As Pete Donnelly’s new album and corresponding song title insinuate, Phases of the Moon is multi-faceted in genre, subject, mood, and tone. It is a work of many – phases – and its eighteen tracks all seem to be in varied states of musical waxing and waning.
Donnelly is perhaps best known for his founding membership in longtime rock band The Figgs (with Mike Gent and Pete Hayes), an active and fun-to-see-live group, who have done stints backing up a Rumour-less Graham Parker here and there quite successfully. The Figgs have a vast and ongoing discography of good works; their latest, On the Slide, was released in 2016. As a Figg, Donnelly mainly plays bass, sings, and writes; but when off on his own, he’s been involved in an array of other interesting side projects with other interesting folks. Like playing bass with the legendary band NRBQ, or co-writing with singer-songwriter Shelby Lynne on tracks like “I Can’t Imagine,” which also served as the title track to her 2015 album release.
As a one-man guy, Pete has several solo albums under his belt already. But this latest release, Phases of the Moon, seems to be a step and a half forward from prior work. Firstly, much of it is very jazzy – not only sonically, in vague hints or suggestions, but via direct and loyal cuts of recognizable jazz standards. Ornette Coleman’s “Blues Connotation,” Oscar Pettiford’s “Tricotism,” and Thelonious Monk’s “Crepuscule Nellie” and “Bemsha Swing,” are all covered here. These takes on familiars are well-informed and true to their sources, yet still manage to infuse the tunes with new and fresh energy.
Secondly, much of the album is instrumental – tracks like “Spuyten Duyvil,” “Over the Delaware,” “Spherical,” and several others too, would not be entirely out of place in a sunny film’s soundtrack. These originals are complex enough, but they still maintain an overall lighthearted and whimsical sound, which makes for very easy listening.
As diverse as the content of Phases of the Moon is, it doesn’t neglect traditional pop-rock fare. This element of the album, more Figgs-ian in nature, presents catchy and clever tunes well-suited for radio play. “Dr. Richard,” the album’s single, and the Tweedy-ish “Out of Wits” are the standouts of these, with the Bossa Nova-groove trip of “Afrodite” showcasing a lovely knack for piano-driven pop-songwriting too. All in all, Pete Donnelly’s new album release makes for a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience for Figgs-fans and newcomers alike.