First Appeared in The Music Box, February 2005, Volume 12, #2
Written by T.J. Simon
As one of the few African-Americans on the singer-songwriter circuit, Vance Gilbert brings a unique voice and perspective to the genre. His latest release Unfamiliar Moon is a mixed-bag of original compositions, and unfortunately only a handful of its tracks are notable. The problem is that when Gilbert crafts acoustic guitar folk tunes, such as Ten Thousand Skies or Alone Down Here, there is little that sets him apart from the million other guys in the scene doing the exact same thing. However, when he lets his soul side shine, magical things tend to happen. The discís title track is a perfect example of a timeless soul ballad worthy of Ray Charles, while That Front Porch Song infuses gospel elements into its perfect, blues-based exterior. Unforgivable is a solid reworking of the Nat King Cole formula, and Lie to Me grips the listener with its minimalist organ while Gilbertís honey-coated voice carries the melody. Elsewhere, he demonstrates that he knows how to have fun on the John Prine- and Steve Goodman-inspired Iíve Got A Plane, although he ultimately betrays his own song by tacking an ill-suited, improvised-jazz breakdown onto the quasi-country track. Your Brighter Day is the best of the straightforward folk selections on the album, while Leaving Avon displays some lyrical depth and storytelling ability that go beyond the otherwise unremarkable tune. In essence, Unfamiliar Moon is a frustrating album because it offers only a glimpse of what Gilbert is able to accomplish when his head is fully in the game. Thereís nothing on the remainder of the disc that will assault the listenerís ears, but Gilbert is far more successful when he emphasizes his soulful strengths and relies less on contemporary folk conventions.
Unfamiliar Moon is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box