Michael Falzarano is like a hidden hand, we've all heard his music, but many would be surprised by his musical resume. So it might be helpful to start with Michael's past in order to explain how his new album came to be. For over 35 years Falzarano has been a member of some of the more influential groups in jam-band history. He founded his own band, The Memphis Pilgrims, but also has been a member of Hot Tuna, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, and has played with everyone from members of the Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers to Dr. John, Trey Anastasio, and Bruce Hornsby. The influences of these musicians are clear in his new album We Are All One (streets 10-28-2008).
Considering his impressive resume, it's no surprise to learn that he's assembled a cast of legends to contribute to the recording process. Don't get me wrong, it's Falzarano's songwriting and performance that makes this album a gem, but the cast of musical visionaries simply adds that extra layer of shine. Some contributors include the late Vassar Clements, Melvin Seals (JGB), Buddy Cage (NRPS), Jorma Kaukonen (Hot Tuna/Jefferson Airplane), Garth Hudson (The Band), Professor Louie, Pete Sears, and over a dozen more top notch musicians.
The album is potluck of various genres and musical styles. While this can be a risky proposition for many musicians, Falzarano handles this with precision and grace crafting the entire album as a gradual transition from style to style. It's a method which I think serves his style of songwriting very well.
With that said picking highlights of this album is quite a challenge since the entire album does not have one song which caused me to reach for the fast forward button. However there are a few songs which I find myself liking more each time I listen to them. "Sweet Marie" with its catchy yet simplistic lyrics, contagious organ and guitar riffs helps add to the strong start of the album. "Candy Man" a more basic stripped down song has the majority of the song being carried mostly by Falzarano's vocals and Vassar Clements' fiddle creating a duet between man and instrument. "It's Just My Way" is a great tune which standalone would have been fantastic, but adding Jorma's lead guitar and Dave Castiglione's saxophone give it that extra polish and make it extraordinary. Other highlights include "When There's Two There's Trouble" and "Crazy Days."
To be honest though, my favorite song on the album has to be "To Let the Fire Die." This is the one song on the album that reached out and made me completely stop what I was doing and just listen. This song is a bit slower and more reflective than all songs up this point and it speaks to something all of us have experienced at one point or another in our lives, making a strong connection with the listener. Not only does it make that connection but it was well crafted with just the right amount of solos and instrumentation but with engaging lyrics and vocal intonation. With such a distinctly different type of song than the rest of the album, perhaps Falzarano stepped out of his comfort zone with this one, but whatever he did, he's doing it right.
The album rounds out with a thoughtful acoustic number which is also the album's title track "We Are All One," which as the title suggests implores us to realize that we aren't that different than each other and to get along with each other for once.
The thirteenth track is a tribute to Allen Woody, the late bassist for Gov't Mule, and was previously recorded in 2005 for his solo project The King James Sessions. The album ends with the only instrument song on the album "Gonna Power Down Now" which just as the title suggests lets the listener unwind and think about all that's been said on the album.
Picking out highlights of this album was a very hard thing to do, not because there were none, but because the whole album was consistently a very listenable one. We've all heard albums where there are only a few decent songs and the rest is filler, this is clearly not the case here. The album is a grower; it's the type of album that each time you listen to it you hear something new that you'll love. Unfortunately the album's greatest strength is also its biggest weakness. With being such an even album with only (in my opinion) one song that jumps above the rest, the casual listener might dismiss it as generic and at times it can. Lyrically Falzarano falls a bit short on a few songs, however this is not an album carried solely on its lyrical prowess and therefore it is not really a huge shortfall.
I'm going to give Michael Falzarano's album We Are All One four stars out of five, for being an extremely well produced, well written, and exceptionally performed album. The shortcomings that I saw were minimal and I certainly look forward to hearing more from Michael. The album is released on Woodstock Records and can be purchased directly from them or through your favorite online retailer or local music store.