Al Pechulis gets by with a lot of help from his friends on Special Guests CD
By Bill Copeland on December 30, 2011
Al Pechulis has just released his Special Guests CD, named so because he has other vocalists filling in for him on his tunes. Pechulis is recovering from a muscular vocal issue which left him unable to sing. On this collection of songs he wrote, plays guitar on, and co-produced with Canadian engineer Quentin Meek. Pechulis, throughout this CD, creates a loose, large, and wide sound that breezes by pleasantly like a warm summer breeze.
“Remember” opens the disc with rootsie guitars and a mellow groovin’ rhythm section and a harmonica melody that sweeps the listener up, its larger than life sound looming over the rest of the song. A female vocalist, Zoe Alpert, finesses the hell out of the sing song lyrics with a girlish, whispery quality that seems influenced by folk from the 1960s and 1970s. Her sustained coos are a thing of beauty, and she gently infuses emotion into this tune without being melodramatic.
Alpert pulls the listener right into “Good To See You,” a song with a Grateful Dead-like easeful melody. Her vocal glides along the surface like a sled. It’s just a treat to hear her apply her supple voice to a large aural landscape. It’s difficult to imagine a lot of other singers being able to pull this off.
The island beat of “Lovin’ Arms” creates a joyful Caribbean feel as the drummer and bass player pump out a swelling groove. A fulsome horn melody winds its away around the beat so easefully and smoothly and makes the listener picture all sorts of island scenery and activity. Again, Alpert brings her combination of talent and personal finesse to the project and adds more to the soundscape.
“Apathy” rocks it up a bit with drums that jump right out of the speakers with their rollicking fills and rolls. Gritty, roots flavored guitars hiss and snarl their fierce determination and Alpert sings it like she means business. She gets belty here yet her charisma remains intact, with her silky voice contrasting beautifully with an arcing lead guitar break.
“Yes I know” cruises along to a reggae beat with sweet organ peppered over it, and singer Suzanne McNeil shows her own ability to stretch her voice in this particular musical territory. McNeil has an uncanny sense of when and how to stop her voice and the silence in between her stops and starts has its own music. An island-guttural voiced male rapper(bassist and engineer Dave Karahalis) merrily gives his take on world peace in between the verses.
Starting with a sense of purpose, “Home Sweet Home” features male vocalist Craig Carter with his own wide sweeping vocal approach needed to breeze along just above more of these wide aural soundscapes. Weepy guitars cry with understated emotion here and, combined with an accordion, create an atmospheric backdrop that is compelling without ever becoming bombastic and overbearing.
The folksy vocal Carter employs on “Hold Me Close” widens beautifully on the chorus and rings with authentic emotion. The guitar melody winds succinctly around everything beneath the vocal with adept tightness before a horn melody pulls the listener in with another tender, wider, melody.
A honey smooth vocal from Carter make the Bo Diddley beat inspired song “Neato Keen” another treat in this collection. Refusing to be pigeonholed, “Neato Keen” pulls in elements of old school rock and roll and a reggae attitude in the vocal projection and fuses itself into something creative, fresh, and fun to listen to.
“Long Time Miles” rolls in sweetly with a hefty harmonica and a smooth flowing, fulsome low end. Carter emotes with another of his large looming approaches required on this album. His voice has a hearty range and a gritty timbre, giving him a respectable croon filled with warmth and tender compassion. He makes you feel what he is singing about.
“Never Forget” closes out the disc with Zoe Alpert returning to the vocal microphone, her beautiful, silky, whispery voice emoting the tender gratitude in the words. It is at the end of this album when the listener has learned to appreciate all that Pechulis has going on in the guitars, bass, and in this song, violin. The songwriter comes up with everything from atmospheres to funky riffs to straight melody lines with the guitars, bass, and every other instrument that seemed to be peaking out from behind a large sound but was actually a larger part of the song than the listener initially perceived.
Also helping Pechulis flesh out his songs on this CD are: Rick Albert, Bill Bissett, Daniel Faille, Doug Parks, Nate Karallas, Richard Lavoie, Billy Sciore, Scott O’Brien, Rich Cesarini, John Moore, Paul Curran, Tony Perriera, Andrea Auger, Tim Mahoney, and Faith Pyne.
Al Pechulis has much to be grateful for. His incredibly talented friends have put a lot of themselves into his songs and his project, fleshing out the disc with a gentle sweeping sound that envelopes the listeners in an enjoyable aural landscape.