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Vance Gilbert
Up On Rockfield

Review By Steven Stone
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  Vance Gilbert qualifies as a true student of the art of songwriting. Several years ago I had the pleasure of sitting in on his songwriting workshops at the "Song School" that precedes the Rocky Mountain Folk's Festival. Gilbert stressed that a song needs both craft and passion to succeed. On his latest CD, Up OnRockfield, Gilbert demonstrates that his fervor for composing stellar songs is as powerful as a Colorado thunderstorm.

Although Up OnRockfield isn't a concept album as usually conceived one long story broken up into individual chapters or songs - it does have a central overriding theme. The concept here is that Gilbert wrote each song as if it were co-written with one of his musical heroes. On the opening and title track Gilbert goes for Van Morrison's mid-70's Celtic soul, while the second track combines the attitude of John Hiatt with the groove of Prince. Other phantom collaborators include Shawn Colvin, Raffi, Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle, Richard Thompson, Al Jarreau, LynrdSkynrd, Thomas Dorsey, and Bob Dylan. One of the songs, "House of Prayer," was actually a real-life co-write with Lori McKenna.

Gilbert accomplishes the seemingly impossible by not only successfully channeling the essence of his mythical co-writers' styles, but also creating original songs that stand on their own. Even without the musical conceits each tune works. Throughout the album all Gilbert's talents come into play. Some, such as "Goodbye Pluto," highlight Gilbert's fluidly lilting vocals, while others like "Judge's House" bring Gilbert's acoustic guitar skills to the forefront.

Accompanied by a small ensemble made up of drums, bass, keyboards and electric guitar, the arrangements on Up On Rockfield are minimalist in the tradition of a songwriter's album. The songs are the stars here. Tom Eaton, who handled recording, mixing, and mastering, keeps the effects to a minimum. The overall sound is natural, with just a hint of reverberance to keep the instruments from being too forward in the mix.

The only fault with Up On Rockfield is its awful cover design. The photograph and typeface choices are nothing short of horrific. Fortunately once loaded into an i-Tunes library you never have to look at the CD cover again. If you appreciate well-crafted songs, Up On Rockfield should be on your must-hear list. I'm sure you'll spend many hours admiring and enjoying Vance Gilbert's artistry.

 

 

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