[18 December 2006]
When you listen to a lot of music, it’s easy to enter a state of sensory overload, a state where everything you hear, no matter how powerful, starts to sound like so much noise. All the rappers start saying the same things, all the riffs start sounding the same, and if you hear another electronic beat that sounds like OONTZ OONTZ OONTZ you may just start searching for the nearest sharp, pointy object to stick in your eye.
Abstinence is one way to rekindle the desire for aural stimulation, though abstinence can be difficult for the music junkie, he or she of the everpresent iPod and the ten million-track MP3 collection, he or she of the music library with its own insurance policy. Well, I’m here to tell you that there is another way, that there exists a lovely route to a cleansed palette, one that allows you to keep listening to music just as long as you like: The solution is a little album called Canyon Songs, by one Tony Lucca.
Why Lucca? Why Canyon Songs? Because this is blank-slate music in the best possible way. There is absolutely nothing even remotely approaching a bum note, or a noisy stretch, or a yell, or anything that could challenge a prospective listener at all. And while this may seem like a bad thing, it’s so unflinchingly pleasant that it’s easy, not to mention perfectly natural, to forgive its lack of reach. This is the fourth such effort for the 30-year-old former actor, and it’s proof that this is an approach that he’s honing and perfecting, creating lovely, easily-forgotten music for himself, his acoustic guitar, and his backing band. At this point, he’s so good at it, you may even forget the album exists before you take it out of your CD player, thus resulting in a nice little surprise when you open up the tray. It works that well.
Those reading this review might assume that my own insistence that there is nothing at all memorable on Canyon Songs must mean that there are no catchy tunes on the album. Not true—while they’re on, songs like opener “Death of Me”, the upbeat “Sarah Jane”, and the downcast and dark “Julia” are all plenty catchy. It’s when you move on to something else that you’ll forget them. “Julia”, for its part, has this lovely minor-key vibe where Lucca expertly arpeggiates his guitar chords, giving the song a strangely Spanish, classical vibe, even as his lyrics are oddly predictable: “You walk the sandy stretch and through the dusty gate / Taxi’s waiting patiently / Five dollar takes you right into the mire / Ten more, straight to your fantasy,” he says, allowing for something like smoky ambience, even as the chorus goes into a fairly schmaltzy “Julia, we were meant to be tonight”. The other side of the coin is the sunny “Sarah Jane”, which is something like every Del Amitri song you’ve ever heard rolled into one, which is fine, though if you hear this song five years down the road, you’ll swear it was Del Amitri who sung this song, having no recollection of any Mr. Lucca.
For the most part, it seems, Lucca is fine with his place in the singer-songwriter canon, content to write nice songs that people will certainly like well enough. Still, everyone wants their time in the sun to say something more, and it’s quite obvious that Lucca sees his chance in the track that falls in the center of Canyon Songs. There are three periphery indications that this is Lucca’s “serious” song, the one destined to put him amongst the ranks of Springsteen and Mellencamp in his observation of the pathos of modern America. First, there’s the unwieldy title, “The Hustler, the Widow and the Boy from Detroit”. Second, there’s the harmonica that adorns the instrumental stretches. Third, he uses the f-word once, though it’s not as himself but as one of the characters in the song. The problem is, however, that his ultimate conclusion is that “bad things happen to good people every day”, as he repeats in the chorus of the song. That’s it. This failure to find something a little deeper makes this attempt at timelessness just as much wallpaper as the rest of his album.
So go ahead, put Canyon Songs in your player. Let its mystifyingly peaceful banality wash over you. And then, when it ends, put your own music of choice back in the player. Trust me, it’ll sound that much better once your palette is cleansed, your expectations hollowed out by something that never, ever manages anything more than “pleasant”.