Artist: Sean Walshe
CD Title American Son
Going Track By Track
Review Joe Viglione
The January 2023 release of Sean Walshe’s American Son is an easy accessible listen which brings back melody, strong lyrics and musical entertainment on record. It, hopefully, will reach that wider audience that it so richly deserves. The musicians who interpret these compositions with producer/engineer Rob Fraboni’s guiding hand certainly know how to make hit records, and American Son is chock full of potential hits.
Recorded at Rax-Trax Studio, Chicago, IL on January 24-February 3rd, March 20 – 21, 2022, the construction – from composition to performance delivers on every level, with world class production values you rarely hear on radio today.
The title track opens with folk strums and protest lyrics before the band kicks in. A strong groove gets listener attention on the 3:36 of the song “American Son.” Kenny Aronoff’s drums are a hook unto themselves while the warm backing vocals remind us of the heyday of Venetta Fields, Clydie King and Sherlie Matthews…the Blackberries, who were just about everywhere in the early to mid 1970s.
The 3:54 of track 2, “Winds of Change,” transform the tempo from the folk/rock of the first track to the country rock of Gram Parsons and even Johnny Cash when he got more contemporary. The decades back, contemporary, not the strange hybrid that is today’s Country music. “Winds of Change” goes back to the solid C & W that the world of Tammy Wynette and Kenny Rogers found a substantial audience with. The composition is very strong, especially as it builds, perfectly played, perfectly produced.
“Fortune Favors the Brave” follows and rips like “Brown Sugar” launching from Sticky Fingers, and who better to fine-tune such an adventure than the fellow who partnered with the great Jimmy Miller to blast “Heartbreaker” from the Rolling Stones’ Goats Head Soup into the top 40, Rob Fraboni. A splash of Mott the Hoople to round it out, this rocker has staying power clocking in at a compact 3:46.
Epiphany #4 has Walshe working with Fraboni to evoke shades of Bob Dylan’s Planet Waves, you can’t help but go looking for the past inspirations that makes this new work so comfortable, compelling and fun.
The album’s contributions are many, the Beach Boys singer from Holland’s “Sail on Sailor,” Blondie Chaplin on guitar and vocals, Ivan Neville on piano and B-3
“The Vibe Song” (track 5) comes in at an economical 2:50, ten seconds under three minutes. It again musically references Gram Parsons and the Byrds at the height of their power. The chorus, as with “Winds of Change,” includes a strong vocal from Sean Walshe, and the singing-along crew making for very necessary repeat spins. The harmonica sweet and when the end comes, abruptly, it’s all too soon.
“Small Price to Pay” – track 10 – flips genres again to cosmic reggae, but as Carlos Santana’s 1999 Supernatural album defied the odds with so many different flavors becoming a worldwide smash, Walshe’s lyrics and chord changes create a feeling that allows the listener to go with the flow. “Small Price to Pay” pulls you in, the lyrics reflect and offer solutions rather than admonish. At the end of the day it’s about freedom, and the players cement the dance vibe with relish. It’s truly remarkable and demands repeated spins …spins you’ll be delighted to make.
The sixth track is “Highway 99” with its “All the Way to Memphis” (Mott the Hoople,) excursion off of Route 66 and somewhere around Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited. “Gotta turn my life around/pullin’ out of town/on Highway 99…” The band rocks out in aggressive and fun fashion, you can turn this up and dance around the room when no one is looking.
“B Who U R” has percussionist Kenny Aronoff obviously having fun while hard at work. It’s a big sound, halfway to Mad Dogs and Englishmen, and that’s the party aspect of these thirteen tracks. Simply bursting with energy and delight. James Perkins’ saxophone rocks along with the backing vocals that feel like the gals from the Stones’ “Tumblin’ Dice” exited that room to enter this room and continue their endless party. “B Who U R” shimmers and like “Small Price to Pay,” begs to put it on an endless loop.
Track #8 “Like No Other” follows at two minutes and ten seconds, one of the shortest tracks on the disc, that economical time-wise that DJ’s love at the top of the hour (think “The Letter” from the Box Tops and Milli Small’s “My Boy Lollipop” both at under 2 minutes.) It’s one of the most charming songs on the disc, a statement like Jim Croce and Harry Chapin liked to offer to their respective audiences.
Track #9, “Since You’ve Been Gone” starts with country/folk voice and guitar, and a strong chorus/lament with superb backing vocalists including K Britz, who passed shortly after singing on this, her final recording. Walshe’s voice over the guitar strumming creates a rhythmic core with harmonica adding its subtle and important presence.
“Emmet’s Song” – number 11 on this disc – an epistle that is pure folk admonishing and advising “walk in truth with your purpose up your sleeve.” The harmonic and bass add strong accompaniment.
Track #12 If I Could “If I Could” clocks in at 3:22 with a dense yet elegant collection of sounds …is it a lost Beggar’s Banquet track? Or early Glimmer Twins making a flip side to “Dandelion” or “She’s a Rainbow.” In any case it is one of this journalist’s favorite tracks of this baker’s dozen, a sparkling undercurrent felt viscerally with a repeating refrain of “Love finds a way” that beckons. Would love to hear Barry Maguire (“Eve of Destruction”) duet on this, the intro strings feeling like Lou Reed’s “Street Hassle” which itself had the flavor of Linda Ronstadt’s “Different Drum,” producer Nik Venet’s string section in that Stone Pony’s hit. Reed writing me “I never heard different drum,” when I pointed it out, digression being half the fun in reviews, let’s move on.
Track #13 is The Lord’s Prayer tracking at four minutes and one second. Sean was a minister to prisoners and the song is a definite anomaly among the rockers that precede it. It is also 180 degrees away from Sister Janet Mead’s quasi-acid pop / neo Gospel Top 5 hit in 1973. Meade passed in 2022 while this new tune was being recorded. The reworking of arguably the most famous prayer of all time can now carry the torch (and candles.)
During the recording of Keith Richards’ legendary Talk is Cheap record in 1988, the rock virtuoso bounded across the room while this writer stood with his other producer, the great Jimmy Miller and said “Joe….Joe….you must meet Rob Fraboni.” Maybe that was so thirty-five years later I would get to review another Fraboni disc that rocks with the same authority as Talk is Cheap, that speaks from the grooves, not the hype. Miller and Fraboni, who crafted Goats Head Soup, brought their presence into the room where Talk is Cheap was made. Rob Fraboni brings his trademark roots rock into the equation, (and some of his friend Jimmy’s timeless vibrations) for thirteen tracks that deserve to be heard around this world and beyond. Sean Walshe delivers a phenomenal album with true staying power. This American Son album is an instant rock classic that can bring radio back to where it should be.
GOING TRACK BY TRACK
Track #1 American Son 3:36
Track #2 Winds of Change 3:54
Track #3 Fortune Favors the Brave 3:46
Track #4 Epiphany #4 3:26
Track #5 The Vibe Song 2:50
Track #6 Highway 99 5:07
Track #7 B Who U R 3:53
Track #8 Like No Other 2:10
Track #9 Since You’re Gone 4:01
Track #10 Small Price to Pay 4:24
Track #11 Emmet’s Song 3:30
Track #12 If I Could 3:22
Track #13 The Lord’s Prayer 4:02