Greg Fleming – CD Review: “Taken”– Ambitious & worth the time to listen
GREG FLEMING – ALBUM REVIEW: “TAKEN”
“Taken,” starts with an adrenalin fueled rocker called “California Fishing,” — a catchy radio ready tune — but while this song is more paint by numbers – Fleming’s real talent lies further ahead in his ambitious 32-track album that includes a 26pp booklet.
Probably my only criticism is the 32 tracks. It’s hard enough to listen to tons of songs by Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Dylan, Johnny Cash and Emmylou Harris – but, a 32 track album by any one artist is a little heavy on the cream.
If I understand this correctly – it would justify the LP – this is a collection of tracks Greg recorded in the last 10 years or so — compiled in this beautiful two record set. So, nevertheless,
Greg Fleming loyalists will enjoy this.
As I tunneled my way through this album I discovered Greg Fleming — a talented and diversified performer.
This is a good start. At least the songs didn’t all sound the same like so many artists these days. I was beginning to believe the creativity stopped with the new wave music in the 1970’s because since then it’s getting harder and harder to impress me.
Following the opening rocker, Fleming eases with a melodic acoustic offering with “Good Memory.” A charming balance of Fleming’s vocals and a bluesy female voice hovering right above his. Real cool – recorded well. Nice crisp instrumentation — I had it on repeat.
At this point, I thought, Greg couldn’t possibly keep up the momentum. So on comes “So Sad Sometimes,” — a deeper more solemn and sincere sounding vocal. A real nice introspective ballad. Layering of instruments as the song progresses is a nice touch and this doesn’t intrude on the song. Fleming hits some high notes and it’s like adding a dash of red in a painting that has darker colors. Well balanced crisp acoustic playing leading into a nice hard steady drum beat that builds like a little bolero. Not bad at all.
The title track is next:” Taken.” Fleming’s voice — slightly bathed in echo — the piano subdued – is all to good effect. When the female vocal arrives the song really lifts. Fleming and the female vocal compliment each other effectively. A classical tone makes the song interesting, the lyrics, which could fall into sugar coated pop, are carefully sung in a sincere style. Everything controlled. The piano adds just enough drama but not too much. Enjoyable.
It’s hard to review an album with 32 tracks so I am selecting ones that either bothered me or delighted me. So far, having run through the album twice — Greg Fleming is interesting at best. Songs seem well thought out. Nothing sounds hurried, thrown away or considered filler. Some certainly stronger than others — but that’s to be expected on an album with a wealth of material.
“Threw Me,” is another piano ballad with Springsteen overtones. Clever lyrics and a nice progression. Then there’s “Codeine Road” with its ragged funky beat — female soul singers echoing in the background to a tantalizing effect. I liked this one. Greg’s shows his diversity very well. Quite different from other tracks. Fleming’s vocals, while not Presley powerful, or with a Springsteen growl or Dylan whine – does fall into a respectable area occupied by the likes of Marc Cohn, Steve Earle and maybe even Chris Rea. A good worthy, respectable performance.
I like descriptive story lyrics so “Lovers of Listening For the Weather” appealed to me.
Once Greg began his narration my ears were glued. Many singers need the confidence of a whole band playing but I admire the fact that Greg Fleming takes the time to sing a simple, poignant song with just guitar or piano with spare instrumentation – and he does it well.
Steve Earle could do a cover of this next track – “Making A Fool.” This is a cool country-flavored tune — the addition again of female vocals is attractive. Nothing in this song is over bearing. It glides along and could find a comfortable place in Nashville. The chorus is simple and infectious. “Making a fool happy….” One of the best.
Tom Petty style chiming guitars are reminiscent with “Ghosts Are White” and this track continues the high quality of this almanac of songs by Greg Fleming. This track could have been a Traveling Wilbury song. Good video also.
As good as Fleming is alone he should never lose those backup voices that frame his vocals beautifully. It enhances his presentation. I believe guitarist John Segovia does the vocal backup on the Ghosts track. Greg would be a wise choice for a female vocalist to duet with. His voice is not over powering yet he has the personality in his voice to work well with another.
Fleming, however, shows more teeth in “Mr. Clive.” A different departure here. Chiming guitars with a deeper more serious approach. In this song I think Greg has found his true voice. Sounds like what would happen if Steve Earle produced Robyn Hitchcock. This is one cool track and tight presentation. Instruments are persistent. Meryl Maine’s violin smokes. There’s a persistent tambourine with the drums on the money and the guitars are all over it. This one gets repeated listens. Good noir video of this track is available on No Depression. Excellent.
While all other tracks that follow are fairly good, they are also fairly standard. Maybe we’re mining the bottom of the barrel? Hope not.
When I reach the maniacal ear candy of “Whisper” I know there’s more wealth: a scorching rocker in the tradition of mid-70’s bands that mixed aggression with bridges of acoustic guitars. This is a punk metal Neil Young assault of the first order. Despite the musical muscle the vocals are good and not too over the top. Now, I said 70’s bands earlier – I did not say Greg sounds like a 70’s band. That’s not my intention. This song is a fresh aggressive track – in the tradition – that’s all.
“Back to the Life She Had,” would have been a better title for “She’s Got A Star.” I thought the guitars and melody were good but the song itself seemed to tempt the edges of traditional top 40 pop music. Too sweet, a flat bland cookie cutter pop music. This one track is too Journey, too hair band oriented and it doesn’t have to be. I expected the guitar break to salvage the song but it was too late. The violin tried but it was a little murky. I guess it’s the multiple male vocals that irritate the most. The Greg Fleming “style” was absent. What happened? Should I go back and dig out my Cold Chisel records. Please say no. But I have faith. An artist can not hit the target everytime.
OK redemption — this song is NOT all that bad. Fortunately, I can hear some life – but, it just needs a new approach, a fresh arrangement. Right now it’s headed for the ICU. To my ears Fleming is a talent that is tough, and compelling — not cute and “boyish.” This is not suited to his style. He just sounds out of his element. Some songs should stay in the can. There are reasons some Beatles songs were never recorded by the Beatles but given away to others. It’s all about fit.
It has to fit. This song in it’s current state does not fit or belong beside a song like “Mr. Clive,” or “Whisper.” Not yet, anyway.
Years ago rock singer Steve Swindells (former Hawkind keyboardist) had that same “look” with the sunglasses, close shaven stubble, cool hair and tough look. Well, the album Swindells put out “Fresh Blood” on ATCO reflected all those attributes successfully. The Atlantic LP got 4 stars. Thankfully, he never included tracks from his previous RCA album where he appeared like Justin Beiber with no shirt. Those songs reflected that look and as expected — it quickly tanked. Image is an important thing and must be cultivated as carefully as the songs and arrangements.
Greg needs to maintain the attitude he captured brilliantly in “Mr. Clive”. It’s just as important as the music. “Ghosts Are White” is also loaded – he’s got it real good there. This is the consistency he needs. In this realm he thrives. It’s adrenalin fueled.
But a song like “She’s Got A Star” needs to be reconsidered. This song is not in the same beat hotel as those others. “Mr. Clive” is so powerful that a song like “She’s Got A Star” pales — it almost sounds like it was recorded by someone other than Greg Fleming. However — a little tweaking — that song could still have grit. Even Dylan re-wrote songs. Dylan reworks songs all the time. This is not so much a criticism as a suggestion. Change the title too.
In fairness, many tracks on “Taken,” are “vintage” Greg Fleming recorded years earlier — and may not be representative of where Mr. Fleming is today. But the album liner notes detail this. They outline where and when songs were recorded. For the most part, Greg’s songs do hold up right up to today – this is why I am not breaking them out by age. This is a good introduction to a fine songwriter. Some songs sound as fresh now as ten, fifteen years ago.
“Roll Into My Arms” is far closer to what I expect from a Greg Fleming. Even though this one too is a little sweet. But it is a fine acoustic track with beautifully blended male vocals. This one succeeds.
Finally up to track #32 – the final one – Greg Fleming now owes me a bottle of whiskey a well-done steak and a date with Donna Dean (just kidding, just kidding).
Only one track on this fine album wasn’t my cup of tea. That’s not a bad track record for a collection of older songs. The final song on this 32-track full course meal maintains this album’s quality — “All the Time In the World,” and Greg is firing on all cylinders.
This is what I’d expect. At least Greg is an artist who is consistent.
Overall, the sound is well recorded, the instrumentation clear and well-separated. Arrangements – well done. All musicians shined on this effort. Songs like “Codeine Road,” “Mr. Clive,” “Good Memory,” “Making a Fool,” and “Ghosts Are White,” are wonderful, first class songs worth repeated listening. But while some weren’t as strong. This is to be expected. No artist has a catalog or LP of perfect tracks. Not Dylan, Neil Young or Elvis Presley.
The next Greg Fleming CD should be more of a challenge. Add some sax, trumpet, an accordion, or harmonica. A guest female vocalist. There was an Italian rock singer back in the 80’s named Eugenio Finardi who sang excellently in English. He had a track that reminded me of Chuck Berry called “Corrina,Corrina” on the Secret Streets album — and instead of soloing with guitars the solo instrument ws a clarinet – and it worked to my surprise. Part of creating music is shaping little surprises into the mix. Doing something unexpected has it’s risks but if you inspire others – you will be remembered.
Even though Greg is primarily a rocker with an Americana feel, a folk-rock approach with some pop, he should explore some tunes that are more blues oriented and jazz tinged. Why? Because I sincerely believe Greg Fleming has the voice, ability, talent and balls for it. Yeah, yeah, yeah you heard me. You know what I mean. Greg doesn’t sound like an artist locked into one genre and he sounds like he likes to try different approaches to his music. He doesn’t seem to be afraid of experimenting and ultimately that may be one of the attractions to a Greg Fleming album. Not knowing exactly what he may offer this time.
In closing — if Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, Marc Cohn or even John Mellancamp are your favorites – Greg Fleming fits.
His videos are worth checking on No Depression and YouTube. “Taken” is an album I would recommend. All 32-tracks should be sampled. You may find some you like I did not mention.
Now it’s time to go back and put on “Mr. Clive.” again. The video on No Depression is quite a well-produced noir film.
For information about ordering Greg’s CD go to Greg Fleming’s site:
John Apice – May 2011 – No Depression