Gifted at the Hula
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Stop the Clock is one of those local bands whose combined musical experience and prowess could easily be taken for granted. The group combines the talent of some of the city’s most notable – and durable – musicians.
Mike Massey and Tony Cerniglia are blood brothers by now, having first made their mark in Chaser. Madison folklore will remember Chaser as one of those should-have-been’s, coming ever so close to making that gigantic step into a record label deal. They followed that with the equally exciting Boys in White, one of many immensely popular local bands that called Madison home in the Eighties. Cerniglia went on to Minneapolis and the regionally successful Seventeen Rhinos. That band boasted Chaser bassist Steve Johnson and guitarist Shane Tracy, son of Cubby Tracy who was the drummer for Clicker, another one of “those bands” that you’ll be hearing more about if you follow this publication. Massey has had huge success as a songwriter and performer, releasing several great albums locally. You may recognize his name as the composer of Dracula: A Rock Ballet which has been a very successful stage production (read a review of the CD release of Dracula… here). Joel Pingitore is among the cream of the crop among Madison guitarists. He and bassist Frank Queram play together in Playground of Sound. Pingatore excels at blues/rock and can play a mean Hendrix. Brianna Hardyman began as an actress before getting into music, spent time in Nashville where she picked up more than a little country influence before returning to Madison.
Hardyman is the lead vocalist here and much of the material showcases her voice, which has considerable power and range. Massey is certainly no slouch at vocals either and is largely relegated to duets and backups. The most memorable moments on this debut CD occur during those climactic points when both singers are engaged. Being consummate professionals at this point, their phrasing and vocal harmonies are first-order.
Massey’s string arrangements, a trait surely sharpened when composing the rock ballet, are also of note. You can sense Massey’s command on “Realize,” “Arms of Grace,” “Across the Bridge” and the very impressive closer “Velvet Storm.” These tracks have more prominent melodic depth and sophistication.
“Realize” opens the recording in dramatic fashion, an intense composition with effective vocal interplay between Massey and Hardyman. A similar interplay occurs on “Not Pretending,” a heavily orchestrated pop song comparable to some of Elton John’s work circa “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” “All of Us” is notable for an Eastern-flavored vocal refrain from Massey that puts twist on what is essentially a great pop-rock tune. The tune features an appearance from local hip-hop artist Rob Dz, giving the track a contemporary feel.
There are distinct modern country elements that spring from Hardyman’s vocal style. “Arms of Grace” is an example of this, a hook-laden, mid-tempo ballad driven by acoustic guitar. “Sweet Rain” is country ballad all the way.
Pingitore comes to the fore in “Who’s That Girl,” a more straight-ahead rocker that could just as easily cross over to Top 40 Country given Hardyman’s vocals. The same is true for “Sweet Sugar Baby.” Pingitore, who feels a bit underutilized on the disc, finally cuts loose with a ripping solo on “World Keeps Moving On,” the album’s penultimate cut.
The bulk of Gifted at the Hula is radio-ready pop that easily crosses over to please other audiences. The arrangements are extremely well done and lots of care went into the engineering and mastering. Stop the Clock go beyond that to demonstrate occasional moments of brilliance that transcend what is already a sophisticated and focused aural palette.