In September 2008, Keith Monacchio, formally of the bands The Commons and The Semibeings, officially launched a standalone career.

The Long Evening, his first solo record, was released in 2010 to stellar reviews (especially here at The Aquarian) and the album ended up on several year-end “Best Of” lists. Not only did it come in at number 12 in the best release of the decade in Gary Wien’s book, Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists, but it was also praised by established music writers throughout the Tri-State Area.

In 2012, Monacchio released Tips, Drinks And Gas Money as an EP. Built in fan favorite “Coffee House” got an Honorable Mention in the “Songdoor 2012 International Songwriting Contest” in the singer/songwriter category and was also a finalist in the 2013 “Philadelphia Songwriters Project Songwriting Contest.”

His latest offering is called The Dust-Up. Comprised of 10 exciting and intimately composed songs, The Dust-Up is yet another Sean Glonek production that pulls the absolute best out of Monacchio’s very soul.

With a vibe that melds the intimate feel of Ryan Adams and the delicious juxtapositions of Van Morrison, The Dust-Up is some of Monacchio’s best music to date. His working relationship with Glonek is the perfect blend of songwriting craftsmanship and technical prowess. Warm and toned songs such as “Angels on the Horizon” show the emotionally charged method of Monacchio and his musical accomplishments. Pitting believers against the naysayers, Monacchio and crew churn across the vast open plains to get the listener to their personal salvation.

I recently had the opportunity to listen to the new disc, and I wanted to go into a bit of detail and let you know my thoughts on the overall project.

The record kicks off with “Angels on the Horizon.” Organs (courtesy of Don Ober) whirl in the background as Monacchio grinds into his first lyrical delivery. Mixing the passionate search for those heavenly creatures with the traditional distribution of the Counting Crowes, Monacchio and his crew deliver succinct and admirable tones on this top-notch compositional vehicle.

Other songs such as the wildly popular “The Bridge” tear straight across the aural path to find individual power and success. As the lyric states, “Everybody’s got a bridge to be crossed, above the choppy water where the ships get tossed. I’m not afraid to get wet, just scared of heights I guess. But I need to take that first step.” Sean Glonek’s Cigar Box slide guitar is a highlight on this beautiful tune as well. Jay Walker (bass) and Tom Kale (drums) nail this song to the tarmac as Monacchio spins his yarn.

“Saber-Tooth Tiger” runs into the mix next. Utilizing a slow-hand approach, Monacchio covers the topic of domestic like no one I’ve heard yet. Sean Glonek’s synthesizer and guitar work is spot on, and his tone is some of the darkest, sweetest riffage I’ve heard in quite some time. Keith doesn’t mince words or feelings when he writes, and this ugly beautiful ode to justice is no exception to that rule. Full of potent warning, violence, and the end result, “Saber-Tooth Tiger” is one badass piece of music.

Another fantastic song packed with excellent arrangements and horns aplenty is “A Little More Time,” a robust and swinging song in the traditional vein of Booker T and The MG’s. Filled with a blues swagger and soul-based feel, “A Little More Time” features the excellent horn arrangements of Ceilidh Madigan on tenor sax, Mark Gallagher on baritone sax and Christopher Tolomeo on trumpet. It also once again showcases the bass work of Jay Walker and the drum work of Tom Kale. Glonek covers electric guitars with Steve Cropper versed style and grace.

Monacchio also covers the bases on acoustic-based numbers as well. Songs such as “Million to One Shot” present Keith as the troubadour he truly is. With a vocal style that nods to Josh Joplin, Monacchio delivers verse after introspective verse of lyrical prose. Trading harmonica riffs with acoustic guitar magic, Monacchio provides folkie goodness in the traditional style of the masters.

One of my favorite songs on the disc is “Allenhurst.” Monacchio takes his turn at electric guitar and impresses greatly. His chimey, melodic sound mixes well with the pedal steel magic of Jerry Steele. Steele’s sound brings back memories of late night truck stops on my way to Kentucky and Tennessee. Never overplayed, his licks blend into Monacchio’s tone and vocal caresses. Lyrically speaking, “Allenhurst” runs the gamut of love, life and the obstacles and triumphs faced along the way.

Monacchio winds things up a bit with “Where You Live, Is Where I Live.” Upbeat and country-tainted at heart, Monacchio, and his crew amble down that backcountry road to anywhere USA. Background vocals courtesy of Shelly Monacchio and Melissa Anthony are seamless and complementary beyond mere words. It’s like they’ve been singing together for years and indeed they probably have. Steele is back on pedal steel and does a bang up job throughout. His style is reminiscent of Buddy Emmons. Walker and Kale bounce along like they’ve been in Nashville for 30 years or more.

“The Wheatfield” wanders out next. Fingerpicked acoustic guitar rolls agreeably under Monacchio’s vocal magic as Sean Glonek’s piano work flies in the background. You can tell Keith and Sean have been playing together for years. The seamless way they communicate on the disc is a pure joy to listen to. I especially love the choruses on this song as well as the bridge. Keith has a very dynamic vocal range, and he knows how to use it. This is the ultimate in intimacy and grandeur.

“Bad Girlfriend” is exactly what it sounds like. My favorite line is, “In love, I’ve been a millionaire, but with Monopoly money.” Keith tells the sad relationship tale that we’ve all been through at one point or another. Sad and melancholy in theme, the song is beautiful as a whole. From stepping stone verse bridges to addictive choruses, “Bad Girlfriend” poses the question, “Can’t we just be friends?”

The last song on the disc is “I Won’t Give Up.” Running the gamut of all things love, Monacchio pours his soul into the topic, lashing out at the frustrations and woes of the always weaving tapestry of commitment and honor. Glonek plays crotales and synthesizers in perfect accompaniment as Kale and Walker keep this effortlessly shuffling piece of music in the hip pocket.

The Dust-Up runs the gamut when it comes to musical styles and sounds. From rock-based compositions to alternative sounds and spins on folk and down home blues, Keith and crew weave an incredibly addictive tapestry of musical worth. I’ve known Keith for several years now, and I can truly say that he’s one of the best writers this state has ever produced. I think that The Dust-Up is his masterpiece.

Keith Monacchio will be releasing The Dust-Up on Sept. 10, 2016, at The Belmar Arts Council in beautiful downtown Belmar. For more information on Keith Monacchio and The Dust-Up, head over to his Facebook page and get the details.

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