Native San Franciscan Tom Luce returned from Greensboro, North Carolina to record his eponymous debut album, or so the publicity goes, with a handful of local musicians he met upon his return. Upon that fabled return, Luce reabsorbed his hometown’s musical history and channeled it into this record, originally released to much less fan fare in 2002.
Luce is frat rock at its best.
Like Jack Johnson and John Mayer before him (more on that later), Luce found success on AAA radio with the energetic, horn-driven “Good Day”. It went on to become one of the top 10 songs on AAA radio in 2002 and find a place on the film, How to Loose a Guy in 10 Days. Since then, Luce has been on the road trying to hold onto that momentum while the self-titled debut was re-released this year to capitalize on its sought-after place on the shrinking play lists of radio programmers. Sounds like the making of the feel-good story of the summer, right? Well, let’s not be so hasty.
There’s a lot of good things to be said about Tom Luce and his music. The songs are catchy as hell. Their mostly sunny disposition isn’t likely to shoot up too many red flags even in the most hostile, music-snob environment. Yet, after a few listens, you find yourself drifting off, thinking of other things. In other words, there’s not much to sink your teeth into here.
The opener, “Long Way Down”, has the afore-mentioned Johnson and annoying wonder boy Mayer written all over it. This is what San Francisco sounds like? Well, maybe the ATO house at the University of San Francisco. And yet, that’s not wholly a bad thing. If you’re not careful, you’re likely to find yourself swaying back and forth with the rhythm. And the theme, “togetherness at last”, isn’t all that horrible, right? I’m looking at you, Yippies.
The second track, AAA radio-hit “Good Day”, maybe goes a little overboard on the horns, though that’s probably what programmers liked the best. You can envision them sitting around rubbing their hands together now that they have something to fill the spaces between each Dave Matthews Band release. There’s that negativity slipping in again. But have no fear, if “Good Day” doesn’t put you in a good mood, I don’t know what will. It’s a laid back ditty about waking up to blue skies, the cat sleeping in the sun and tomorrow shaping up to be even better. I see this being an instant classic for visor-clad, blond college girls driving around the University of Florida campus in their custom red Jeeps with the rag top down and the radio blaring.
“Numb”, the third track, has to be Ben Harper, doesn’t it? Nope. It’s Luce again. This time, though, it’s sensitive, young, college boy Luce. He understands your pain, he sees what you’re about. You often feel out of place in this big ole’ world don’t you? People see you as one person, but that’s not who stares back at you in the mirror. Yes, Luce is here to save you, lonely, misunderstood sorority girl. It’s only a matter of time before this one makes it to the quad blanket for co-ed study time.
“Electric Chair”, “Life”, and “In the Middle There” are more middle-of-the-road, Ben-Harper-wannabe harmlessness. But then our hero Tom takes a turn for the worse with “Sunniest of Weekends”, a sugary sweet summer sing-along that straddles up a little too comfortably to Rembrandts territory (see theme song of popular television program Friends and a feckless but catchy late ’80s, early ’90s career). The Rembrandts return for “Here”, one song after another Harper/DMB/Jackson/Mayer ditty called “Bring Here In”. All in all, Luce is like a list of ingredients for a sunny, even happy, day. It may be pretty boring from an artistic standpoint, but there are worse things you can say about a record.
The last track, however, actually offers a glimmer of post-AAA hope. “After Tomorrow” is a slow burning acoustic number that, gasp, may be a step away from the Mayer heads. And it’s actually pretty good. There’s a hint of alt-country here, a lonesome violin, a heart-broken harmonica and some of the first honest lyrics we get our ears around. If he can resist the temptation to give in to popularity, he may be able to grow into someone worth all of the hype. Maybe we’ll have to keep an eye on this Luce guy after all.