Benny Paul – Normal as The Next Guy…..

Benny Paul- My Kind of Normal
Self-released

When I receive a promo package from an artist/band in the mail which they have sent for review consideration, one might think the music would be the first thing I would check out as that’s what the whole deal is about, right? Well, no. At least, not for me. The first thing I look at when I open the envelope is the (hopefully) enclosed bio one-sheet. There on that sheet of paper should be a decent three or four paragraph write-up about the artist’s history, his inspirations, how the enclosed album came to be recorded, the inspiration behind it and so forth. I am expecting the bio to tell me briefly what is important and special about the artist/band, whether it be the act’s experience, background, mindset, or any other factoid that will set this act apart from all the other acts in the world. In Paul’s case, the most interesting thing about him was this bio quote: “I’ve always preferred the pop style of songs as opposed to the more instrumental (where the focus is on individual talent rather than songs). John Cougar Mellencamp instead of John Coltrane. The Rolling Stones instead of Charlie Parker.” that struck me about Paul’s mindset. While music is always in the ear of the beholder and arguments can be made, however esoteric, for quantity of albums being sold as a yardstick for which artist is “better” than another it is interesting Paul makes his musical “picks” this way as I am sure Mellencamp and Richards would have a grand chuckle at their “victories” over their respective “adversaries” in Paul’s examples. But, personal faves and skewed ideas about instrumentals vs. pop songs aside, Paul’s choice of album cover art, album title and bio writeup ramblings made me intensely interested in popping this CD into the old player – not a bad thing for an artist’s package to inspire, so great going there, Mr. Paul.

The first song, Gabrielle, starts out with some very well played acoustic guitar and the resultant instrumental is very well done and a decent opening for Paul’s disc. According to the bio notes, this is the same song Paul submitted for consideration to the Berkely College of Music, where Paul ended up studying. As soon as the acoustic guitar hits its’ last note, Paul comes in with the second tune, a rampaging rocker entitled Goodbye to Heartache. It’s a decent song but not very well produced compared to the first cut. It has a tinny sound and is loaded with distortion, which is okay for a loud rock song, but it still could have been produced a lot better than this, as it sounds like a live cut just tacked on to the album. The song itself is just okay, as the lyrics and melody are not particularly memorable. The third song I Wanna Be Your Man (no, not a cover of one of The Rolling Stones early songs) slows the proceedings down a bit into a more mid-tempo rock beat but still with the tinny, under-produced sound though you can understand the,lyrics better and the melody seems more solid than the previous cut.

The following song Cry When It’s Over is also a little slower, still in the mid-tempo range and more folky, almost like The Animals’ classic House of The Rising Son in mood but with less memorable lyrics, not that you can really underdstand them with the production. Decent guitar-playing from Paul but I am still waiting for everything to click. The next song So Far Away returns to the blasting rock of the second cut. It’s more punkish than metal, and the sound has a snotty sort of rebelliousness that I like but the lyrics once again seem throwaway (when I can hear them) and the sound once again is very tinny and sounds like a live cut instead of something produced in a studio. Paul’s guitar-work is fine (as it has been the whole way so far) and the band sounds tight. I am wondering if someone else should be singing Paul’s songs as he doesn’t seem to have the voice for it, or at least is not confident enough with his voice to feature it in a prominent way. The next cut Are You Happy?! starts out with some gritty rhythym guitar before blasting off into a bopping pseudo-punk rock number that is decent enough given the previous limitations about Paul’s sound I have already mentioned. This is Paul’s catchiest song yet and the song which stands the most chance of radio success in my opinion, but it would definitely need some sound polishing by a skillful producer for sure. The next cut up is Afternoon In The Park and is an acoustic number like the opening cut and very well played with a great melody. I am thinking Paul should stick with this style instead of the rock as he really is a great guitar player and maybe should stick with the clean acoustic sound instead of the distorted rock sound which comes off as nothing too special or unique. Cardboard Box, the next song, is real poppy with a xylophone opening and a very catchy melody. Kind of gimmicky but possibly Paul’s most accessible song and his vocals are finally clear and totally understandable. The lyrics are catchy but nothing special, though the sing-song chorus allows that approach to work. Paul’s next cut, Six String Jimmy, features him singing through a Vocoder and playing lightning-fast guitar licks quite skillfully as he throttles up the heebee-jeebies on this rocker. Great guitar line and an interesting vocal approach though he will surely not supplant Peter Frampton as voice-altering champ though Paul gives it more than a decent try. This song is better produced than most of the previous and it seems Paul’s CD is much better on the second half than the first as his work has considerably improved since the halfway mark. Some decent gypsy acoustic guitar interlude before the rock returns mightily towards the end. The next cut up, This Is Your Song, is another mid-tempo rocker, though slightly slower and more plodding, and the vocals are more upfront though Paul’s voice is very thin and reedy. More folky approach on this song, complete with acoustic guitar on the first verse before some thundering electric chaos guitar tones on the chorus. Acoustic guitar returns on the verses and song continbues to alternate between electric guitar madness and the softer acoutsic work on the verses. Great use of dynamics by Paul on this cut. The allbum ends with the song It’s All a Little Crazy which, predictably, is completely gonzo, opening with “booga booga booga” and going South from there. Interesting way to end an album, but if you got a throwawy tune, might as well save it for the end for the few people who have made it that far.

An interesting album from Paul and one causing some conflict regarding my review. There are many things I like about this set of songs including the two acoustic instrumentals which I thought were the best things about the album, Paul’s guitar work, the energy displayed on the more rock-oriented songs, and a lot of the individual songs themselves after the fifth song or so including my fave of the pop songs, Cardboard Box. But, there ae just as many, if not more, qualities about this album which need much improvement before Paul can give his fans or the public the product they deserve. Most importantly, better productrion. While I am aware this aspect may be the most expensive part of a whole recording project, I feel it is also the most important. An excellent, stellar song can be written by an artist but if it is brought to the public with an unpleasant sound or an aggravating one, very few people will bother to listen. Better production values will clear up many of the problems with this disc including the tinny sound and buried vocals. Paul also has a distinctive voice which production may help. Thanks to artists like Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Tom Petty, we have learned you do not have to be a great technical singer to sing rock and roll but a few production tricks may bring out the best of his vocal sound while minimizing the lesser aspects. And, while I feel the lyrics could be better written, a lot of them I simply couldn’t hear very well so I am giving Paul the benefit of the doubt on that aspect. In its’ present state, I would not advise people to buy this record but I hear many strong qualities in Paul’s work and he is definitely an artist to watch as once he fixes his weaker aspects he will be an artist with a very strong upside.

http://www.myspace.com/bennypaulmusic