Big Star Way by Tony Garone

Here's a review from DPRP Music

This release follows not so closely on the heels of Tony Garone's previous album The Epic Of Gilgamesh, reviewed by the DPRP back in 2001. On that occasion the reviewer advised not to expect lengthy solos or complex musical elements, and that most of the music was played utilising acoustic instruments. Five years on and a new concept with new songs, but in terms of style and structure it's business as usual. The same applies to the recording technique. Garone employs what he calls the "musical quilt" concept, whereby musicians record their parts in different locations without ever meeting in some cases. Using digital technology, the album was then assembled by producer William Brown and son Anthony Garone. They have achieved a clean and uncluttered sound where the sometimes sparse instrumentation allows Tony Garone's vocals and insightful lyrics to cut through. The intention was to write a musical interpretation of a Navajo Indian story titled "Big Star Way" which Garone came across whilst researching native American mythology. Concerned that the Navajo people might be offended, he abandoned the idea but kept the name. He turned his attention to the UFO phenomenon and the way it is treated both culturally and by the media, which became the foundation for this 16-song collection.

The smart lyrics reveal that the songs are not really about little green men from outer space after all. The perception of aliens is used as a metaphor for fear, ignorance and intolerance. Given the deep subject matter of the songs, the sound is often lightweight and relaxed with a sunny optimistic feel that permeates the whole album. A wry sense of humour surfaces on occasions when the lyrics are cleverly offset with a totally unexpected musical style. The acoustic guitar of Tony Garone leads for the most part, and this together with his warm mid range voice gives a folk ambience to many of the songs. He covers the majority of the keyboard duties and is strongly supported throughout by the solid drumming and percussion work of Casey Carney. Rather than being in your face, electric guitars provide a melodic backdrop with William Brown and Anthony Garone again sharing the honours. The Chapman Stick of third brother Kenny Garone dominates the bass work. Other family members are present amongst the host of backing vocalists, and additional keyboards are on hand to bolster the sound.

Some comparisons with other artists are detectable, without being over obvious. I felt the spectre of the Moody Blues present in several of the songs. Take the title track for example. The chord structure, acoustic guitar, relaxed drums, and vocals have that distinct Moodies sound. The reflective Oh No is a personal favourite with the lead vocal sounding very John Lodge like, with rich choral harmonies. All Of This Time is built round an insistent brooding bass line with Nights In White Satin style harmonies and excellent guitar and keys interplay. By way of contrast, the vocal style of Fleetwood Mac looms large over both Change The World and The Things You Say. The former is percussion led with a memorable chorus and muted but lyrical electric guitar. The latter would have sounded very much at home on the Tusk album. The spiritual and melancholic Without You is a folk tinged ballad and is possibly the albums strongest song. The lyrics of Cowboys With Cell Phones mixes old west and modern imagery, with an authentic country and western sound courtesy of steel slide guitar and accordion. Not my favourite style, but its skilfully handled. The bright, tuneful chorus of Pocket Change belies the subject matter, which focuses on the plight of the homelessness and inequality. The perceptive lyrics observe that one mans financial salvation is another mans "pocket change".

If I Could has, dare I say it, a pop feel with an infectious chorus and sparkling keys work from Scott Harris. The bizarre sounding My Little Grey is an engaging pastiche of a 1950's American pop ballad normally associated with teenage romance. A Song For The MERS (Mars Exploration Rovers) is another juxtaposition of lyrics and sound, featuring an easy listening 1960's American folk feel in the vein of the Mamas & Papas. Following 10 songs, the instrumental Ghost Crab comes as a surprise. It is dominated by a repeated acoustic guitar riff, which is offset by a delicate melody half way through. This part sounds very close to the main theme from an obscure movie titled the Molly MacGuires scored by Henry Mancini back in the 1970's. Majestic is another highlight, featuring a meditative and lilting sound throughout, with keys effectively simulating the muted sound of bagpipes. Mike Oldfield would approve I feel sure. In contrast, Would You Believe? is the heaviest song on the album with electric guitar sounding more upfront. A solid riff is supported by a fuzz guitar sound creating some blistering effects. A short reprise of the title song with the emphasis on rich choral harmonies, before There Is A Ghost featuring a chilling childlike vocal, brings the album to a spooky conclusion.

Tony Garone has written all the songs on the album with the exception of the instrumental Ghost Crab by Kenny Garone. The songs have a traditional American feel for the most part, with little in the way of European hard or progressive rock influences. They are however rich in melody, with strong hooks and a commercial sensibility. If it wasn't such a fickle world where record sales are influenced by fashion and hype then tunes like Without You, Pocket Change and If I Could would have hit potential written all over them. Instrumentally, some may crave more flash and volume, but that shouldn't distract from an excellent collection of crafted songs well worth investigating.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

Here's a review from DME Music

Combined, Navajo mythology, Taoism and obsession with UFO might make an ugly beast - yet with music, it comes off beautiful.

Tony Garone obviously thinks in epic terms, and his records' gestation is rather long, but the results are so satisfying that time is obviously spent good. Five years on since the "Gilgamesh" project, there's a new concept based on Garone's perception of human moral values as viewed through the aliens' prism. Thrown from the ancient past into fantasy future, his music is not understated anymore, with acoustic guitar of the title track that bookends the album laying out the canvas to weave the yarn on. It's pure prog now, though the tunes as memorable as they are are not in your face: the colors are revealed in gentle strokes while Tony's voice comes all frontal, if friendly intimate. Sometimes, like in pastiche '50s croon of "My Little Grey" and the "Cowboys With Cell Phones" lyrics, there's a great dose of irony, but counter-vocals render the picture multi-dimensional, and most of the songs can stand out on their own - "The Thing You Say" is a playful folk masterpiece, Richard Thompson could have been proud of - but together, they take on somewhat bigger scale. Not that the effect is down to the clever use of synthetic sounds which in "Oh No" amount to an orchestral swash, it all comes from real emotion beating in the space between the notes and the recurring themes, where only rocking "Would You Believe" gets out of line. But what a fine line it is!

The next five years have started ticking. Bring on more, Tony!

****1/2

Tony Garone