Text by Nancy Neon / FFanzeen, 2018
Images from the Internet
Michael J. Roy
The Bright Side
Roy opens with a track called "The End." So, for Roy, the end actually becomes a beginning with a new recording for 2018. The song has a T-Rex feel. Lyrically, Roy seems to be singing about a relationship, be it romantic or creative, that teetered on the precipice of greatness only to implode. "Same Old Thing" has a cool, downbeat feeling. Musically and vocally, it will turn those on who dig Jakob Dylan or Tom Petty. It is a powerful song of regret that highlights what I have always called Roy's painterly style of guitar playing. "Impossible Ways” is vocally strong with a ‘60s pop feel. "Mr. Berserk" is someone we all know; he tries to come off as if he has it all under control, but blows up like a grenade with any or no provocation. These are some of Roy's best lyrics, where he sings of "Mr. Berserk" being followed around by a shadow that cannot be escaped. "Moving to L.A." is something I can relate to after a bad fall on the ice in Boston last winter. The track has a lovely vocal, melody, and arrangement. The music and lyrics touch the listener with an amalgam of wistfulness and wanderlust: "I can't believe/I've stayed here so long/It makes no sense/Once the summer's gone/It seems I don't know/Why I'm here at all/And I can hear that balmy West Coast call." "Point Of No Return" has a Bob Dylan/Tom Petty style vocal and overall vibe. "All The Time That Never Was" has a feeling of sadness and regret over real or perceived unrealized potential. Roy describes it as "pining for things that you know are never going to happen." This concept has resonance for me as I have been troubled by my own sense of unrealized potential. “Thin Air" has the message of striking back and ultimately surviving creatively against the threat of obsolescence. "A Reason to Live" speaks of the renewal of hope and life in the face of the increasing pressure of time and mortality. This track is fast paced, energetic, and the catchiest of the bunch along with the closer, "The Bright Side." As with "A Reason to Live," on "World Run Wild," Roy's musical mojo is at full force as he sings" My mind is on fire." So is his guitar! "The Bright Side" is a shimmering, jingle jangle power pop track in a Byrds/Dwight Twilley Band vein. When I spoke to Roy about the recording, I mentioned that I always thought he was the George Harrison of the Boston-based bands Fox Pass and Tom Dickie and the Desires. Roy showed he understood what I meant by responding by saying "dark horse." (In addition to the dictionary definition, Dark Horse was Harrison's record label.) The Bright Side is a powerful follow up to Roy's 2015 release Eclectricity.
The song "Nevermore" opens this recording with power chord/riff stylings in a classic rock vein. Guerra's voice is a combination of approachability, vulnerability, and moxy. "Goodbye to Yesterday" was written by Guerra and bassist Kenny Aaronson of The Yardbirds. This song has elements of blues, garage rock in a Sonics vein, and ‘60s pop-oriented harmonies. "Walls" is a Tom Petty number that Guerra recorded soon after Petty's death. The vocal is downbeat and the arrangement is faithful to Petty's style. "Jack for Joe" is Guerra's homage to his former roommate/manager, Joe Polito, who died about 30 years ago. Guerra described Polito as having "lived life at full-throttle racing speed." Guerra expresses a lingering fondness for his halcyon days while asking “where can we go now that we can't go home again?" "Blood on the Rising Sun" was written after the Charlottesville riots and features Jon Butcher on lead guitar. Guerra uses a Dylan/Petty style vocal to create a 21st century protest song that ends with the chant "hate cannot replace us." "Family of One" and "Lyin' King" are two more Guerra/Aaronson collaborations. These were intended for inclusion on a Jack Douglas-produced Yardbirds album – a concept that was sadly shelved. The bridge "Now that tomorrow is here at last" is a line Guerra intended as response to the Yardbirds' "Shapes of Things." "The Lyin' King" has blues harp and a garage rock-oriented feel. "The Story" is a song Guerra was moved by after hearing Brandi Carlile's version. Here Guerra's voice sounds like he is broken but still fighting to summon up faith and strength to strive for love. "Meet Me at the Bottom of the Glass" is a piano/vocal arrangement with Morgan Fisher of Mott the Hoople on keyboards. Like "Jack for Joe," it is about Guerra's friend who was lost to alcoholism. The closer, "American Garden," is thematically a pastiche of three Vietnam veterans with whom Guerra had conversations about their war experiences. The title track has an Apocalypse Now vibe with its psychedelic feel, distorted vocals, and helicopter sounds. The pop rock section of the song juxtaposed against the more ominous elements of “American Garden” highlight the dichotomy of the relative innocence of pre-Vietnam War versus the lost idealism of the post-War period. The image of the "American Garden" is all the more startling when you realize Arlington cemetery is one interpretation of the album title. This is Guerra's third solo recording. Also check out his band, The Mambo Sons.