Upon first listen, about 35 seconds into “Into Me I See,” the first track on Peter Vitalone’s latest album, This Side Of The Dirt¸ I thought to myself, “This is something my parents would enjoy.” And though, to some, that could be construed as a bit of an insult, that’s not how I meant it. I like the music my parents listen to. These past few years, the term “dad rock” has been thrown around as a pejorative way to describe music that is indebted to the sounds of classic rock radio. Although some of the music that gets classified as “dad rock” is highly derivative and unoriginal, it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. This Side Of The Dirt is a solid example of how an artist can take classic rock influences and create something new and interesting from them.
Throughout This Side Of The Dirt, Vitalone successfully harnesses a unique blend of folk rock, blues rock, and Southern rock. On “Everyday Is Yesterday (Down South)” Vitalone utilizes a guitar riff that wouldn’t be out of place on an old Skynyrd record and combines it with lyrics about sleeping on the couch, drinking bloody marys, and girls leaving their homes in Alabama. The result is Vitalone’s own original spin on those Southern rock tropes.
Indeed, This Side Of The Dirt succeeds most on its more upbeat tracks. A highlight is definitely the title track, which features a driving and catchy piano part alongside a backing band consisting of both electric and acoustic guitar as well as some well-placed background vocals. Another standout is the blues rock stomp of “Man Alone,” which begins with a sparse arrangement consisting of just Vitalone on keys and Teddy Kumpel’s electric guitar. The result sounds somewhere in between Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at their liveliest to the ’70s bar songs of Bob Seger.
The more mellow piano ballads on the album are maybe its weakest links because their arrangements are so similar that it makes it difficult to differentiate between them. “Old Friend,” “Another Night Fallen” and “In The Morning” are all tenderly moving slow songs, but it can be hard to tell them apart even after several listens. Because of this, the middle part of the album can drag a little bit, but “Sofia,” however, plays to Vitalone’s strengths: his backing band, his lyrical and melodic construction, and his ability to come up with arrangements that can linger in your head for days.
This Side Of The Dirt is a strong effort from the Paterson singer-songwriter. It will definitely appeal to fans of so-called “dad rock,” but that’s not such a bad thing.
In A Word: Mature