I wasn’t a huge fan of The Brain Shapiro Band’s It’s Amazing after my first listen. I appreciated its skill, applauded its bravery, and definitely heard its strengths but, overall, I felt a yawning gap between my emotional expectations for a music release and what Shapiro and his bandmates are willing to deliver.
It’s rare, however, that I listen to something one time and never again. It’s Amazing started growing on me the second time around. “Ambitigeddon”, once remote with its seemingly herky-jerky melody, now played in a much more elastic fashion, and a strong groove emerged. The song title promised a lot to me, equating runaway ambition with some sort of Armageddon, and initially didn’t live up to its promise. It’s much more of a poetic meditation on the subject that gains added luster with each new listen.
“Am Now” is nearly 180 degrees different. The lyrics for several of the album’s songs have an outright autobiographical slant, or at least the suggestion of it, and the heightened emotional tenor of his vocals give it added layers of meaning. It doesn’t really matter, however, in the end if it is or not – what matters most is if listeners believe it and Shapiro is convincing. The music has a different approach as well. Its acoustic foundations and lead guitar give it a distinctly divergent character from its predecessors.
The lonesome wail of St. Clair Simmons’ trombone punctuates “Go To” with plaintive hurt without ever sounding overwrought. It’s one of the album’s most unique lyrics, I believe, but anyone looking for more “likeable scenarios” in a song will probably want to go elsewhere. It’s a vivid depiction of a dysfunctional relationship, not lacking dark humor, and continues the album’s tradition of songs with theatrical arrangements.
The Philadelphia-based four-piece reaches another peak with “More Memories”. It’s a solo performance, for all intents and purposes, as Shapiro pairs down the arrangement to his voice and Alex Posmontier’s piano. It’s quite a clever bit of songwriting. Shapiro’s vocals manage to weave genuine pathos into the song. The plethora of self-reflection present throughout Shapiro’s lyrics undoubtedly owes something to his tumultuous upbringing and the lifelong process of coming to terms with the past.
“All of the Time” has a kind of alternative jazz feel and the arrangement hangs together well. Ben Kutner-Duff’s drums set a definite tone from the outset and the production captures an especially evocative sound. It’s a consistent quality of the album. It’s another withering self-appraisal on a release full of such moments. Behn Gillece’s vibraphone is an important component of the track and the finale “Savor”.
It’s notable, however, that the “retrospective” songs are far darker than those grounded in the present. The finale falls into the latter camp. It’s important to note that, despite the torment of the earlier tracks, the Brian Shapiro Band closes the album on a much mote-tempered note. Gillece’s vibraphone has the musical effect of filling the song with a shaft of light. It’s sweetening without ever sounding saccharine. The Brian Shapiro Band’s It’s Amazing has a fierce identity unlike anything you’ll hear and it’s well worth a listen.