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Joe Peck | In the City Lights

album review by Isaac Henry

Joe Peck | In the City Lights

In The City Lights is the debut release of Arlington, VA, singer-songwriter Joe Peck. It opens with a catchy, high-energy pop-rock tune with a big chorus and lyrics that are pure Nashville, (“I'm a country boy/In in the city lights”). It sounds a lot like REM doing a Toby Keith cover. The sleek production, powerful vocals, “Nashville” lyrics, and tight pop songcraft of the title track sets the tone for the rest of the album. By the end of the second song, “Change Me”- which details Mr. Peck's fiancee’s attempts to change his ways and his eventual agreeing-to-be-changed- this tone is firmly established. “Change Me” features lyrics that again seem as if they were written by some anonymous nobody in a Nashville cubicle (“Instead of watching football/you got me driving a minivan mall to mall”), and comes complete with the kind of ultra-perfect reverb-soaked guitar solo that is virtually required of any modern country song.

Three more relationship songs follow “Change Me” that, when absorbed in the order in which they appear on the album, create quite the interesting story arc. “It's Time To Go,” which immediately follows “Change Me”, is just about the cheeriest breakup song; driven by an upbeat, almost-celebratory-sounding accordion, and sounds like an attempt on behalf of Mr. Peck to charm his wife into agreeing that their relationship has run its course. It's as if Mr. Peck decided that he didn't want to be changed, after all, and is now breaking the news passive-aggressively. Though the more likely scenario is that these songs are about two different women, “Change Me” (“I thank my lucky stars you've agreed to by my wife”) about a new fiancée, and “It's Time To Go” (“We married young so very long ago”) about an old wife, it's fun to imagine them occurring in chronological sequence.

And the fun continues with “Arielle's Song”, in which Mr. Peck appears to be very beat up over having been left by the woman he charmed into leaving him. The chorus of “Arielle's Song” features what may be a bit of self-referencing (“I'm running on empty since you ran away/lost in an old sad cliché”), a possible clue that Mr. Peck is actually a more complex thinker than his lyrics let on, that lyrics like “Do you remember when we first held hands/And how we kissed up in those football stands” (“It's Time To Go”) are just an attempt to lure in fans of modern country.

Joe's four-song relationship saga reaches a happy conclusion with “Your Eyes,” in which Mr. Peck seems to have found a new woman (this one is probably about New Fiancée) with whom he has fallen madly in love. “Your Eyes” is the strongest cut on the album; the only with lyrics that could have been written at any point in history (no references to Armani, Netflix, or 401k plans on this one) and doesn't feature the gung-ho pop-rock production that characterizes the rest of the album. It's a sincere and well-crafted love song, with a vaguely Spanish feel, featuring only two acoustic guitars, bass, and some mellow percussion (played by Mr. Peck himself) to accompany Joe's voice.

“Hole In My Pocket” is about money troubles; built around an absurdly catchy chorus dismayingly, as it includes one of the most forced rhymes I've ever heard: “Hole in my pocket big as Davy Crockett/on the local docket.” I mean, it would be huge news if Davy Crockett came to my hometown, but it's still a serious stretch.

“Going Through the Motions” is thematically the same as “Arielle's Song”. Its harmonica breaks, which wouldn't sound out of place in a Black Crowes song, are probably the instrumental high point of the album. The album wraps up with “Restless Fire,” an 80s-pop ode to New Fiancée complete with melodramatic spoken-word verses, and “World Of My Own,” a super-catchy pop-rocker cut from the same musical cloth as the album's title track.

Joe’s only been writing songs for a year and a half. This is both unsurprising and surprising at the same time. His lyrics, though honest and heartfelt, are pretty shoddy at times: two songs in a row, “Hole In My Pocket” and “Going Through The Motions”, feature a reference to his computer immediately followed by a reference to his microwave.

However, Mr. Peck's songs are extraordinarily well crafted for a new songwriter. His melodic ideas are diverse and often infectiously catchy. I wouldn't be all that surprised to hear a few of his songs popping up on adult alt-pop radio.

Bottom line: If you're a fan of both REM and modern country, you will probably dig this album. If you crave lyrical complexity and interesting instrumentation, In The City Lights probably isn't for you.



0 # dfwallace 2012-03-30 19:38
cool review


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