Sitting on chair that had seen more famous asses than my own in the steamy surroundings of the Bonnaroo press compound nearly one year ago, River City Extension’s Joe Michelini assured this inquisitor the new record he and the Toms River-based Folk-Rock collective was constructing would be nothing like the group’s debut LP The Unmistakable Man.
Michelini was truthful.
Standing on the hallowed grounds of The Stone Pony on November 23rd as the band performed a series of new songs to a sold out congregation at its annual Thanksgiving show, Michelini spoke of the road’s influence on the forthcoming collection, and how travel can offer new experiences that alter an artist’s mind and perception.
And so it has.
When the outfit’s primary songwriter held an intimate acoustic performance in a certain Mattison Avenue gallery on a chilly December evening this past Winter, a collection of music sculpted by those people surrounding him, and society’s blind intolerance was what he promised.
And that is what’s being presented today.
River City Extension’s latest effort is an amalgamation of Michelini’s prefaces and vows; the world’s bigotries and the personal effects they have on a man; and a detailed waltz through recent history in the life and times of a songwriter. All of the internal chasms the collective’s debut full-length was unable to explore and expound upon, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Your Anger ventures in earnest.
Act I: An Open Book With Empty Pages
“I’m making/all my mistakes/with an open heart/and my soul to take” croons Michelini on the opening bookend, “Glastonbury,” a slow trudging march led by rattling chain crashes, moaning violin rides, rolling two-part vocal harmonies with Sam Tacon, and a brand of candor highlighting eloquent honesty as an extended theme.
With his ticker an open scroll, Michelini invites the listener into his own internal uncertainties, questioning his craft with “Slander,” (Since when do I write poetry/Since words didn’t mean a thing to me/Since being down meant singing more/Since I became so insecure), his path to love in the title track and “Welcome To Pittsburg,” (I spend my days out in the sand/You said be my baby lets start a band/But I haven’t decided where I’m going/It’s hard to love something I’ve never known), and his ability to transform these emotional drafts into art on “If You Need Me Back In Brooklyn” (A song is coursing through my blood/Like a piece of me that I can’t touch/LET IT OUT!)…and when one is left without options, the journey can truly begin.
Act II: Blazing A Westward Trail
“Hollow in the cold of Spring/I left my home, to find out what I believe in,” states Michelini with his first words spoken on “Point Of Surrender,” an electric six string-driven serenade, with piano riffing at its backbone, which sets a purpose for this westward expedition.
While riding the byways, “Standing Outside A Southern Riot” broaches the idea of developing personalized views on friends (who can you trust?) and religion (who are the faithless to destroy a believer’s convictions?), while “Ballad Of Oregon” and “The Fall And The Need To Be Free” furthers the concept of freedom seeking with intense lyricism, accompanied by acoustic guitar slashes both subdued and furious, divulging into the transformation that takes place when the recently-unshackled consume their first addictive taste of a world beyond their own (Pay no mind to/things that bind you/They are just a product of your fear and what you’ve seen/what you are, and want to be).
“Everything West Of Home/Brooklyn (Reprise)” marks the return to a familiar locale, with a once hollow heart now full, a formerly empty mind saturated, and the words of Robert Frost acting as one’s feeling of responsibility to leave burning torches on the path from enlightenment for those future trailblazers willing to take the plunge.
Act 3: Don’t Worry Yourself Sick
“Golden Tongue (Thanatopsis)” is the lull of a retreat to normalcy; it’s reflecting on an eventful year now passed and pondering the next move; it’s praying all the work you’ve put into making something of yourself wasn’t for naught…and the frightening realization that it may be true. The musical wave of terror is followed by “There And Back Again” which exhibits the penman’s growing comfort of living in his own skin, accepting the situation he’s in, and working to better it. “I think I’ll be alright,” he sings, “yeah I think you’re doing fine/Don’t worry yourself sick about fucking up, I do it all the time!”
This record is more than a logical step forward on a predictable course, it’s a 14-track fossil record of individual evolution culminating with a piece of acapella field music titled “Lord, I Have Changed,” a comprehensive summation of subject matters and the tip of the proverbial ice berg protruding from these depths.
If ever there’s beauty found in honest realism Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Your Anger is a stunning example and, what’s more, a warning to never let the flame of life burning within be snuffed out.
Must Heat Track: “There And Back Again”