Railroad Earth’s Tim Carbone refers to singer/songwriter/keyboardist Damian Calcagne as “New Jersey’s best-kept secret … who probably won’t be much longer!” If there’s any justice in this world, the self-titled debut album from the Damian Calcagne Band will be the thing that blows their cover. Damian Calcagne Band is a big ol’ sprawling soundscape of rock and soul with sprinklings of funk, laced with smart lyrics, gotcha hooks, and slathers of jam.
You may know Damian Calcagne from his work with Swampadelica and From Good Homes. Besides his years of experience as a player, Calcagne also has time under his belt working with Phish engineer John Siket – which he applied to the recording of this album (and the building of the studio that it was recorded in ). The result is nine songs that radiate a live vibe and right here sound. By rights, DCB will have plenty to do in the months and years to come, but if this album is an indication of what Calcagne and his Pine Valve studio are capable of producing for sound, then look out – other artists will be a’knocking for future projects.
In the meantime, pay attention to Calcagne the musician as well. His lyrics have a knack for sounding like overheard conversations – real as hell; never overplayed or filled with drama; totally believable. (Railroad Earth’s Todd Schaffer co-wrote two of the tunes with Calcagne; his Swampadelica bandmate Brian Herkert co-penned another.) Calcagne’s vocal delivery is much the same: his is the voice of everyman; your best buddy telling you his thoughts; your conscience laying it all out in your head. In the meantime, his keyboard playing is a sheer treat to listen to – a mixture of vintage tone, abundant talent, and tasteful application. Sometimes he’s supporting everything with thick and beautiful layers of shimmering B3 (“End Of Side B”); other times he’s right out front and leading the jam (check out the thrusts and parries between the keys and Carbone’s fiddle on “Return The Mail”); and sometimes he knows when to make his rig sound like it’s on the far side of the garage (“Boat On A Lake”). Calcagne draws off and lets fly at the 3:24 mark of “In My Daydream” and the next 2-1/2 minutes are pure keyboard porn – he works through a massive palette of sounds, handing off the lead to himself in a sonic relay. You want to hear a modern-day master working an organ? Put an ear to this, boys and girls.
Drummer Ned Stroh combines the just-what’s-needed-and-no-more rock ‘n’ roll sensibility of Charlie Watts with an adventurous side; he and bassist Paul Kuzik lay down an “Estimated Prophet”-style quasi-reggae groove on “Wheel Of Life” that is both solid as a rock and loosey-goosey funky as hell. By the same token, listen to the Tulsa groove that the two chug out to get “Lucky One” underway and you’ll be convinced that Kuzik is channeling the late Carl Radle – and that’s a good thing.
And then there’s guitarist Dave O’Donnell who clearly is of the same brotherhood as six-string slinger Doug Pettibone when it comes to being able to go from righteous, ragged twang to psychesquall at the stomp of a box, handling fierce-sounding amounts of power like a veteran snake handler. The guy that’s pulling off a pretty damn cool J.J. Cale in the early minutes of “Lucky One” is doling out the searing churn at the end of “Beautiful Rock & Roll”, the cool little figure that ushers in “End Of Side B” (and the wailing doublestops that lead it out), and the Earl Slick-style guitar heroics of “Boat On A Lake”. Sweet Jesus …
By the way, the album’s award for “Most Wild-Ass Solo By A Guest Player” goes to Dan Myers, hands down. He oozes his sax through a wah pedal on “I Don’t I Love You”, creating a sound that’s both mind-bending and perfect for the emotion of the moment. (Remember to hold your jaw shut with your hand while listening.)
All in all, the debut effort by Damian Calcagne and his band is a mighty impressive one. Honestly? I think that “best-kept secret in New Jersey” thing is doomed.