CD Commentary – Tom Carleno: Perfect Imperfection
by Laura Bruno Lilly
Tom’s a guitar bud from the days when back-to-back students, gigs, concerts, workshops and rehearsals left little time for socializing. It’s been over five years since we each rented studio space in the same building with other working musicians and the ‘Chocolate Lady’ in downtown Louisville, CO. Swapping stories and notes between late or ‘no show’ students, we forged a professional and personal camaraderie during our respective day-to-day teaching gigs.
While Tom has been performing, writing, recording and evolving with his group Perpetual Motion for years, Perfect Imperfection is his first solo recording. Several years in the making, the name is taken from his wife and band partner Josie’s view of life: Nothing is perfect, that is what makes life so perfect. Evidently, this wifely philosophy was the kick in the pants Tom needed to actually record a solo album.
Spanning over 25 years of his compositions, the CD is a retrospective of sorts of Tom’s songwriting. Two of his earliest works, Child’s Play and Brief Encounter, along with other original pieces recorded clearly define Carleno’s signature style, and affinity towards alternate tunings. Case in point, only two pieces (covers) are in standard tuning. The remaining pieces are perfect examples of Tom as ‘Master of Alternate Tunings’ rendering unusual voicings to melodic interactions within various chord progressions.
Released in November 2013, Perfect Imperfection has already amassed a sizable number of reviews to date. Each brimming with glowing descriptions of the technical aspects of his original compositions along with overall high praises for Tom’s guitar prowess.
While thrilled with my colleague’s landmark achievement, how could I add anything different from what was already said?
Then I realized because the more traditional reviews had already been written and written well, it gave me the freedom to write something from a different perspective. Besides, the music was speaking to me; urging me to write of the underlying (he)art of Tom’s project I sensed but could not define.
In general, I prefer to do my initial listen with little prior knowledge of the project’s back-story. I purposely give ear to the music in the order it is arranged on the final album and without reading the liner notes. Sometimes, I won’t even look at the names of the pieces, intending to keep my first impressions as pure as possible. Then, I will delve into all the interesting tidbits of information concerning the stories behind the music.
In this case, I already knew that Tom was working through lingering grief over his mother’s death some 13 years earlier and that this project was the culmination of his ‘journey through anxiety, mourning, self-discovery and enlightenment.’*
Permeating the entire project is indeed the presence of Tom’s mother. A sense that it is anHomage as much as a laying down of the burden of grief, re-discovery of the joy in following the creative muse and moving forward rendering Tom’s creative dry spell a thing of the past.
Upon first listening, four pieces reached out, grabbed me, and wouldn’t let go: In Search Of, Meet Me in Maui, Timberline Tree and What a Difference a Day Makes. I made up a playlist on my computer, titled it ‘Tom’s Four’ and settled in to delve into the music.
The liner notes revealed my ‘Tom’s Four’ selections as being quite significant in and of themselves. In Search Of and What a Difference a Day Makes were new pieces written specifically for the album while Meet Me in Maui and Timberline Tree were earlier pieces composed in honor of Tom’s mother.
The album begins with In Search Of a piece which Tom says seemed to be trying to find its own way as he was writing it…and one which leads the way through the (he)art of yearnings involved in true searches, including a call to follow the message.
Meet Me in Maui was written after a trip Tom and Josie took in 2008 to one of his mother’s favorite vacation spots. It was while standing on a hillside overlooking the ocean where Tom felt his mother’s presence whisper: “I’m here with you, Tom.”
Joan Carleno, Tom’s mother, was an artist. Her painting Timberline Tree inspired Tom’s composition by the same name. Written for her in 2007, it feels a part of his healing journey.
Tom Carleno – ‘Timberline Tree’ from Perfect Imperfection
The last song on the album What a Difference a Day Makes is a piece that Tom says goes into some unexpected places…for me those places make sense as a resolution to the (he)art of the yearnings previously mentioned at the start of my ‘Tom’s Four.’ For the sake of clarity, re-wording it as What a Difference Time Makes offers insight into this feeling of Tom’s emergence through a creative dry spell. A perfect ending to ‘Tom’s Four’ as well as to the entire album.
Re-finding his voice, navigating the creative dry spell, integrating how his group Perpetual Motion shaped his craft, and allowing his new self to emerge; that is the journey I find in this set of four songs. That’s what I hear and feel to be the (he)art of it all.
Perfect Imperfection is proof positive that the journey through a creative drought regardless of cause or duration can and does result in creative metamorphosis.
This is cause for celebration! Bravo Tom!
*from marketing materials