Richard X. Heyman plays almost all the instruments — drums, guitars, keyboards, and more — and sings lead vocals on his 11th studio LP, Incognito. That’s nothing new, as he’s been doing this type of thing since the early ’70s. Because of technological issues, however, this was much more difficult to do back then, and it’s still uncommon today. Yet, doing so allows Heyman to make personal music without compromise.
On his latest release, Heyman posits himself as a lone wolf on the roadside who observes society from the outside. We experience the world from his perspective, without really knowing the narrator except through his reactions. In a world where trust is at a premium, it’s difficult to judge what he sings. “Confusion” and “illusion” are just two words he himself uses to describe what he sees. Heyman even admits to traveling incognito and pretending to be someone he’s not. Trust in the disguise? That’s asking a lot from the listener.
As a result, the best way to hear this 14-song disc may be through a filter, such as in a noisy room or next door to the hi-fi. The catchy guitar lines and pleasant vocals create an agreeable sound without ever getting buried under their own weight. There’s always something happening, be it a shift in tempo, a nice guitar riff, and/or a voice insistently making a statement. The pieces of his songs work as independent hooks that invitingly beckon (just don’t listen too closely). The result is that “confusion” mentioned earlier.
This may sound harsh — or at best, like faint praise — but that’s not the case. The music on Heyman’s new release reveals his considerable talents. He started rocking as a teenager in New Jersey during the ’60s, and he’s performed and recorded for decades, contributing much during the years. He was once on a major label, but he has also been too idiosyncratic for the general public. His flaws are those of a man who believes in himself a bit too much, but who is also wise enough not to buy into social definitions of who he should be. He is a bit of an oddball. But, he is also a very talented musician!
Heyman may be eclectic or even eccentric, but he’s also a rocker. His songs fall into the power pop category; along with musicians like Marshall Crenshaw, Material Issue, and the Posies, Heyman understands that hard rock can be loud without heavy thuds. After all, the sound of an electric guitar or a human voice has much more force when it is not part of a wall of noise. On the best songs here, such as “A Fool’s Errand”, “Her Garden Path”, and “Gleam”, Heyman controls the material through his voluble ringing guitar. The music fluently travels higher and higher without ever losing its way. There is no noodling, just clean playing.
As mentioned, Heyman wrote, produced, and performed Incognito with minimal assistance. He nimbly added harmony vocals, strings, and horns with a tasteful touch. That said, there is a purposeful fuzziness to the overall sound. The music is never too clean and polished; it has a roughness to it. The singer may be an outside observer, but he does feel things as this is an emotional album.