July 15, 2019
Reviewed by John Hoglund for Cabaret Scenes
John DePalma’s CD is a welcome return to the recording arena. With an exceptional creative team behind the project, the disk contains evenly paced and intelligently sung story songs that are deeply expressive and melodic, performed with the heartfelt delivery that has become DePalma’s trademark.
There’s lot that can be said about Something Shiny, an album that should be a relevant entry in today’s market, one worthy of serious attention. Wisely ignoring genre restrictions, DePalma sings from both old and new songbooks ranging from Elton John, Tom Waits, and Joni Mitchell to Hoagy Carmichael, Oscar Levant, and Randy Newman, along with more current entries and noteworthy originals. Some selections are surprisingly catchy, such as Michael Holland’s reflective “Dollar Margarita Night,” a tuneful ballad about hanging all alone in a Chelsea bar at Happy Hour. A few songs are more upbeat, others are given gentler treatments that ultimately reveal a man who has known an empty night or two. He touches on similar themes more than once, particularly so with his own “If I Had Words (If I Had Songs)” co-written with Jonathan Hodge. Here he offers himself to someone unconditionally: “if I had songs to make a dream for you/I’d sing you a heaven loving and true/I will make these days last for all time. There is a uniqueness to the words which are fused with that warm delivery that is sometimes pining, sometimes earnest, but always tugging at the heartstrings in a way reminiscent of Ed Sheeran.
On a nostalgic note, “You Belong to Me” (Chilton Price/Pee Wee King/Redd Stewart) was a romantic song about separated lovers first recorded by Joni James; it became a 1952 hit for Jo Stafford (before it reached Dean Martin and others of the day). Dedicating it to his parents, DePalma croons it with Tim DePasqua’s hauntingly rhythmic music-box accompaniment, which is engaging in a way that ballads of yesterday were in the golden age when lyrics had real meaning. No matter what style the song calls for, DePalma can’t help calling on quivering emotions that underscore every note and are consistently passionate.
Other highlights on this excellent disk are an intriguing “Sleepy Man” (Robert Waldman/Alfred Uhry) and Tom Waits’ riveting “Rainbow Sleeves,” which is given an absolutely gorgeous reading that fits perfectly with DePalma’s lyric baritone that is deeply moving on this beauty: “I believe that your heart keeps young dreams/you just hang on to my rainbow sleeves.” A dressed-down treatment of “Skylark” (Carmichael/Johnny Mercer) with Jeff Campbell’s mellow guitar licks accompanying is lilting.
These telling story songs are done with such care and passion that one can’t help returning to the disk repeatedly. Every song tells a story that is meaningful, compelling and touches on delicate emotions that some singers might avoid. John DePalma is not afraid to open his heart. It’s all here on a very special CD.
The musical team of Tim DiPasqua and Jim Followell, providing brilliant piano, keyboards, and arrangements on the album. On various cuts are: Steve Loecher and Paul Galiszewski (drums); Sean Harkness, Tom Briant, and Jeff Campbell (guitars); Dan Wilensky (saxophone); Jacques Jobes (bass); Evan Shea (piano); Kerryn Tolhurst (pedal guitar); Jean-Pierre Perreaux (voice/announcer); and Kevin Jasper (background vocals and additional keyboards).
The video below is a song called “Strange Place” which really sums up the feelings John had when he first moved to New York City. James Followell co-wrote it with John, Tim DiPasqua is playing and did the arrangement and Kevin Jasper produced it.