Michael Falzarano has been holding down the fort for a long time. Over the years he’s been the “Bobby” rhythm guitar figure to the “Jerry” lead played by Jorma Kaukonen (Hot Tuna) and David Nelson (New Riders) – at least as far as the always-there-with-the-rhythm-no-matter-how-crazy-the-jam-gets role. (Forget the showboat rock star Weir stuff, though that just ain’t Michael’s style.) Although folks may know his name, they may never have taken in Falzarano’s knack for pulling an ensemble together, which he does not with a heavy hand, but rather with a solid groove and a smile.
Past projects (the Memphis Pilgrims and the solo 2005 King James Sessions) have proven Michael’s talent as a bandleader, but his latest release, We Are All One, is the best yet. And although the album features a revolving cast of characters recorded over a long period, it sounds like the result of a bunch of old friends sitting down one evening and going for it with the tape rolling.
The album-opening “Why I Love You I Can’t Explain” explodes with all the joy of a late-'80s vintage Jerry Garcia Band show, and there’s good reason for that: give him room, folks, that’s Melvin Seals hisself on the B-3. Big Melvin makes several appearances on We Are All One, including the title track. In typical Falzarano fashion, there’s no heavy message here, but just an attempt to get the people of the world to realize, as the man says, “We are all one mother, father, sister, brother, daughter, son.” The song gets revisited acoustically later on, featuring some beautiful mandolin by Jimmy Fleming.
There was only one Vassar Clements and, luckily, Michael spent some session time with the fiddle master before his passing in 2005. Clements weaves and bobs with Kerry Kearney’s wild-ass guitar on “It’s My Own Fault” and the old Rev. Gary Davis classic “Candy Man”. And Falzarano’s “When There’s Two There’s Trouble” sounds like it was written soley for the purpose of letting the “Father of Hillbilly Jazz” wail.
New Riders pal and pedal steel monster Buddy Cage makes several appearances, including the haunting “New Shirt” when the steel takes the lead over a chugging rhythm guitar/bass/drum foundation.
“Last Train Out” is to Michael as “Soulshine” is to Warren Haynes-though we’ve heard it before, it never gets old. This arrangement of Falzarano’s tribute to late Gov't Mule bassist Allen Woody features Professor Louie and The Crowmatrix with the always-amazing Garth Hudson on keyboards.
And icing on the cake we get to share an early-AM-in-the-studio moment with Buddy Cage laying down some other-worldly pedal steel over a first time/first take Michael instrumental, “Gonna Power Down Now.” (Those were the words of the engineer just as Michael began an instrumental idea that was in his head. The rest of the band joined in and, luckily, the engineer hit “record.”)
Even though there’s no one core group of musicians throughout the album, We Are All One is held together by the good Falzarano karma. This is definitely his album, no matter who sits in where – and, in the end, the man proves his point: given the chance, we are all one.