CD by Pete Molinari.
With the release of his second full-length album, A Virtual Landslide, singer-songwriter Pete Molinari has created a beautiful, warm and sincere record of classic heartbreak songs. A Virtual Landslide is a series of perfect marriages, artistically speaking, making it one of the finest albums to be released so far this year.
The first marriage is the collaboration between Molinari and producer Liam Watson, proprietor of Toe-Rag Studios in London. Watson employs analog recording and vintage equipment to produce the sort of warmer, rounder sound you heard before digital recording took over. His studio has been frequented by musicians such as Holly Golightly, Billy Childish, The Zutons and, most famously, The White Stripes (for Elephant). On A Virtual Landslide, Watson brings out Molinari's emotion and deft phrasing, while helping put together a crack band to provide a full, but not overwhelming, support that enhances each song.
There's the band, a group of seasoned UK musicians that includes guitarist Ed Turner and keyboardist Carwin Ellis from Watson's own group, The Bristols. Session drummer Rupert Brown, bassist Matt Redford (whose recent work includes playing on the latest Nick Lowe gem, At My Age) and pedal steel legend BJ Cole, whose work spans from Brian Eno, REM and Bjork to Tammy Wynette, Elvis Costello and Emmylou Harris, fill out a "dream" band.
Watson captures their intimacy, as if you are sitting there in the studio with them, performing live. Because it is, sort of. There are no overdubs on these sessions, which mean that the songs were recorded, take by take, live, on single takes. The result is a session influenced by the sound of Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline, with its country-folk-soul vibe, which, in turn, draws its influence from country-soul of the late 1960s and early 1970s artists like Arthur Alexander, Solomon Burke and Charlie Rich. This is best exemplified in songs such as the graceful "There She Still Remains."
Then, there are the songs — and the singing. Born into an Italian/Egyptian/Maltese immigrant family, Molinari left his Chatham, England upbringing and worked the café and the folk club circuit in the U.S. honing his chops, refining his influences — Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Sr., and Dylan among them. After returning to England, he recorded his first full-length recording, Walking Off the Map, a barebones recording, with only his own vocals and guitar (and a few sparse accompaniments), produced and engineered by fellow Chatham musician and songwriter Billy Childish. The album was recorded in Childish's kitchen, in a single day.
With A Virtual Landslide, Molinari's singing has become more confident and vulnerable. On songs such as "Oh Lonesome For You," "Sweet Louise," "Lest We Forget" and a cover of Childish's "I Don't Like the Man that I Am," this vulnerable quality comes through with a sense of deep sincerity. It's scary. The ghosts of the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison and most evidently Hank Williams, are distilled in Molinari's distinct voice. What's great about Molinari's songwriting is his clever use of 1960s pop influences, such as Goffin and King, to blend within the framework of these songs, rooted in country and folk, as in "Hallelujah Blues." He follows in the long line of talented British classic pop songwriters like Ray Davies, Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe, who crossbreed musical genres seamlessly. Tall company indeed, but Molinari's songs stand alongside this high standard, and A Virtual Landslide is an amazing document of the songs, performances and sound coming together perfectly to create a brilliant recording.