Monday, September 09, 2013

Face The Bird

As one-half of one of one of my all-time favorite songwriting tandems, The Figgs' Pete Donnelly has awed me for years with his talents. Not once in a quarter century has the songwriting on a Figgs record struck me as even remotely uninspired. And I'd say Donnelly has been responsible for at least half of my favorite Figgs songs. So I was more than enthused to recently hear that Donnelly had a new solo album coming out called Face The Bird. Clearly Donnelly and Mike Gent are magical together. But they've both proven that they can step out on their own and make tremendous music outside of the Figgs mold. Face The Bird is a perfect example of exactly that - a different yet completely delightful collection of pop songs.

Given the growing stylistic diversity of Donnelly's contributions to recent Figgs albums, longtime fans won't find Face The Bird's eclecticism the least bit off-putting. But this is not a Figgs record. It's a Pete Donnelly solo album - a project that has allowed an amazingly talented artist to try things that might not "fit" on a Figgs release. If you're expecting punchy power pop or sweaty rock n' roll, you're sure to be let down. But any true Donnelly fan will be absolutely thrilled with this album. It's so good. Even as Donnelly explores a wide variety of musical styles and influences, he mostly sticks to the melodic pop sensibility he's so well known for. And from a lyrical standpoint, he's never written more personal or powerful songs.

Largely recorded last fall in a makeshift home studio in an unused Ocean City, New Jersey storefront, Face The Bird is the product of Donnelly's quest to retreat into the isolation of an off-season resort town and indulge his creative muse 24/7. It's no surprise, then, that the "feel" of this album is a little different from anything we've previously heard from Donnelly. In many ways it's a throwback to the classic singer/songwriter albums of the '70s, but with enough acknowledgement of modern styles and recording techniques to keep it fresh and current. Particularly on the front end, the material is some of Donnelly's strongest in a long time. The breezy soft rock of "Always Something" is AM gold for a new generation, while the funky "Hunger Like" is a contagious shot of blue-eyed soul. And while I hear echoes of everyone from Bruce Springsteen (the great "Got Caught Up") to Paul Westerberg ("A Thing Or Two) to Jackson Browne ("Hear It From Me First"), this is uniquely a Pete Donnelly creation. His melodies dazzle as always, and it's a pleasure to encounter his many moods within the framework of a single album. The dramatic and intense "Delicate Elocution" just might be his magnum opus, and the happy-sounding title track is surprisingly profound.

After recording sessions for Face The Bird were cut short by the devastating arrival of Hurricane Sandy, the album was finished in several locations in the Philadelphia area. The ups and downs of making the record are reflected in its wide range in tone and style. It's an ambitious, bipolar achievement. Yet it flows beautifully as a whole, and it has me hoping that there will be many more Pete Donnelly solo albums to come. I wholeheartedly recommend Face The Bird - not only to fans of The Figgs, but to anyone who enjoys good music in general.



Anonymous said...

Hey, Phil here, and while I like to think I've had some influence on my little brother, I can't take credit for it's unique creation. ;-) Thanks for always keeping The Figgs in your rotation. Best, Phil

Lord Rutledge said...

Good catch, Phil! It's always nice to have some formidable proofreaders to count on!