Vance Gilbert,
Unfamiliar Moon
(Disismye Music, 2005)

Vance Gilbert is a gregarious performer who creates an instant and most comfortable rapport with his audience by means of a smart and self-deprecating sense of humor that makes his live shows a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I've followed his recorded work ever since first encountering him at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival back in 2000, and I'm here to say Gilbert has never sounded better on record than on this, his fifth studio album, Unfamiliar Moon.

"Ten Thousand Skies" opens the album with a tuneful gem of a song that only takes a few listens to start seeming like an old favorite. The arrangement of piano, bass, drums and electric guitar that accompany Gilbert's acoustic guitar and vocal provides just the right feel. "You Can Go Now" varies the tempo a bit, the melody echoing the melancholy of the lyrics, a nice piece of songwriting. "Leaving Avon" adds a mandolin and some backing vocals to the mix and exposes the inherent soulfulness of Gilbert's voice.

The title track features some wistful sounding lap steel guitar. The organ sound on "Lie to Me" combines with backing vocals to give a warm gospel feel to the proceedings. "Gondolier" pairs Gilbert's acoustic and Duke Levine's electric guitars to back Gilbert's heartfelt vocal. "Unforgivable" is a gorgeous slow jazz tune that is so destined to be a standard that you might think you've already heard it before. "Your Brighter Day" is solo Gilbert on vocal with acoustic and it's obviously a format he's perfected through years of performance; the song is well written, too.

"That Front Porch Song" has an old-time bluesy gospel style that suits Gilbert's voice well. Tom West adds to the total effect with a piano performance reminiscent of Ray Charles. "I've Got a Plane" is a simplistic yet totally endearing bit of peace-mongering. "Alone Down Here" closes the album with Gilbert accompanying himself on electric guitar, with a poignant bit of songwriting that doesn't shrink from the really big issues.

That Unfamiliar Moon is Gilbert's best album to date reflects the fact that Gilbert has grown as a songwriter with each record and he is getting better and better at it as the years go by. I'd say his songwriting skill is now commensurate with his live performing ability, which is considerable. Unfamiliar Moon is like comfort food for the ears, mind and soul.

by William Kates
21 April 2007

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