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Frank Viele – Fall Your Way (Horizon Music Group)

Frank Viele - Fall Your Way
17 March 2016

Unlike his 2010 debut Neon Lights and its 2011 follow-up EP Acoustic Juju, which were each co-credited with his (then) band The Manhattan Project, Connecticut crooner Viele gets sole billing on this sophomore full-length. Given Viele’s predilection as a teen for busking in parking lots at Dave Matthews Band concerts, it’s not surprising that Fall has piled up plaudits befitting his prominent protégé. In addition to an Album of the Year nomination at the New England Music Awards (as well as Songwriter and Male Performer nominations for Viele), the LP also landed on iTunes’ Top 50 New Release Chart, Relix Magazine’s National Jam Radio Chart, and Roots Music Report’s Top 10 Rock and Pop Chart. The opening “Broken Love Song,” featuring Grammy-nominated blues-rocker Joe Bonamassa’s atmospheric slide guitar, hints at the darker, dusty alt-country/folk-blues direction of the EP. But from there, Fall returns to the brighter, soul/jazz/R&B-influenced sounds displayed on Neon.

Many of the LP’s best songs are shaded with sunny, skronky, Stax-inspired horns, courtesy of in-demand saxophonist/trumpeter Bill Holloman (Bruce Springsteen/Paul Simon/Elton John/Chic) and saxophonist Kris Jensen (Allman Brothers), like the bouncy “Kalifornia,” the bluesy “Easy Money,” and the bracing “You Don’t Have to Go.” Elsewhere, Viele bares a softer, sensitive side, which often finds him fervently fretting over restless romances. For example, he vies to rekindle a stalled relationship on the alluring “Alexa,” pines for a departed partner on the wistful “When You Gonna Come Home,” and pleads for his girlfriend to accept his faulty personality on the sultry “Someday I’m Gonna Make You Mine.” Fitting into the LP’s luckless-in-love lyrical theme, Viele fashions a flickering acoustic-folk cover of Bob Dylan’s 1975 Blood on the Tracks tune “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” opting for a subdued rendition over the more sanguine original.

True, Viele’s vocal style can come off as stereotypical and affected at first (not helped by his overuse of clichéd words like “baby,” “darling,” “honey,” and “girl” when addressing his significant other!); on the aforementioned “Broken,” and the reassuring “Monsters in the Hall,” his strained, scratchy singing reminded me of a cross between Jon Bon Jovi and Springsteen. But it’s also infused with plenty of soulful grit, like when he channels James Brown on the funky, horn-flecked “Kick Up Your Heels.” As well, Viele’s attractive arrangements and proficient playing are a cut above in a crowded field, and the production by Vic Steffens is plush and punchy. So while Fall might draw in its share of Matthews-fawning frat boys and NPR-binging adult contemporary aficionados, it will also dazzle more discerning disciples of down-home, dependable, and demonstrative roots-rock. (,