Steve Klingaman,
Vanishing Point
(Humuncules, 2003)

Steve Klingaman has been around the music business awhile, and it shows. Although he bills himself as "contemporary folk and American roots" on his web site, this album brings back memories of many nameless pop-rock or soft-rock recording artists from the mid-1970s, most of whose LPs were best left in the delete racks where they belonged. Unfortunately, Klingaman has seen fit to resurrect this dark age in music.

While his choice of a Jesse Winchester mini-hit from the era is inspired -- "Isn't That So" is the opening track -- the rest of the material is lyrically and musically forgettable. Although this points to Klingaman's "folk roots," a grounding in folk is rarely evident on an album that features such a soft-rock sound (bass, drums, electric guitar) and no discernable roots at all, except perhaps in "Visions of Katherine," which reflects his time living in New Orleans.

Although Klingaman has considerable talent as an instrumentalist, he overreaches himself on this CD by writing most of the songs, arranging all the music, performing most of the instruments (guitars, bass, keyboards) and singing lead on all songs. Klingaman can handle the guitar bits well, but his thin voice isn't strong enough to carry a whole record and gets lost.

As for the lyrics, does any mature artist use the word "baby" to describe a woman any more? What there is of emotion is expressed in the hackneyed language of pop: "I hold you in my arms but nothing is revealed," or "Little darling you can save me" and the like.

The CD also appears to be a bit of a family affair, as his daughter Lenne Klingaman provides strong backing vocals. Vanishing Point was produced at his own No Name Studio. Other musicians are Jim McCarty on drums -- professional, but predictable -- and Brian Hawthorne on bass ("Marie") and violin ("Vanishing Point"). Nothing wrong with self-production, but a critical ear might have helped.

On the plus side, Vanishing Point does show a clear artist's vision in that the individual songs do sound like they belong together on the same album: as an artist/ producer Klingaman knew what he set out to do, and he did it.

Full points, too, to Klingaman at least for a very attractive CD package and the inclusion of all lyrics and credits (and, for that matter, an informative website).

But, for an artist with such a long musical pedigree, who has lived and performed all over the United States and Canada, this is a very disappointing effort.

- Rambles
written by David Cox
published 1 May 2004

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