Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Review of Neil Cavanagh's "City of the Sun, Valley of the Moon"

I just posted this review a few minutes ago on the Sputnik music website:

Review Summary: Affable psychedelic rock and modest experimentation with some solid pop hooks.

New York indie artist Neil Cavanagh slipped this release out late in 2017, to little fanfare. That's a shame, because it's one of the better releases of last year. What a world we live in now, where a musician can write, perform, engineer, produce, mix and master an album this good virtually all by himself. Yes, two of the tracks have a backing guest vocalist (John Cavanagh on "Sun Coming Out" and Michelle Ingkavet on "Another Morning"), but let's face it -- City of the Sun, Valley of the Moonis almost as solo as an album can get.

Cavanagh himself describes the music as "an eclectic sequence of alternative, experimental and progressive rock", and that's fair enough. To me, the album has a Todd Rundgren vibe -- there's a lot of gentle psychedelic rock here -- and there's also a touch of Joe Satriani, although this LP is much less guitar-centric than some of Cavanagh's earlier music (and some of the stuff that most reminds me of Satriani is actually performed on synthesizer -- go figure).

While there are times the album rocks out, a lot of it has a laid back feeling. There's a great deal of pleasantly strummed guitar, some comely piano, and a lot more experimentation with synthesizers than on most of this artist's previous work. As for the singing, Cavanagh's somewhat high vocal range is effective throughout, especially when he layers his vocals on tracks like "Everything's Forgotten Now", and at times, his phrasing is distinctly Beatlesque. In this case, however, the music is at least as important as the vocals, probably more so. Fittingly, then, there are also several instrumental tracks on the album.

Two of the best songs here are relaxed, mostly-acoustic tunes, and interestingly, they each have park themes. The first is called "On a Sunday Afternoon", which has an all-instrumental alter-ego later in the album called "Sunday Evening." The music here evokes the image of a lazy summer afternoon, lying in the grass and watching the clouds. The lyrics complement this, as they find the singer clearing his head after some kind of a life change -- possibly the loss of an over-stressful job, the kind that makes you wonder after the fact, "Why didn't I get out sooner?" As good as it is, the instrumental version might even be better than the original, as the lack of vocals there really draws your attention to the incredibly beautiful slow guitar solo.

The second song I referred to might be even stronger than the first. This one is a mid-tempo number called "The Gates of Crocheron Park." It takes the form of a conversation between a parent and an adult child, as the singer finds strength and renewal by returning to his home town: "Follow the stars, you'll be homeward bound/With all that was lost just waiting to be found/But they're closing up the gates of Crocheron Park/Just as the sun is going down". The song has a great hook, and is filled with a number of appealing little guitar trills.

City of the Sun, Valley of the Moon does a good job of mixing up speeds and styles throughout. In addition to the songs I've already talked about, there are slow and pretty piano tracks ("Valley of the Moon"), chunky guitar numbers ("Abused"), psychedelic guitar and synthesizer instrumentals ("The Empire Strikes Back"), and exquisite acoustic songs ("Taking a Ride"). Yet somehow, the album always holds together as a cohesive whole.

This is definitely Neil Cavanagh's best album to date. Although it has virtually no publicity behind it, I really hope that somehow people will find there way to it and give it a listen. It's one of the hidden treasures of 2017.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars