You’ve got to admire youthful enthusiasm. In the case of Gabe Burdulis there is special emphasis on “youthful.” At seventeen he’s accomplished more than a lot of local musicians do in a career. He’s placed and won the statewide Launchpad competition, performed at Summerfest, played in many of the major clubs in town done radio and TV and has made recordings.
The Land of Make Believe isn’t just a home recording by a kid feeling his way around. This is a full-fledged effort with some of the city’s most accomplished musicians backing Burdulis up. Renowned keyboardist Anthony Cao and former Sexy Ester drummer Paul Kennedy head up a cast that includes Ida Jo, Anthony Lamarr, Nate Arnold, Buzz Deering, Dan Wenzel, Julia McConahay and vocalists Vanessa Tortolano and Kelly Underwood. Top that impressive list off with the talents of Scott Lamps who provides bass, vocals and percussion while also being credited with engineering, mixing and mastering. Once again, Lamps is on the cutting edge of bringing out the best new and developing talent; it’s uncanny. The recording was also mixed and mastered by rising production wizard Landon Arkens. Burdulis himself plays guitars, drums, bass, keyboards, trumpet and percussion. He is, of course, the lead vocalist and wrote and arranged all seven tracks.
Once you get through the credits there is the music and, granted, one must bear in mind that this is a seventeen-year-old. Most of the songs deal with young love and its heartbreaks and elations. Lyrically the album rings of honesty, however, the delivery is earnest in near Michael Jackson fashion (he even looks a bit like Jackson in the cover shot). “Am I losing the game?” he sings while, at seventeen, he has a hell of a lot of game left.
The arrangements are completely astounding; this is not verse-chorus fare. Opener “Gotta get Away” bleeds Muse, the song progressing through and blending various styles with snarling guitars, screaming synth lines and razor-sharp rhythms. “From the Start” is more soulful, successfully and repeatedly building up tension then promptly releasing it. Throughout the album Burdulis’ vocal delivery sounds easy while being absolutely spot-on. “Never Enough” starts out as an acoustic blues-pop ditty but the horns drive it to another level and the backing vocals bring it home. “Blues Song” is a Stones-y track with Cao’s blazing organ passages in the driver’s seat. Burdulis delivers some sophisticated blues licks on guitar, again in defiance of his meager years. A sweet acoustic guitar and violin duet kicks off “Life Story” and here Burdulis’ ability to spin a melody is apparent. This is an expertly woven pop tune.
The best two tracks are saved for last and it’s possible that these two were recorded or at least sung later as Burdulis’ voice sounds just a tad more grown up and the writing is even more sophisticated. “Won’t Do It Alone” employs some social commentary to great effect and builds into a genuinely impressive and manic guitar solo. When he kicks into the guitar riff about two-thirds of the way through you understand the kid can rock. He carries that energy into the closer, “Breakdown” an intense guitar-riff-and-horn workout with dense, metal-like power chords. Another screaming Prince-influenced guitar solo brings the album to a screeching end. It’s killer.
Why Burdulis chose to record a solo outing rather than with his band The Daze is probably a double-edged sword. While the band is uber-talented, funky and tight, with a look that oozes arena rock, choosing to highlight his abilities is a long-run view. We all know what happens to most of these high school bands. They move off to other places to go to college or start careers. Maybe Burdulis was reading into his crystal ball, a crystal ball that must also surely reveal that there is no stopping him achieving unlimited success – if he plays his cards right.