Tony Tedesco doesn’t have much time for social courtships, especially when it comes to saying what’s on his musical mind. Some writers paint pictures of unrealistic fantasy, gnashing teeth against melancholy regret as they hastily summon unicorn themed happy endings, but Tony Tedesco & Full Fathom 5 are an intuitive unit that gets right to the point of a theme. Whether it is celebratory or grim, there’s no filibustering on this band’s agenda. Full Fathom 5 are just at ease discussing an abusive parent (and the revenge taken) as they are about painting a hermit-like nautical adventure of life under the sea, and it makes for an interesting set of tracks on this, their debut offering.
This is one of those rare groups that I marvel at. Each individual player is an integral part of the whole, and they each fire on their own productive cylinder, propelling the songwriting of Tedesco straight into the fast lane of American lore. A welcome change for a guy who couldn’t get off the D-list two years ago. That’s right, Tony Tedesco was the fifth call down the list for fill-ins and afterthoughts of the music scene, and I know because I watched it happen. One by one, clubs are realizing that while they’re out chasing Williamsburg phonies, they have the real deal sitting right at their bar.
But that’s far from an issue now, and with the release of their self-titled album, Tony Tedesco & Full Fathom 5, the band is turning many a promoters head. The CD contains a total of 10 painstakingly descriptive tracks born from the agony and ecstasy of personal story. They are an open book look into a songwriter that has no objection to inviting the public into his living room of life.
The disc throttles up into the opening track of “These Days.” Images of Tennessee back roads, pillowing moonshine truck dust fill my mind as mandolins, fiddles, accordions and guitars clang, hiss and bash to beat the devil. Tedesco’s voice is instantly recognizable as he throws out rusty verse in a combination of Tom Waits and David Allan Coe. Co-vocalist and honey dripper Audrey-Kate Geiger is the beauty to the proverbial beast, and her otherworldly mid-range lilt is in perfect juxtaposition to Tedesco’s whiskey grizzled recollections of roulette fueled chance.
“In The Shadow Of Achilles” is one of my favorite tracks for several reasons. First of all, the tone and feel is an in the pocket sleepwalk through a lyrical epiphany of destiny. A haunting journey through exhausting attempts of saving all of those who could never save themselves set this song into its poetic motion. Tedesco breathlessly winds in and out of mythology and reality, teaching the hard lessons of the past through the present as Gorgo Beach sprinkles pristine mandolin countermeasures down over the top of this stately, all night bender. Guest pianist Jerzy Jung levitates lush, block chord patterns and ‘70s Charley Rich rolls and the violin work of Sean David Cunningham is a soaring, melodic lynchpin, creating traditional vibe for this song. His seasoned Johnny Gimble/Richard Greene delivery weaves in and out of Audrey-Kate Geiger’s dreamy whisper like a vine on a fine trestle.
The immediate standout track is “Shoes.” The theme of this cut is simple: you can’t really judge someone until you’ve walked in their shoes. The intro swirls in a minor key dirge as Cunningham plucks and weeps mossy, Louisiana magic over the top of Tedesco’s acoustic, seventh chord class. Special guest vocalist Lxnnnie takes the first verse and immediately shifts into a bluesy, G Love sidewinder. Kurt Thum stalks the background, jabbing switchblade piano work up the listener’s spine as the spatial reconnaissance of Matt Lott (tenor sax) and Ben Clapp (trombone) put this hot, smokehouse cooker right into the lap of Geiger. Influentially, Geiger takes up where the bodacious Skye Edwards left off in Morcheeba.
Sexy, sultry and full of soul swagger, she pumps the song’s blood with the question, “Are you looking tonight?” Telling the tale of a mother doing what she has to do to survive, down on her knees blind faith action collides with the reality of the back alley act. Tedesco sums up as he lays out the lord’s compassionate stance with, “That old boy, he ain’t that unfair, he knows he’s never laced your shoes.” Michael Scotto and Mike Noordzy nail the pocket like nobody’s business, locking this song into a catchy position of dirty, DNA-laced gold.
“Dear Old Dad” is a Kentucky charge down Peters Hill as it blows into the clearing of Tedesco’s battered psyche. Content is raw and bloody as Tedesco gives last rites to a cantankerous father via a “.38 caliber hole in your head, tell me daddy, what’s it like to be dead?” Violins thrum and lob into the structural sky sounding the alarm as Gorgo Beach punches Mandolin reinforcements from the left flank. Tedesco fires salvos of rebellious counterattack straight down the middle, predicting, “Six foot hole and a handful of dirt, in the end that’s all you’ll ever be worth.” Bass and drum work of Noordzy and Scotto fire dynamic pulse into this rural ode to corporal parental punishment.
Moving around the disc, I discovered the bawdy title song, “Full Fathom 5 (SALT).” This tune takes a deep plunge into the hermetical isolation of life that culminates at the bottom of the ocean. Instrumentation surges like the tide as I picture a rowdy undersea cantina bubbling recipes of deep-sea bourbon and continental shelf daiquiris. Accordions wheeze in on deep-sea settees as mermaids and cocktail seahorses flutter and boom between mandolin mizzenmasts and salty, sing-along sea chanters. The SALT choir of Jordan Taylor, Jeff Mahajan, Gorgo Beach, Brian DeMello, Pete Jager, Jersey Jung and Matt Lott usher all into this fathomable destination of nautical nirvana.
“Tecato Gusano” is a rolling bluegrass ride into the metaphoric realm of a constant craving that burrows through the mind and soul. In a twist of words that are most commonly known as “the worm that cannot be sated,” Tedesco and crew attempt to straighten out via lyrical psychosis. Love is a hell of a drug, and drugs are a hell of a love, just look deep into the lyrics and see for yourself. Temptation never dies.
“Diesel” is the grand finale on Tony Tedesco & Full Fathom 5. “Diesel” burns from the get-go. Guitars build as mandolin skitters up the neck before jumping into the mêlée of bouncing snare hits, spring-loaded acoustic guitars and raucous violin riffs. Kurt Thum is back with his barrelhouse action as Tedesco leads the clan to beat the band, throwing out junkyard dog snarls of life in the moment. Pete Jager brings his solid, good ol’ boy background assist to the table as Beach and Sean David Cunningham once again throw down as if they’ve been down to the crossroads every night for a year.
I could go on and on with the other songs on this disc (“Bulletproof,” “Virginia,” “Hard Lesson Learned”) but space leaves me just enough to say, go catch this band and grab the CD before it’s gone. Produced by Beach, Tedesco and Tom Camuso (Grammy winner for Steve Earle’s Washington Square Serenade), Tony Tedesco & Full Fathom 5 prove that honest music doesn’t have to come from a holler in Tennessee to be real, and their compositional skill, lyrical forethought and magical union of players who have all been raised on perseverance outshines anything those New York Nashvillians have to offer.
TT&FF5 will be appearing at the Liberty Music Festival in Philadelphia on August 16 at 7 p.m. over at Dobbs’ second floor stage. Tedesco tells me they are taking fans to the show, and you can reach out to him personally for a seat on the fun bus by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Tony Tedesco & Full Fathom 5, head over to tonytedescomusic.com.