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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Rick Price

The Water’s Edge

Review by Bruce Stringer

Rick Price would probably best be known in Australia for his hit, “Heaven Knows,” but he has managed to strip away the old, long haired, smiley pop look and presents himself as the riverside thinking man’s songwriter, the Billy Bob Thornton of the Australian music world, if you will. Recorded in New York (although much of the writing process was done in Nashville), the country flavor has been maintained without the sacrifice of an over-modern production style.

This is Rick’s first album of new material since 2003 and with that comes the departure from his pop-rock tendencies and a closer association to the acoustic roots of a more traditional sound. Here is a man maturing with his art taking the listener on a familiar voyage, re-discovering the magic sometimes lost on the journey of life, love and the search for the spirit within. The Water’s Edge is late night listening and might suit people interested in a lighter, more evolved sound after a night out on the town. Songs range from just under three minutes to just short of five minutes, making the album an easier listen than a CD with overly-extended tracks. While a lesser act might rely more heavily on such spatial production, it is the strength of material and precision of performance which define the difference between smoky, late-night blues and over-produced, yet drawn out, boredom; Price’s maturity as an artist sets him firmly in control, making every nuance a felt moment where the listener waits in anticipation of the next.

Although aimed at the international market, many of the production ideas might be closer to the works of an artist like Bruce Hornsby, making its target more of a US one. The vocals, for one, feel like they are accented with American pronunciations more so than his natural Australian, which is fine, but may confuse the newly-initiated as to the origins of the singer-songwriter. It is artists like Price who manage to move through genres and styles in a more fluid motion than other popular artists in the mainstream and – although I’d seriously doubt whether he’ll do a lute album any time soon – he gets his teeth into the style and lives it with a passion. This might be the most important quality in the alchemical development of any musician or writer - to be at home with the nuances of style, stripping away cliché and stereotype to produce the gold that is to be found in the spirit of the meaning.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
The Water’s Edge
With deep south sentiment, the chugging percussive liveliness sets a foundation for some explorative acoustic and slide guitars, while Price’s voice – up close in the speakers – has a relaxed, under-stated drawl. Being one of Price’s own compositions, he utilizes a modest simplicity, echoing the early folk work of British band, The Waterboys, which captures a certain timeless quality. At just under three minutes, “The Water’s Edge” is a brilliant little opener and sets the mood for much of what’s to come.
I’ve Got It Good
Delicate, yet driven, it’s the space between the instruments, the openness in the arrangement that takes the listener on a voyage. With an acoustic guitar introduction, there is a turn and the song begins true. With a heavy reliance on a syncopated 4/4 pattern and some multi-layered vocals throughout the choruses, what could have become an all-out epic of repetition is tamed with a sense of profound maturity. The song delivers what it sets out to and pulls back, leaving the taste for more.
Shape of My Heart
With acoustic guitar and synth, the pulsing rhythmic syncopation of “I’ve Got It Good” is reprised for a totally different construct. Piano notes pour out of the left channel as dobro slide guitar melts through the right. Mantra-like male voices weave a sepia fabric for Price’s rustic, gravelly linen cloth: the delicate and the mildly harsh combine to produce spiritual material, the bearer of which is experiencing alchemy through love. This track is a definite potential single, if it’s not already seen that usage.
Angels

With its hint of darkness, this piece takes the musical direction into moodier areas; if the first three songs were at the water’s edge then “Angels” definitely makes the leap into deeper, darker waters. The harmonium has an eerie quality to it, setting the mood of the song and the development within the minor key gives it that demented fairy tale element, often so haunting, always memorable. This is another solo-penned Price composition and my favourite number from this CD.

I’m Coming Home
Returning to the feathery, snare brush strokes, “I’m Coming Home” seems to be a companion piece to the opening title track. With similar musical elements and lyrical musings, if Price went down to the water’s edge on song one, then this could be his return to the water (making the next song, “River,” part of an unintentional concept trilogy). The uplifting lightness and stomp-rhythm acoustic work exceptionally well with the double-tracked vocals. Even the vocal inflections – appearing, at first, to be improvisational or accidental – contain the precision of perfected musical arrangement.
River
Here Joni Mitchell’s “River” is given the Rick Price treatment. Over the years, there have been an excess of versions yet, very few have managed to add to Mitchell’s original or “become” the cover artist’s. Price’s version holds firm to his style, never feeling out of place from the overall direction and sound of the CD and, possibly, intentionally employed to further the message of the album, as per a concept piece. The sounds are lush, the mix is subtle and the make-up is full of the dynamic ingredients one would expect from an artist with the foresight of Price. The CD promo materials list this as “a hauntingly beautiful rendition” and I would whole-heartedly agree.
Killin’ The Blues
With a recent release of this track by Alison Krauss and ex-Led Zeppelin vocalist, Robert Plant, Price’s version relies on a minimalist approach with a pronounced intimacy. The acoustic guitar is driven but never overpowers the voice. It is the only other cover song on the album and, although a great little take on the song, it may seem slightly out of place as Price’s own lyrics echo a softer sentiment.
It Starts With A Kiss
Jumping thematically from “River,” this continues the yearning, emotional quality that saturates the atmosphere of the recordings. The drums are more pronounced and the return of dual-vocal chorus harmonies take on a new musical meaning as lead-in to a very short Beatles-like orchestral section. The electric guitar tremolo effect sits nicely in the country-esque, western sound and the late night bluesy atmosphere surrounds as the listener is immersed in the smoky bar of Price’s world.
When I Fell For You
This second to last track draws on a 6/8 rhythm with light, feathery music, almost held back. The vocals are upfront in the mix and work on an intimacy that defies the fuller band sound. There’s a wandering slide guitar that could easily be mistaken for violin and performs in a similar fashion. The bass playing – an element that binds much of this CD together – really makes a display in the louder sections. Actually, most of the instruments jump out at one point or another making it the one song which really allows the various performers room to do their thing. I would be interested to hear this tune live to hear how the subtleties translate to a stage format alongside the heavier interplay.
The Last Goodbye
My first impression of this was it’s similarity to Depeche Mode’s “Somebody”: slight tonal and modal accents, small key change moments, instrumental orchestration, heartfelt male vocals. The moments of slowed timing have dramatic effect and there is a feeling of the non-resolved at the final climax. The topic is morbid, although Price manages to keep an air of buoyancy throughout. This is a great piece to end an album of soothing styles, merging conflicting directions into a consciously focused tapestry of finely woven musical moments.
 
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