There are two things I enjoy most about teaching, whether it has to do with voice, guitar or bass. The first is what I call the "Aha moment." This is the instant that a brick falls out of the sky and smacks a student squarely on the head with a thud of revelation. I shoot for one such moment per lesson. The second thing is more delicious, but like most treats, is fleeting in nature and only happens once per student. And that is the moment during the very first lesson when I say "Okay, sing me your best song, give me your best shot. Let me see how I can help you."
A new voice student came to me this week and after engaging him in some "Tell me a little about yourself" conversation, I dropped the hammer and asked him to sing a song for me. He accompanied himself on the guitar and sang a song of his own composition...nervously. I couldn't help but think that he felt more comfortable playing the guitar than singing because instead of singing with any sort of passion and accompanying his voice with the guitar, he played with a great deal of concentration and his voice, along with the song, took a back seat.
You can ask any successful producer or A&R person, and they'll all say the same thing...It's all about the song. The reject pile is full of great performances by great musicians. Why are they in the reject pile? Crap songs...simple. The best records, the ones that define our personal moments, are recordings of great songs. This is not a genre-specific concept. Marvin Gaye sang his ass off...Jimi Hendrix played his ass off. But it's their songs that made them immortal. Great songs seduce great performers into stellar performances.
Which brings me to my subject. Francis Rodino is a rising artist in the Sellaband web-based music community. I should give proper respect and refer to the act as the Francis Rodino Band because the band looms large in the impression made by these recordings. As with all my Sellaband reviews, and in the interest of impartiality, I listen only to the mp3 files posted on the Sellaband profile page of each artist.
Francis Rodino is a rare breed... he sings with a passion that resonates on a very fundamental level. And, more importantly, he knows how to write the kind of songs that seduce musicians into memorable performances. Rodino's songs and Rodino's voice are made for each other. These songs aren't "heard" so much as "felt" and every note on these cuts seems to be performed with the express intent of framing the underlying idea of the song.
From top to bottom, the band provides a near perfect foundation for the delivery of these songs. Drummer Matt George and bassist Allan Burls play together as one instrument. One thing I really appreciate is the bass tone which melts perfectly into the kick drum, providing a warm, low end pulse reminiscent of old school analog recordings. The band plays with excellent dynamics allowing Rodino's thoughts to build with a relentless intensity. A good measure of self control combined with passionate musicality results in emotionally compelling tracks.
Rodino's acoustic guitar and Nik Hollis on electric provide a firm bed of well-played rhythm guitars. I have only one quibble and it's a matter of my own taste. I would like to hear the guitar solo sections take on more of the character and color of the vocals. Make no mistake, Hollis is a fine player, but the guitar solos could sound thicker and be more thematic in choice of notes. As tight as the band is, I think that if Rodino and Hollis developed more of a "tag-team" approach to the featured sections, what is now very competent could become very special indeed. But...as always, I could be full of shit.
The bottom line from the Bottom End is this. The Francis Rodino Band is ready. When the time comes for them to take these songs into the studio, there is no question that they'll know what to do. And I have no doubt that their audience will listen and be touched. Why? Because it's all about the song.