Musicians don’t often relish in repeating themselves or even carrying on a common theme from project to project. Then again why fix it if it’s not broken?
Aside from being a bit overly ambitious (in length), Anthony Lamarr’s 2010 debut, Opening Night: A Symphony from Sorrow, was very impressive indeed. For part two the template has remained virtually the same right down to the layout, the font, the liner notes and the flow of the album. This one, however clocks in at a more digestible forty minutes.
It is the calling of most artists to take personal experiences and visions and universalize them. Lamarr is no different and, in fact these two albums play like a documentary in musical form; musical as in stage musical. Especially central to Lamarr’s journey are family and faith with a capital F.
Scott Lamps returns as the primary instrumentalist, arranger, engineer and co-producer. Though Pete Ross returns on sax, the horn section that provided much of the funk on Opening Night are notably absent. The drums are programmed this time out and that makes for some stiffness but it’s the vocal performances that take center stage despite being a bit further down in the mix.
Things get started off in a hymnal way with “Vernal Equinox,” the date of Lamarr’s birth. Beth Kille provides a sweet lead vocal that sings the Lord’s praises, complete with massive layers of keys and chimes. “Order & Chaos” follows, a soulful tune that puts Lamarr’s magnificent tenor in the spotlight with Kari Arnett and Shawndell Marks providing graceful backups. This is easily the best track on the album.
Also returning are Rob Dz and J’Dante who appear on the linked tracks “Interlude – Deep Intermission / Intermission,” Dz providing the spoken word into and J’Dante contributing rhymes. Dz reappears later on “City of Change” along with E-Sweez.
“Keep Me Down” plays like a good old gospel stomp with singer/songwriter Corey Hart guesting on vocals.
Things take a turn for the strange on “Folk Song” the music suddenly veering away from the dense rhythms and urban feel to outright bluegrass. Even stranger is the use of 105.5 Triple M’s Jonathan Suttin to provide an introduction as if this were airing on radio in real time (maybe it was). The track features Anna Vogelzang on vocals and Julia McConahay on violin. Banjo (presumably played by Lamps) completes the Appalachian palette. Perhaps even stranger is the closer “Auf Wiedersehen” with Tom Klein playing accordion. Though it’s a nice showcase for Lamarr’s vocals, the spoken German stanzas simply go over the top. Stranger still was the choice to place “City of Change” between the two.
Intermission lacks some of the spark that ignited Opening Night. The mix is dense, even muddy in spots, and the programmed drums and rhythm tracks have a lot to do with that. These elements also seem to limit the expressiveness of the music. It feels like there’s less room for the songs to breathe with layers of keyboards and electronics. The result is a bit of monotony in the arrangements.
Lamarr appears prepared to carry on the theme to a third album, “announcer” Sarah Hoover clueing us in at the tail end that Act Two is on its way. It might be more prudent to scratch the weighty theme and template of the first two albums and just free Lamarr up to explore and express himself without these confines.