Justin DiFebbo -Skin and Bones
If you’re going to go in a retro direction, choose wisely. For instance, self-indulgent guitar heroics don’t play as well in 2016 as they did in 1976. One approach, however, that seems to have timeless, across the board appeal is big, cinematic pop with a surfeit of rock shot through it for gravitas. The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and their ilk are important reference points for Justin DiFebbo’s second album Skin and Bones. DiFebbo doesn’t slavishly imitate past masters, but instead, attempts filtering them through his own unique artistic consciousness. The ten songs on his new album attempt to cover a lot of sonic territory in relatively condensed spaces but are well produced and performed with passion that is never overwrought or heavy handed.
“Adrift” is a great example of how adept DiFebbo is at adding something new to his influences. The song’s unique combination of quasi-progressive textures with straight ahead rock guitar and drumming isn’t particularly unique, but the ease with which the guitar parts alternate between a couple of different styles and the drumming creates open areas in the song that bring more to the listening experience without ever losing direction is laudable. “Air You Breathe” is a very similar song, but the dynamics are different. This song achieves its effects through accumulation and doesn’t show all of its cards so soon. “Do What You Like” is one part personal singer/songwriter material and another part psychedelized pop folk song. The melodies are quite strong in this song but skewed by post-production effects like a fun house mirror’s reflection. Pedal steel and keyboards play a big role in the title song and give it a rootsy vibe missing from the other songs. The drumming is crucial here, as well, thanks to a variety of fills that add considerable drama to the track.
“To My Love” is striding pop rock with a discernible edge. It’s a welcome shift in gears after numerous dreamy soundscapes and leaden tempos, but the lyrical content is a little less than desirable compared to what’s come before. “Good Intent” changes things up from a muted opening full of harmony vocals and quasi-classical piano lines into a moody ballad. The song seems to need sharper focus and the lack of percussion doesn’t help matters. The album’s closer, “Be My Star”, is one of its most nakedly personal songs – at least, the illusion of it being so is quite strong. This is a clear plea for closeness and rendered by DiFebbo with the utmost sensitivity.
Significant stretches lose some of their potential for punch thanks to DiFebbo’s love for slower songs, but there’s enough variation present here that it doesn’t sink the entire enterprise. His voice has deceptive power and range – the aforementioned variations show that off splendidly. The real highlight of the album, however, is its imagination. Skin and Bones plays like the work of a musical artist who writes in color rather than chords and possesses an impressive command over dynamics. This is an interesting release well worth the time of any serious music fan.
8 out of 10 stars.