Gerry Beckley celebrated his 64th birthday earlier this week, on Monday, September 12. We’re marking the occasion with a look at his new studio album!
One hardly expects the first verse of the first song on a new album from America’s resident romantic troubadour, Gerry Beckley, to include the lines “Everything’s turned to shit/No matter how I look at it/And I am running out of time…” But while Beckley is happily defying convention on “Tokyo” – the taut, rocking opening cut of his new album Carousel on Blue Elan Records (and also its first single) – he’s very much in his element throughout this strong collection of melodic, attractive original songs and well-chosen covers encompassing both rockers and ballads alike.
Carousel plays like a song suite, with the notion of time very much on the singer-songwriter’s mind. The pop hooks may not flow as abundantly as in the AM radio days of yore, but the resulting melodies and lyrics – all meticulously sequenced for a total album experience – grow richer with repeated listens. “Time, precious time slips away in the distance/I walk the line, ’til I fade from existence,” the artist confesses in the tense, brooding “Minutes Count.” As on “Tokyo,” however, the bleakness is leavened by the heart of a romantic hoping to make things work once more. The same goes for “Lifeline” – a soaring, textured production featuring Beatle-esque background vocals and horns (trombone and saxophone) straight out of Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park” – and “Fly” (“Everything is fading fast/Now your time has come and passed/Guess we knew this couldn’t last…”). Jeffrey Foskett supplies the subtle backing vocals on “Fly” as well as on “Tokyo.”
Dan Wilson co-wrote the attractive, low-key “No Way I’m Gonna Lose You,” blending the romantic longing of Beckley’s finest songs with a note of vulnerability and even desperation. The shimmering “Once a Distant Heart” reflects on a relationship and its turns, as does the catchy, uptempo yet still moody “Serious.” The most atypical track on Carousel is the brief, Appalachian-folk-styled “Widows Weeds,” which sounds as if it’s been beamed from an old radio, out of time, but perhaps the most affecting is the title song. The introspective ballad “Carousel” is led by Beckley on piano, lending a stately air of gravitas that brings his poignant vocal into deep focus.
Three covers blend seamlessly with the original material. Beckley doesn’t attempt to reinvent Spirit’s mantra-like “Nature’s Way” but brings a note of grace and calm to his modernized update. Gerry (Marsden) and the Pacemakers’ beautifully wistful “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” proves a perfect match for Beckley’s warm lead, complemented by Jeff Larson’s background vocals. Oboe and euphonium add requisite touches of class to the song originally produced in 1964 by the late George Martin. Having already surveyed Mr. Marsden, Beckley turns to a third Gerry – the late Mr. Rafferty of “Baker Street” and Stealers Wheel fame – for “To Each and Everyone,” adorned with rich harmonies and a baroque rock feel that also harkens back to classic America.
The multi-instrumentalist Beckley, who self-produced Carousel, is surrounded by a tight group of remarkably sympathetic musicians including Foskett, executive producer Larson, son Matt Beckley (guitar), Nick Lane (euphonium, trombone), Larry Klimas (tenor and baritone saxophones), Charles Adelphia (oboe), Jeffrey Parish (organ), Ryland Steen (drums) and Dave Raven (drums). The production is clean and modern throughout without feeling sterile.
Carousel is the work of a mature singer-songwriter who still has a great deal to say about life, love and mortality. May Gerry Beckley continue to spin ’round his carousel with his great gift of song.