Text (c) Nancy Foster / FFanzeen, 2020
Introduction (c) Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen
The following is a guest review of the new album by New England-based musician Tom Guerra, written by Nancy Foster. – RBF, 2020.
Sudden Signs of Grace
Casa Del Soul Records
Sudden Signs of Grace is the fourth solo album by guitarist/songwriter Tom Guerra. It follows American Garden in 2018, Trampling out the Vintage in 2016, and All of the Above in 2014. Guerra is also known as a collaborator of the world’s greatest band, The Yardbirds and for his tastefully name rock‘n’roll band, The Mambo Sons.
“It’s All In The Skies” is a singer/songwriter plus alternative country amalgam like Tom Petty writing for Old 97s. There is something about the lovely, wistful vibe that brings the Hummingbird Syndicate to mind. In fact, when the quarantine lifts, Jon Macey and Tom Guerra should book a show or tour together.
“Lonely No More” is an uplifting ballad about “being back amongst the living.” Guerra says in the liner notes: “Everybody starts out lonely, and with luck and grace, we find ourselves, and then each other.” Matt Zeiner paints this number with warm washes of color, using piano and Hammond organ.
As far as “Lover’s Time,” Guerra and I aren’t on the same page – we are on the same word! I have always thought a guitar – especially a twelve-string guitar – and a male voice were beauty personified. Guerra says that he has “always enjoyed twelve-string, poppy tunes,” like similar tunes in his songbook, “Here’s Tomorrow” and “Tell The World.” For me, this is in a Dave Edmunds/Nick Lowe mode: multi-layered harmonies and driving power chords on a pleasant wave of nostalgia, all delivered anthemically.
“Sudden Signs Of Grace,” the title track, features Kenny Aaronson on fretless bass. If Aaronson’s name sounds familiar, it may because of his association with Bob Dylan and George Harrison. Guerra wrote this after a walk in the woods on New Year’s Day. It is delivered in a world music mode.
When Guerra heard Eddie Money was ill, he recorded one of his favorites by Money and sent it to him. “Gimme Some Water” takes me back to high school days when the Southern Rhythm and Blues of the Allman Brother ruled the radio. I am hearing a pastiche that includes The Eagles, Jackson Brown, and Steve Miller.
“The Greatest Show On Earth” was inspired by a Syd Barrett quote: “I’ve got a very irregular head.” Something about the line, “Welcome to the greatest show on earth!,” is deflating. Guerra, here and throughout this recording, captures happy/sad ideas and emotions. That dichotomy sums up our conflicted times. Being on the edge of a cliff is exhilarating because the joy of life is the strongest at the moment when it is all at the most risk of being ripped away.
“Just Like The Sun” is a thirty-year-old lyric that Guerra discovered and resurrected to put to music. It features Matt Zeiner and Morgan Fisher of Mott The Hoople and Queen on keyboards, giving the song an exalted, hymn-like power. Aaronson crafted the strings and string arrangements on “Inspiration Memories,” which Guerra dedicates to his father. The sense of the weight of the passage of time is emphasized intermittently through percussive sounds that represent a ticking clock. (Or maybe a ticking bomb considering our current political landscape!)
“Down The Farm” sounds like an unholy union of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. A Rainbow Coalition collaboration on an alternative plane. It is transporting to hear “Streets Of Baltimore.” Whether you are Team Bare or Team Parsons, Guerra delivers the best musical theater since Scott Walker took Jacques Brel to a whole new level with “Amsterdam” and “My Death.” I can’t help but envision the angel wings of Chet Atkins embracing Guerra and the musical soulmates here. “The Sleep Song” closes this bittersweet, nuanced recording with a cool instrumental that is both mellow and majestic.