Tony Lucca: Under the Influence

Compelling collection of pop covers

The 1990s edition of the Mickey Mouse Club was a surprising hotbed of soon-to-be-successful young artists. In addition to better-known alumni Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera, the Club was home to a dozen more actors and singers whose stars may not have risen to international fame, but whose work is worth looking up. Among those making a living with their music is Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Tony Lucca. No longer the boy singer (that’s him in the middle, next to girlfriend Keri Russell), or the hunky actor of Aaron Spelling’s Malibu Shores, Lucca’s matured into a bearded and bespectacled singer-songwriter with a dozen EPs and albums to his credit.

His first few efforts were self-released and promoted via the Internet, but a couple years after opening for ‘N Sync (home of fellow Mousketeers Justin Timberlake and JC Chasez) in 2001 and 2002, he landed a deal with Lightyear and released the Chasez exec-produced Shotgun. Lucca showed off a deft ear for pop melody and harmony, and though the arrangements and vocal tone occasionally stray toward the middle of the Adult Alternative road, the overall effect was favorably remindful of the early releases of power-popsters like Richard X. Heyman. Lucca’s efforts continued with Rock Ridge on Canyon Songs and Rendezvous with the Angels, and now with this latest all-covers album.

Cover songs are a tricky proposition. If you radically reinvent song, you need to find an interpretation that speaks to listeners in equal measure to the original. If you tread the outlines of the source, you need to do more than spark the listener’s urge to seek out the original artifact. Lucca’s chosen the latter route, threading together interpretations of baby boomer classics that are close enough to be comfortable, but sufficiently personal to rise above karaoke. Better yet, by recording a full album of covers, Lucca tells listeners a bit about himself and the influences that go into his own songs.

The album’s selections are generally well-known and often well-covered by other artists, from the piano-based dirge of Stephen Stills’ “Find the Cost of Freedom” that opens the album through the soulful a cappella reading of Chris Whitley’s “Dirt Floor.” In between Lucca adds just enough originality to Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work,” Tom Petty’s “You Got Lucky” and the Rolling Stones’ “Waiting on a Friend” to freshen them up without taking untoward liberties. It’s a delicate balance – changing the tempos slightly or adding a soulful edge to the vocal – but one for which Lucca has a tremendous feel.

His recasting of Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper” enlivens the original’s ghostly echo with insistently driving tom-toms and a deep bass line, and Led Zeppelin’s folky “That’s the Way” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Baby Driver” are each given lush acoustic treatments that saturate their original colors. The songs roll by as if programmed on a classic rock station, but with a continuity bred of a single artist’s interpretations. You may find yourself making a note to seek out the originals, but you won’t be taking this disc off early to do so. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]

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