I have to be totally honest here. When I first heard the wonderful piano intro of Jason Vitelli’s latest album ‘Head Above Tide‘ I did sincerely not expect a jazzy, musical theatre sort of sound to follow in the very same track…nor at all. Though, given that he’s from New York, perhaps it’s not all that surprising that there’s a little bit of Broadway to his music.
‘Head Above Tide‘ is an epic collection of sixteen rather identifiably similar yet incredibly unique tracks. What I mean by this is that there is no mistaking who the artist is from track to track, but each certainly has it’s own very interesting flavour. Vitelli is compared to, among others, David Bowie (circa Hunky Dory). I understand what he means by listening to even just the first two tracks of the album but I think one might be better off not to spend too much time emulating such a praise-worthy comparison. I find moments throughout this album where I can’t help but feel Vitelli is attempting to sound like Bowie. It could very well be that he just comes that close and is so heavily influenced by Bowie that the sound is unintentionally similar…and I hope so…but there are moments.
Regardless, I should not shy away from the many wonders of this expansive album. The intricacies of the instrumentation in this album are very present, noticeable, and impressive for sure. Beautiful harmonies, keys, guitar, drums, bass, sax, as well as synthetic instruments are all very interestingly placed in such a wonderful piece-by-piece throughout the album that it really is difficult to pin down a favourite moment or piece.
Apart from the incredible variation in composition from track to track the diversity of meaning lyric to lyric is just as wide. Like the music though, there is a common thread. In the case of the lyrics, this thread is the overcoming of adversity. Tracks range from topics like the Second Sudanese Civil War (‘Three Marionettes‘) to the dilemmas apparent in the famous novel Sophie’s Choice (‘Labyrinthine‘). And from the American Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality (‘The Persecuted‘) to something as simple as “echoes of Charles Ives” (‘Autumn Hymn‘)…not to mention a self-explanatory track named ‘D-Day‘. A very eclectic yet intriguing concept for an album, to be sure.
If for no other reason than to listen to a very interestingly dramatic collection of intricate and spectacular music, you should certainly check out Jason Vitelli’s latest album ‘Head Above Tide‘. I think you will be pleasantly surprised, a little confused, somewhat uncomfortable, and then pleasantly surprised yet again.
Be warned though. My biggest gripe with this album is the balance of the lead vocals. Vitelli doesn’t have an unfortunate voice by any means, but what he does have is an issue with the power of his voice and the lack of reigning in the engineer did to prevent this from breaking your ears in a good set of headphones. Be careful where you set your volume. When he belts, he is not balanced in such a way that it is not piercing. Which I’m sorry to say because I’m happy with how much clarity and lacking vocal effects Vitelli performs his songs. Anyone who can sing with fairly dry vocals amid such complex compositions and still come out clearly is certainly a skilled singer in my books.