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Together But Separate

Trust me when I say I am not a huge fan of Internet music projects, so when Fiery Blue's self-titled album showed up in the mailbox the other day and I read in the promo sheet that this was one involving musicians in San Diego, Austin and New York, my first impulse was to bury it beneath more worthy albums awaiting review. I am old school, having cut my teeth on vinyl at a very early age, and I don't need music made up of files recorded in bedrooms spliced together by digital demons in the form of the modern equivalent of tape decks and sound boards. I want my music real, solid, preferably recorded live in the studio. I want meat! I want potatoes! And I don't want my meat cooked in San Diego and my potatoes cooked in New York City and handed to a damn chef in Austin! Get my drift? It ain't kosher!

Still, I asked for the album and I couldn't very well bury it without having listened to at least a small bit of it, could I? I mean, I did ask for it. Damn! It's Catch-22 every which way I turn sometimes, but what the hell. If I can't spare fifteen minutes to cover my ass, I suppose I should stop reviewing. So I put it on, thinking if it isn't up to snuff in, say, three songs, I can bury it and when the promotion people and/or musicians call, I can say that I listened and will get to it eventually and not be lying. That was two days ago. Three songs? Hell, I was three times through the whole album the first afternoon!

Is it any good? I don't know, but I can't stop playing it. There is something there and it has me by the 'nads and won't let go. Simone Stevens is a really good singer, true, but she is not earthshaking. Gabe Rhodes is a fine musician and did a fine job producing the eighteen songs, but it doesn't seem that far above the norm. Hunt Sales is typically Hunt Sales, laying down his solid rhythms and doubling on bass, yes, but there is only so much you can do with drums and bass, you know? And Paul Marsteller?

Well, let us talk a second about Paul Marsteller. Marsteller wrote sixteen songs and co-wrote two and try as I might, I can find nothing wrong with even one. Each time I listen, I have a different favorite--- or favorites. The past couple of times, it has been the melodic and pop-py Stranger (a song Chris Isaak should take a listen to), which stones me with its exceptional (and exceptionally short) choruses (only two lines each, for some reason--- and it works). And the sultry Big Moment, the slithering rhythm and matching instruments making for a song of a totally different color, kind of an esoteric and smooth Spill the Wine, but better. The last time through I was thinking, if I could write one song, Big Moment would be the one I would want to write. Of course, the next time through it will be Hide Away or Where They Are or Virtue. This album is packed with good songs, some catchy as hell and some ready to grow on you over a period of time.

Know what? In the course of writing this, I have come to the conclusion that maybe I jumped the gun. Simone Stevens is sounding better and better (she sounded pretty damn good to start) and I'm falling for that understated approach to her vocals. Gabe Rhodes handles multiple instruments with rare touch and his production actually adds to the beauty of the songs. Hunt Sales is Hunt Sales, laying down top rate journeyman percussion. But I have to say that albums like this are not really about the musicians, per se. They are about the songs, and what Marsteller gives us... well.....

There will be more, I am sure. Marsteller has a number of tracks in the works, though whether Rhodes is involved is a question mark. Stevens is finishing up a full album of originals and that could be very interesting. Vocalists are always tied up with songs they are handed, but when writing themselves we hear the real ?voice.? Rhodes undoubtedly will be working on project after project (it is what he does), as musician and producer, and my ear is tuned to his twisting of the knobs. While I wait, I think I'll revisit Kimmie Rhodes because, not so amazingly, Gabe has a hand in those as well as others.

Right now, though, I am content with what they have given--- smooth, sometimes floating and sometimes melodic pop tunes. So-called superstars have given less, believe me. My ears are much happier with a Fiery Blue than the multitudes of pap, especially that of superstars, being produced these days. I'm not saying what they do is all bad. Just that this is as good or better than anything I've heard out of them lately. Mostly better.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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