While this is acoustic guitarist Tom Carleno‘s solo debut, the man has been lighting up the skies with his adroit fingerstyle playing for over 25 years, appearing and recording (5 albums) with his acoustic jazz ensemble Perpetual Motion in his home state of Colorado. So there is no denying that the man can play, junior; but if you had any doubts, one listen to Perfect Imperfection will quiet those nagging thoughts but good. This CD is chock full of great tunes, masterful musicianship, and a few “how about THAT!” moments as well. If you are a fan of solo acoustic guitar music, you should consider this a “must hear” (and if you do that, you’re going to switch it to “must buy,” I’d wager).
Containing eight originals and three cover tunes, Perfect Imperfection’s whimsical title aptly fits the mood here. While the tempo and style of the assorted songs do vary, the overall vibe is friendly and accessible with a bit of a “nod and wink” sprinkled throughout. Carleno comes across as someone to sit down and have a beer with after work; this is one of the least pretentious albums I’ve heard in a while. However, that doesn’t make the music vapid or soulless. Just the opposite, as on some tracks, Carleno digs deep into a song’s heart and pulls out the emotional core of the melody. One such number is the album closer, What A Difference A Day Makes which ends the CD on a beautiful, reposeful, reflective note, a simple low-key melody lovingly played by a craftsman on his instrument. Bookending the recording is the opener, In Search Of which starts the CD at a midtempo pace but tinted by a hint of urgency, even a dash of mystery. On this track, the listener will be immediately impressed by Carleno’s fret work and picking ability, both abundantly on display (but not in an overly flashy way).
Carleno’s cover tunes offer two unusual choices: the Al Stewart radio hit On The Border (which Carleno gives an infusion of vibrancy, menace, and power, easily trumping the drama of the original) and Split Enz’s Working Up An Appetite written by Tim Finn. I am unfamiliar with the original so I can’t make a comparative statement, but Carleno’s playing is spirited yet nuanced, including his use of the guitar body to add some percussive elements (nicely done there, Tom!). The other cover tune is John Lennon’s Imagine. Carleno gives this classic a fairly standard interpretation (frankly, I can live without another cover of this song, but I can’t fault the artist’s inclusion of it, since, per the liner notes – which are a must read for great insights into the tracks – it’s one of his favorites).
It’s the original compositions where Tom Carleno impresses the most. Meet Me In Maui carries such an easy-going breeziness that you may smell the ocean while listening to it, while Welcome To The Milky Way finds a way to suggest star-gazing at twinkling objects in a night sky without the use of synthesizers (no small feat, that!). If you’re having a bad day, cue up Child’s Play, one of the most playful, cheery, and downright impossible-not-to-smile numbers I’ve ever heard (Tom is joined by wife Josie Quick on musical spoons). In contrast, the next tune is the album’s most adventurous (and one of the quirkiest guitar songs ever). Rhapsody In Blood is Carleno’s musical homage to horror films, particularly of the ’30s and ’40s. With some discrete sound effects (wolf howls, thunder and two blood-curdling screams which come out of nowhere and freaked me out!) mingled in with the edgy, creepy (but whimsically so) music, I have to believe the artist had a lot of fun recording this tune. The escalating drama of rapid-fire guitar runs are modulated by moments of minimalist, darkly-tinted picking and strumming, punctuated by some thumps on the guitar body. At 6 and half minutes in duration, you might think the piece would go on too long, but it’s just the opposite (but be ready for that second scream!) as the song is just so filled with “scary fun.” Truly an imaginative piece of composing and playing!
Perfect Imperfection will likely make you long for another Tom Carleno solo album to come long right soon, so all we can do is hope that we don’t have to wait 25 more years. In the meantime, I guess I better look into that jazz ensemble of his because Perfect Imperfection does what all great albums do…leaves me hankering for more.
Rating: Very Good +
– reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 11/8/2013