Shoreworld: Janet Labelle & Phil Petillo

New Jersey artist Janet Labelle is back and sharper than ever with her newest disk titled Moon Songs, a five song EP exploring the waters of pop tinged soul, girl powered alt-rock and the fire fueled world that she continues to light up. Janet was once the lead singer of Avery, a great Jersey band with promise and talent that broke up a few years back, dissipating into Shoreworld history.

I always love a survivor. The artist that crawls out of the wreckage of the past while retaining their vision of creation, moving into the next new phase of adventure with the resolve of a winner, in a business that always tells you you’ll never make it out alive. Janet is one of those people. She’s been writing songs ever since the tender age of seven when she penned her first 4-chord ditty about how much she loved to sleep.

Whether she’s a sleep junkie still or not, Janet’s voice is anything but tired, soaring free and easy, at times just completely letting go and hitting great over toned sweet spots along the lines of Fiona Apple. She explores the sound of the sixties without falling into the pit of copycats. Her writing has matured as well and I hear smart arrangement choices throughout the disc. Moon Songs is strung together theme wise as well, which is kind of cool. Evan Taylor did a bang up job with the production, layering and setting up direction and sound with an eye towards pure continuity. Recorded in three different studios, Moon Songs manages to retain a smooth and focused sound from start to finish.

Opening track “The Moon Is Ours” brings back Locomotion memories of the sixties as she steps up to the plate and hits this tune right into radio play land. Great reverb drenched guitar lines from yesteryear mix with block hits and background bongos. Labelle’s vocals go from falsetto sweet to the vocal chord shredding style of Ronnie Spector effortlessly.

“Not Tonight” moves quickly into delicious pop territory with its The Sundays-meets-REM vibe. Jangly guitars and up-tempo rhythms move this along with a breezy and carefree alt feel. Janet’s vocal increases step-by-step emotional intensity here before dissolving into the songs cliffhanger ending.

“Apologies” is pure soul, soul, soul. Labelle’s knowledge of Smokey Robinson’s phrasing is evident here as she leans into the style perfectly. I had to shake my head and laugh listening to this track. She is scary good. This is a high point on the CD, showcasing her traditional love for the sixties and the ability to mix it into her own bag of tricks without becoming a note for note caricature. Hats off to the production team for a respectful exploration of the genre without falling into the original recipe.

“Without You” is a ballad style number in the traditional vein of Train and Elton John. Labelle manages to keep this interesting and out of arena schmaltz rock with breathy and dynamic vocal inflections and tones that change the direction without looking like a cut and paste debacle. Melody and lyrics mix deliciously with the bands laid back shuffle, her mid tenor delivery is at times spiritual, hypnotic and addictive. Janet is on to something here. The song shuts down with a clever “Desperado” piano passage that sums it up with storybook finesse.

The last tune on the disc is “What the World Looked Like” and although there are a few gems on this record, here is the song that I would pick as one of the best. The guitar and vocal intro sets the tune up well—not too over the top or campy. Janet brings the listener into her word and sits them alongside of her as she sings. Laid back and bluesy, this song screams for the full band treatment. Nevertheless, it gets its stark point fairly well as is. Also, harmonies would have been cool here but it’s a minor gripe from yours truly.

In conclusion, Janet Labelle is out there making great music without mimicking that 1940s granny rock thing (you know what I mean) and her writing is top-notch. She has several dates coming up where you might be able to catch her and I suggest a look-see as she’s the one that has something fresh to offer.

R.I.P. Phil Petillo – Renaissance Man Extraordinaire

If you have a love affair with the guitar or play in a band, you’ve heard of Phil Petillo. He was not only instrumental in keeping gigging musicians road worthy and sounding great for many years, but he was also known for physically changing the playability of the instrument with his own “Petillo Precision Frets,” a reversed triangular design that allowed super accurate intonation all along the fretboard.

In addition to his work with frets, Petillo was also known for developing his own line of special strings, pickups, parts, and electronics. No one could ever say that Petillo sat on his hands. His action and enthusiasm for creation started back when he first picked up a guitar at six years old. By the time he had reached the eighth grade he was already building instruments good enough to impress guitar maker John D’Angelico, who offered advice and tips which Petillo quickly added to his own growing collection of knowledge. Petillo was also an expert of wood technology, which he uses in refurbishing antique or damaged instruments, as well as in designing and fitting his custom work. While his technique and rich style may have come in part from the developmental years with Jimmy Diserio, godson of premier guitar maker John D’Angelico, Petillo continued to add design and tone options to his own brand.

In the mid 1970’s Phil designed and built the first four prototypes of the 350G, 350B, 450G and the 450B models that were presented at the Chicago NAMM show that helped launch Kramer Guitars, introducing the aluminum neck and body shape designs that incorporated wood and metal in a unique combination of material for deep sustaining properties. Famed bass players, Gene Simmons of KISS, on his Kramer Ax Bass and jazz bassist Stanley Clarke, used Phil’s aluminum neck.

Over the years, his client roster exploded into one of the biggest in the nation with names such as Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Keith Richards, Steve Miller and several other well-known stars. But Phil also had many local friends and customers and he was well-known for welcoming guitarists into his workspace and home to “talk shop” about everything from theory and exotic woods to the exotic instruments he loved so dearly. Whether you played guitar or bass, Phil was always available for advice, experiences and a friendly anecdote or two.

Unknown to many rock and rollers, the Ocean Township resident was also instrumental in advancement in surgical devices, hydrogen generators and fuel cell technology. Phil held many patents and has been honored with countless major awards for his work including induction into the Who’s Who of American Inventors and the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame.

Phil Petillo belongs to that special breed that never settled for second best when it came to their chosen passions in life. Whether building, inventing, or playing, he loved what he did and that’s all anybody could ever hope to achieve in our short time on this planet. Phil Petillo died August 13, 2010 at the age of sixty-four. He was truly one of a kind.

His son David will continue that tradition at the same Ocean Township location.

Phil is survived by his devoted wife, Lucille (Kersmarki) Petillo; five sons, Phillip Jr., 37 and daughter-in-law, Michelle and granddaughter, Emily, Stephen, 34, Michael, 31, David, 30, and Timothy, 27.