Hey there, folks. The album release for A Place to Remember the Dead is finally upon me/us, and I’m feeling really good about all of it. Rehearsals have been terrific, and promotion has gone well, which means I won’t be sweating turnout and can really just focus on my performance.
I’m actually writing this entry mostly for archival purposes. My good pal Brendan Getzell, host of the Hotel Utah open mic, gave me a really sweet, thoughtful write-up in the newsletter last week. Unfortunately, the newsletter section of theutah.org isn’t really set up as a blog with permalinks, so I’m reproducing the whole review here for linking purposes. If you really want to see it on the original site, go to the newsletter page and scroll down to the 2/17/14 edition.
Here’s Brendan. Hope to see you tonight!!! xo
* * * * * * * *
There’s a certain truth to the cinematography in the music video for the lead single of Shareef Ali’s A Place To Remember The Dead, “Tuscon” (YouTube). In it, Shareef (backed by bassist Maia Papaya and lap-steel plucker Brian Belknap) is disarmingly close to the lens, pouring personality into his performance as if his life depended on it, but with a measure of charm that prevents him from overwhelming the viewer. Whether a conscious choice or not, this immediacy is entirely fitting, for it mirrors the intimacy of Shareef’s nimble baritone on APTRTD, both in performance and production. His records have always been to some extent showcases for his lyrics, which are multitudinous while leaving space for intrigue and mystery beneath metaphor, but here a convergence of factors contribute to this release’s success.
On APTRTD, Shareef’s really comes into his own as a vocalist; the emotion has always been there, but it comes packaged with a strong sense of control. He’s always done defiance well, a fact readily apparent on shitkicker tunes like “Stone’s Throw” and “There’s a Reason to my Rage, There’s a Folly to my Fear,” but it’s that sense of control that really propels the beauty of the more delicate melodies found in songs like “For the Rest of my Life,” “I Want to Kiss Death,” and standout track “The Tenderness In Me.” Aaand is that an Elvis-style quiver I hear in the 2nd chorus of “Tuscon”? Dude is full of surprises.
That our first stop is at Shareef’s vocal performance isn’t to devalue the other aspects of the album in the slightest. His guitar work is excellent and varied; even his take on an ol’-time 12-bar blues, “Marigny Love Song,” has copious pieces of flair attached to its familiar structure. The arrangements always serve the song and not the other way around, and the vocal harmonies can take you by surprise with their precision strikes, sometimes bringing chills (I’m thinking especially of “The Tenderness In Me” here). Hotel Utah veterans Mr. Andrew, Erma, Brian Belknap and others add a great many tasteful frills to the listening experience and are integral to both the vibe and the soundscape of the album.
Lastly, a quick shout-out to my favorite song on the album after the first several listens, “Ain’t Nothing Sweeter (Train Song).” Having heard Shareef perform this song a number of times dating back to mid-2012 at a house concert I hosted (#humblebrag), I always got the feeling that Shareef was searching for the performance and the melody he really wanted. He definitely found it on the album version; it’s a jazzy shuffle with as sophisticated a chord progression as he’s ever concocted, with a complex-yet-natural melody. He also uses the song to pay tribute to both names of the past (lyrical hat-tips to Johnny Mercer, Conor Oberst & others) and sounds of the present (the instrumental section recalls the relaxed jamming on “Nothing, I Love You Is All” from 2011’sHoly Rock & Roll). That, and a reference to sex on a train without taking the easy tunnel-based way out. Bravo.