Richard Barone was introduced to listeners as the lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter of the legendary Bongos. Their recording career spanned a handful of singles, two EPs and two albums, but their impact on the Hoboken music scene – and on Hoboken itself – was much larger. Upon the band’s dissolution, Barone developed a solo career that garnered critical notice and fan support, but flew below the radar of the mainstream record buying public. He released an album every few years for a decade, bookended by the live recordings Cool Blue Halo in 1987 and Between Heaven and Cello in 1997, and continued on to produce other artists and collaborate on theater projects. Though he oversaw reissues and compilations of earlier material, this is his first collection of all new solo material since 1993’s Clouds Over Eden.
What makes this album particularly special is Barone’s collaborations with producer Tony Visconti. Barone’s a well-known Bolan-ista, having covered “Mambo Sun” with the Bongos and “The Visit” on his first solo album (and “Girl” here). Tony Visconti was the producer of those seminal T. Rex sides, and had Barone had his way, Visconti would have produced the Bongos 1983 RCA debut. But the label declined, and the pair had to wait another twenty-seven years to collaborate. Surprisingly, for all of Barone’s glam-rock influences and Visconti’s glam-rock bona fides, the cache of vintage instruments they tapped (including E-bow, stylophone, mellotron, moog bass, chamberlain) and sonic references they make (such as the opening of “Candied Babies” borrowed from the Bongos’ “Zebra Club”), the results sound neither nostalgic nor out of time. Instead, the productions combine elements Barone’s explored throughout his career, including slithering glam rock, power-pop chime, cello-lined chamber pop, and punchy dance floor beats.
The lyrics sway from weighty contemplation of middle age to the title track’s celebratory call for shucking off emotional limitations and living freely in the moment. Barone is neither morose in his backward glancing assessments nor blindly exuberant in his forward looking proscriptions, but seems to be discovering original emotional territory in new experience; even the fatalism of “Yet Another Midnight” is expectant rather than downcast. The notions of return and unspoken feelings are threaded through several songs, including a visit to old stomping grounds in “Radio Silence” and the uncertain romantic resurrection of a co-write with Paul Williams, “Silence is Our Song.” The latter production is shorn of Visconti’s ornamentation, pared to guitar, piano and cello for a live performance on Vin Scelsa’s Idiot’s Delight. A second co-write, with Jill Sobule, yields the terrific “Odd Girl Out” and its story of a pre-Stonewall lesbian.
Visconti’s rock productions are ornate and imaginative, though on “Sanctified” the volume interrupts the inviting, quiet groove established with the introduction’s combination of voice, strummed acoustic guitar and mellotron. The album closes with a lush instrumental version of the title track, finishing with a lovely coda of violin and cello. Barone was obviously quite excited to finally work with Visconti, and he sounds energized and vital throughout. His new songs retain the hooks and melodic innovations of his earlier work, and his lyrics have grown concrete in character and concept while remaining poetic in their words. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]