Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Honest Day's Work

Long Way
Pete Minda

Solidly written and performed "adult contemporary" music is difficult to create, and it's equally difficult to pinpoint what separates good work in this field from the unimaginative and impersonal material that gluts it. It's hard work doing uncool well, which is why James Taylor is still packing theaters even though critics and hip musicians refuse to recognize his influence. Also Chicago and Steely Dan.

Austin's Pete Minda doesn't knock every track on Long Way out of the park, but he makes a lot of solid contact. His songwriting is band-conscious, using the rhythm section and added touches like the accordion of "Memory to Me" to distinguish the tunes from each other. There's a foundation of acoustic strumming in the mix, but it doesn't dominate and importantly it doesn't push every song into the same kind of feel. Lead guitar parts diversify the tracks and play off of the vocals nicely.

Lyrically Long Way has some fine moments and some missed opportunities. The chorus hook to "Thing About Love" ("the incidents of late tell me I don't know a thing about love") is clumsy in just the right way -- the charm of the song is the way the singer doesn't use another's words to make his point. "There's Never Been Any Peace" sometimes sacrifices the clarity of the melody in its onrush of words, but Minda has some solid points to make. Sometimes he tends to lose focus, as a few songs have second verses that don't entirely flow logically, as if he cribbed some ideas from an entirely different lyric. "She's Not the Little Girl" has a resonant theme and a lovely duet part, but the words are too unspecific to really cut to the heart the way they should.

The strongly arranged main body of the record is well-complemented by the final track, a solo acoustic take of the fine "Kansas City Coming Home" that displays that Minda is highly skilled at maintaining the drama of his full-band performances in a solo setting. The way he adapts his vocal style, very understated through most of the record, to really sell "Kansas City" is representative of his subtle but refined skills. Long Way isn't currently stylish, but heartfelt and honest never go entirely out of style either.

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