Review: Almost Charlie – A Different Kind Of Here
Label: Words on Music WM43 CD Time: 36:55
Tracks: 1) Shadow Boy 2) Ambivalent 3) The Sadness Of The Snow That Falls In May 4) Defective 5) The Loneliness Of Sharks 6) Waiting 7) Robot 8) A Different Kind Of Here 9) Sunset In The Elysian Fields 10) Expect For Her Name 11) Gold 12) I’ll Still Be Missing You
At last, the songs of Dirk Homuth and lyricist Charlie Mason return, in the latest Almost Charlie album A Different Kind Of Here. It seems that the older I get, the more I lose track of how quickly time passes—it’s already been about 4-1/2 years since their last album Tomorrow’s Yesterday.
It’s so easy to get drawn-in by the inventiveness and wit in their well-crafted songs, the melodies, hooks and restrained arrangements. All of the songs in this album can be quickly committed to memory, and there they remain, added to the playlist of the mind, but they are not simplistic. These songs are deftly efficient, and don’t overstay their welcome—each of the twelve is about 3 minutes long, with the last, longest and most sonically impressionistic, I’ll Still Be Missing You. There are connections between the moods of the music, arrangements and subjects. Listen in …Missing You for the wistful sounds of an implied telephone busy-signal layered back in the mix of the sound effects. In Waiting, the rhythm is like the finger-tapping of impatience. Yet there are contrasts, the upbeat tune of The Sadness Of The Snow… deals with the unexpected and unwelcome shivers of a late winter storm after experiencing the tease of Spring.
Homuth’s singing (with a voice reminiscent of John Lennon’s) varies from near-whispers in Defective to full-throated vocals with a spirited string quartet arrangement in Gold. What’s different from their previous albums: A lyrics booklet is included with this album (YAY!), and while the subjects of the songs is still largely about relationships, they are far more introspective, and some are darker and tend more towards melancholy. The Loneliness Of Sharks is initially stark, and gradually adds layers symbolic of the pressures of the deep and the isolation of power. There is also a short and reflective piano instrumental, Sunset On The Elysian Fields.
Overall, the recording of the album is remarkably spatial. Initially, I listened to the album sitting at a distance in a chair, in my car while driving, and then sat closer to the speakers in my music room, and felt like I was in the studio with the musicians while they were recording—so praise to the musicians in addition to those involved in the recording (Rob Cummings in Berlin is credited). The title track, A Different Kind Of Here, in particular is just plain gorgeous, the acoustic guitar, especially.
And imagine, the two songwriters still have never met (according to all that I have read). Despite the distance, the magic remains. Next time Charlie, please don’t wait so long before returning. This album, like their others, immediately gets put in the “hit replay” category. The Words On Music label (celebrating their 20th anniversary as an independent music label) sells it direct from their website for a great price, but it’s also available through your favorite music sellers. While you’re at it, buy the rest of Almost Charlie’s back catalog, you won’t be disappointed.
Here’s a three track sampler of the album:
This is a solicited review.
Review: Almost Charlie – Tomorrow’s Yesterday
Words On Music – WM33: CD Time: 42:17
Record Label Website: http://words-on-music.com/
More on this release:
http://words-on-music.com/WM33.html & http://words-on-music.com/almostcharlie.html
Artist Website: http://www.almostcharlie.com/
Available at: http://darla.com/
1) Hope Less; 2) Open Book; 3) Sandsong; 4) Man Without A Home; 5) A Nice Place To Die; 6) Tomorrow’s Yesterday; 7) Still Crazy ‘Bout You After All These Years; 8) Cummings; 9) Youth Is Wasted On The Young; 10) Undertow; 11) When Venus Surrenders
I have a broad rotation of albums, all sorts of genres (I listen to more than ambient and electro-acoustic works, despite what some might think from my reviews). Since its release in 2009, Almost Charlie’s album The Plural Of Yes (TPOY) hasn’t been too far away from my CD player. It’s a great album of songs written in the tradition of Elton John and Bernie Taupin or Burt Bacharach and Hal David, musician and lyricist working separately. In the case of Berlin’s Dirk Homuth (singer and multi-instrumentalist) and New York City’s Charlie Mason (lyricist), they still haven’t met in-person and aren’t separated by “two rooms”, but two continents and an ocean. It’s evident, however, from their work together that they communicate well, no matter what the distance.
Tomorrow’s Yesterday is the latest release, and I’m really happy that Almost Charlie has returned after three years with more beautifully crafted and skillfully recorded songs. There are familiar faces in the band: Sven Mühlbradt on bass and Pelle Hinrichsen on drums and percussion with the addition of Bert Wenndorff on piano as well as other supporting musicians.
For those unfamiliar with Almost Charlie, I find similarities to the songwriting and sound of bands like The Beautiful South, The Autumn Defense and some of the less raucous songs of the Fountains of Wayne. I’d even compare some songs to works by 10cc (either written by Eric Stewart/Graham Gouldman or Kevin Godley/Lol Creme). Similarities to the Beatles are also unmistakable (especially the voice of John Lennon with a bit of George Harrison on the track Still Crazy ‘Bout You After All These Years). There are marvelous wordplays, edges of wit and subtle metaphors in the lyrics resulting in this latest collection of musical gems.
The feeling of Tomorrow’s Yesterday is a bit more pensive and acoustic than TPOY, but there are upbeat, playful and spirited tracks too. Instrumentally, the foundation of most of the songs is guitar, bass, drums and piano, but many of the tracks are delightfully punctuated with brass, woodwinds, sitar and dobro guitar. Some of the finest moments are simply acoustic guitar and Homuth’s vocal harmonies, as on Sandsong, which is a bit melancholy and reflective. In this album there are songs of relationships, a sense of realism, but not resignation; acceptance and contentment, but also a feeling of hope as in Cummings. I also appreciate that the recording is crisp and sounds like a live performance in the studio with minimal processing. There was only one point (at the end of the last track) where the recording was sounding saturated on my equipment, but I stress this is a minimal issue.
Hope Less (a song of setting expectations) begins with acoustic guitar and harmonies and then advances into a march of sorts. This and Open Book are great examples of the smart wordplay in the lyrics, double-meanings, literary references and a deft efficiency of expression. Man Without A Home and Youth Is Wasted On The Young are ironically upbeat ruminations with shades of The Byrds (electric guitars), syncopated rhythms and are gently arranged with brass and strings respectively. A Nice Place To Die has a lively rhythm and bluegrass roots-music vibe with dobro and violin solos. Tomorrow’s Yesterday is a stark and melancholy observation on the passage of time, and perhaps more than any other track Homuth is channeling John Lennon’s voice (literally and figuratively).
Undertow (a favorite of mine) has power in its symbolism and realism; the words and music combined are indeed greater than the sum of their parts. The passage “The more I try to fight it; Its grip on me is tightened…Overwhelmed by the undertow” is about as close to perfect as it gets. The closing track When Venus Surrenders builds from a quiet beginning, and is the longest and most ambitious song on the album, similar to the spirit of The Monster and Frankenstein from TPOY with a nod, I think, to The Beatles’ Let It Be.
As The Plural of Yes was in 2009, Tomorrow’s Yesterday is one of my favorite song-albums of 2012. Perhaps next time lyrics could be included in the package, since they are such an integral part of the songs. The Homuth and Mason formula works, the chemistry is still there, and I hope they continue to write songs together and we hear much more from Almost Charlie in years to come.