Paul Pasch,
Tornado Sky
(Jakester-T, 2006)

Tornado Sky is the debut album from Paul Pasch, a veteran performer of the past 30 years in the Rhode Island and greater New England area. All of those years performing in coffeehouses, open mics and festivals shows in his performances, especially his storytelling abilities. Pasch knows how to produce songs with a wholeness, a fullness in which the lyrics merge with the music and the story is completely told.

"Locksmith (Albert's Song)" is one of those complete songs: engaging and intriguing story, amicable pacing and wonderful instrumentation (especially Kevin Fallon on mandolin). Even with the printed lyrics readily available, Pasch leaves an air of mystery as to what the storyteller is relating. What does he regret? What has he done in his past that makes him wish to have lived another man's life? What are his burdens that keep him from happiness? It's a song to listen to, many times over, just to guess at what the real story is.

Other tracks that succeed for similar reasons include "Memories of You," "I'm Not Ready for Winter" and "Hurricane." In "Memories of You," Pasch uses a bittersweet waltz tempo to convey a simultaneously sentimental and sad tale of a grown-up son caring for his mother suffering from Alzheimer's. "I'm Not Ready for Winter" also has that sense of fullness, tackling the subjects of desire, fidelity and responsibility. "Hurricane" takes a more literal approach to storytelling, with Pasch utilizing a spoken-word approach to his lyrics. It works beautifully, especially with the accompanimient (violin by Fallon and upright bass by Jarrod Hartley) to compare a plea for mending a relationship to a historical reference of a town rebuilding from a hurricane.

Not all the songs on Tornado Sky have that same sense of completeness; sometimes the tone of the music doesn't quite match the theme of the story. The music of "Angry Boy," a song about a troubled soul, has an almost cheerful quality. Even Pasch's vocal style takes an occasional perky tone. Another example is the intended-to-be-lighthearted "Johnsonville Faire." The song is about a guy taking his gal to a fair, his excitement/anticipation of seeing her all dressed up and what they'll be doing at the fair (well, if you read enough into the lyrics, it may be what they're doing after the fair). Following that theme, wouldn't the musical approach follow the mixed themes of anticipation, sensuality and expectation? The problem is, the song is almost dismally paced and very subdued. It's not a bad performance by any means, but the two elements don't mesh together at all.

"I Could Be Wrong" is either the exception to the rule or the straw that breaks the camel's back. It's a decent enough song, in terms of musical style and vocal performance. The inherent message, on the other hand -- it's yet another one of those anti-political songs that bemoans how "politicians are running this country into the ground" and the country is in an "old hand basket heading for hell." Now, I'm not saying he's wrong, per se, but this type of song/message is so overused it's become tiresome. Instead of supporting a particular cause, Pasch is feeding into the passive all-encompassing negativity towards anything political, be it "left" or "right" and the general malaise of the country's citizens. In an album filled with so much introspection, reflection and thought, this broad-spectrum contrarian diatribe falls well below the bar established by the rest of Pasch's lyrical work on this album.

Don't let one mar the rest of the album; the established bar is rather high. Tornado Sky is a mostly strong album, offering engaging stories and pleasant music.

review by
C. Nathan Coyle

29 December 2007

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