals all-in direct honesty. Monacchio doesn’t hide our vulnerable human junkyard or the social trait of stacking emotional baggage on shelves too weary to hold them. “She Stumbles Gracefully” is everyone’s desperate last chance. The lyric walks around you like a wary buyer checking the tires on a used car with the closing line, “You should know, I’m not some kind of fixer, a hero or a healer, I’m just a bad mistake repeater. But if you tell your army to stand down, I might stick around.”
The Gordon Lightfoot vibe of “Altogether Happy” slips into the solo acoustic stream and is joined at the second bend by Dan Mulvey on bass and David Graves on percussion, giving it a classy and dynamic build. Like taking an elevator up, the song starts off on ground level and rises from there. Glonek’s production lays a smooth foundation here reigning in with his “less is much more” approach.
“Under The Streetlight” is a half speed honky tonk pushed lazily along by Mulvey Graves and Steele with a great duo between Jersey sweetheart Jo Wymer and Monacchio—Wymer is probably the area’s most underrated crooner out there today. Listening to these two puts me right back in Nashville, hanging at Tootsies on Broadway out in back of the Ryman Theater. Genuine and soulful, they sound like they’ve been singing together for years. Wymer’s soothing and powerful voice leads the way into Steele’s “cry in yer beer” solo runs—beautiful and memorable, radio should run to this one.
The Long Evening is centered on everyone’s struggles and victories, allowing the listener to relate his or her experience through these songs, and that along with the players is what makes this disc a welcoming journey. Keith told me that he had started off with over 16 songs before deciding on these nine tunes and it’s a good call. There’s no martyrdom here, no self-absorbed tragedies, just hard-learned lessons, comedic perseverance and the triumph of a man that manages even if just for a brief time, to checkmate this topsy-turvy game we call life and that’s a victory we all wouldn’t mind sharing.
Keith Monacchio will be unveiling The Long Evening this Jan. 8 at The Paul Robeson Center for the Arts in the Solley Theater on 102 Witherspoon St., Princeton, NJ, with the talented Melissa Anthony opening the show. For more information on the availability of the disc or the show head over to myspace.com/keithmonacchio.