Tommy Strazza strikes a special chord with me because of his dedication to the guitar. Sure, lots of guys around are good players and can handle vocal and lead duties, but Strazza has American G.A.S. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, that stands for Guitar Acquisition Syndrome. Many of us have it, and it’s a lifelong illness that seems to increase steadily. Strazza’s quest for both intricate presentation tools and a gritty, life-fueled tone is a commendable foray both live and on disc, and his latest CD, Tommy Strazza Presents Songs From The Escape, is a great example of compositional and progressive thought for the outcome.
Comprised of 10 variable tunes that range from folk to back country bluegrass, this was not what I was initially expecting from a guy I could spend hours with talking about Les Pauls and Stratocasters. The content here is aimed more at the lyrical message than at wowing the local sausage party of guitar hoarders. Guitar chat aside; I spoke to Tommy last month, and he told me that this record was conceived not in some swanky, air-conditioned studio, but in the cab of his Ford SUV. Destinations of thought were reached by roadside stop-off as Strazza trekked throughout suburbia, laying down recollections of real-time living on the road to self-fulfillment.
He says in his correspondence, “I needed to practice for an upcoming show and my girlfriend and I were living in an apartment building, so I couldn’t practice at home without disturbing everybody in the building. So…I thought I’d go out to my little Ford Escape, record my practice session, and listen back to it when I got back inside.” After listening back, Tommy couldn’t help but notice that the recording he had just made sounded decidedly unique. “I decided right then and there that I was going to make an acoustic album in my car.”
The disc bounces into the speakers with “The First Time.” Springy resonators bark and sob under the Smoky Mountain ministrations of Strazza as special guest vocalist Deirdre Forrest flies into this upbeat, melodic harmony gem. With a popular flavor that reminds me of Trampled By Turtles, Huckleberry Flint and Wheeler Brothers, this is an uplifting song that has many possibilities in the land of music industry positioning. Forrest was covered here a few months back, and she is the “go-to” sweetheart of the original music rodeo. Eric Lindberg’s banjo work waltzes and twirls with Jerzy Jung’s piano skills as Strazza’s resonator leads spill down and into the heart of this swift-moving hillbilly hoedown. Frothy and perfectly synched, Strazza scores a top pick right from the get-go.
Another interesting song is “State Of Emergency.” Done in the summer, 1970s vibe of the group America, Strazza utilizes simple, open chords and the able bass work of Peter Horvath to push this breezy piece into the sun. Strazza’s guitar work is bluesy and rich, combining George Benson bends with smooth Danny Kootch (Carole King) lines. Tommy’s vocals are toned and smooth in the traditional vein of Rick Roberts (Firefall) and choruses are memorable for days and days.
The disc moves through its paces and breathes into a gliding pause with the finger-plucked magic of “My Love.” Featuring the amazing Jerzy Jung as guest vocalist, Strazza delves into the melancholy bloom of love and the longing and regrettable heartache that never fades. The harmonies between Jung and Strazza are heartbreakingly beautiful, painting images of solace and romantic tragedy like no one else. Acoustic guitars are rich and expansive as Strazza and Jung soar and spin into orbital patterns of harmonic desolation.
I immediately got into the Steely Dan groove of “Love’s Got Nothing To Do With What’s About To Go Down Between You And Me.” Featuring the world’s longest title, this is Strazza’s jump into funky, 1970s-flavored smoke. Featuring Strazza’s suggestive narrative of rebound love, the song pumps and throbs in a pocketed stride of Jeff “Skunk” Baxter and Donald Fagan like nobody’s business. Wah wahs shimmer and wail under the solid bass work of Bobby Hart. The song struts along as skronky, chunky Stratocaster riffs pop and hiss chop shop R&B all over the spectrum. Strazza’s vocals are clean and clear and make this naughty gem a pleasure to play more than once.
“Sunday” tells the story that we all know. Sunday is tough enough, but when you’re missing that certain one, it’s a downright morose mess. The mandolin work of Mike Gonzales trills into the middle of the mix as Strazza lays out acoustic ballad chords. Chris Flusk guests on 12-string, providing diverse focus on this simple and effective ode to misplaced love.
Summing up with folkie last hurrah of “Last Transmission,” Strazza gives the listener his parting thoughts on the lessons of life, the regret of timing and final wisdom of remembering that maybe someday, “We might find each other again.” Reminiscing through the years of triumph and repentance, Strazza sails off into the sunset, leaving us with his parting Vaya Con Dios as only he can.
Strazza spares no musical expense when it comes to funding everything his musical education has to give. Melding structured instrumental bliss with talented songwriting and musician recruitment, this 10-song platter shows a writer that’s so much more than just an electric gunslinger. Composer, arranger, lyricist and producer extraordinaire, Strazza joins guys like Tony Tedesco (Full Fathom Five) when it comes to a unique understanding of continuity, engagement and the soulful delivery of honest life.
For more on Tommy Strazza and his brand new CD, Tommy Strazza Presents Songs From The Escape, head over to tommystrazza.com.
Whiskey Shivers – Straight Up At The Asbury Lanes – Sept. 13
True music has always been about the experience of inclusion. While some performers stand on stage expecting to be worshiped to the point of god-like idolatry, the smartest musicians know that whatever they’re doing on that raised platform needs to be felt and embraced by the audience as a whole. A certain oneness should envelope the room as the performer draws the crowd right into their interactive imagination and fervor like a neighbor inviting you into their home for a laid-back conversation and a drink. That neighbor in this case is Austin, Texas-based Whiskey Shivers.
As fiddle master and point man Bobby Fitzgerald puts it in their bio, “Whiskey Shivers isn’t just the five of us on stage, it’s everybody in the room. We try to bring everybody into the moment and get them to realize there’s no wall between us and the crowd. We’re all in this together, and we’re all here to have a good time. We’ll do our best to facilitate it, but it takes all of us to make it happen. When you start to feel that, you can’t help but feel a little attachment and become invested in the show. You realize, ‘Oh, I’m here to have a good time too!’”
And have a good time they certainly do. With a combined speed of rhythm, riffage and comical subject matter, this foursome takes the bite out of life’s hardships. Whiskey Shivers slap a mason jar in your hand and put you in the rumble seat of their hillbilly jalopy as they take off on a fast-paced jaunt around the hurdles of everyday hardships.
Utilizing a traditional form of music born from the early life tales of settlers moving through the Carolinas, the Virginias, Kentucky and Tennessee, Whiskey Shivers rely on tradition to tell the tales of the times. Mixing the tongue-in-cheek formulas of the backwoods mountain clans, the boys throw down on a musical honesty seldom seen in today’s pop world. Whiskey Shivers is a band that not only tips a salute to trendsetters of old, but takes their punk brand of “Trashgrassin’ folk tornado” to dizzying new heights.
Whiskey Shivers are an exuberant combination of influential back porch demons like Flatt and Scruggs mixed with the energetic new muscle of Old Crow Medicine Show and Town Mountain. Their brand new self-titled disc is due out by end of the month and was produced by the uber-capable Robert Ellis out of Nashville, Tennessee.
Whiskey Shivers will be joining Paducah, Kentucky, boys, Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, on Sept. 13 over at the Asbury Lanes in good ol’ Asbury Park. For more information on Whiskey Shivers, the tour and the 100 percent proof that they deliver, head over to whiskeyshivers.com.