“One of Many, One” and “Last Prayer” are two singles from the East Coast band Universal Dice. Gerry Dantone’s band project has featured an assortment of musicians playing alongside Dantone, but these two singles have him working with lead guitarist Bob Barcus and bassist Sam Cimino. Dantone, however, handles the drums, secondary guitar work, production, songwriting, and vocals. It’s a steep work load for even the best musicians, but Dantone, like all the great ones, sounds like he isn’t breaking a sweat.
The two singles are, respectively, a little under twenty years old and the second, “Last Prayer”, dates back 25 years. “Last Prayer” hails from the band’s debut, a rock opera entitled My Name Is Thomas…and should transfix anyone who appreciates storytelling and character-driven rock music. Some of the band’s motivation for re-releasing these tracks is to set the stage for their forthcoming fifth album, reminding listeners of their material’s timelessness, but there’s another reason.
Universal Dice wants this music to be heard. It speaks to the human condition, the eternal human condition, of men and women struggling, sometimes in vain, to find safe harbor in life. Bob Barcus’ towering guitar solo in the track delivers the goods and connects with that aforementioned vision. “One of Many, One” likewise does so. The route taken, however, is different. It has a much wider sound than its predecessor markedly different in character.
Where the former track opens with a patient yet atmosphere guitar work, Barcus is rhapsodizing with his six-string from the outset. Guitar pyrotechnics in an Universal Dice song are far different than the standard “Guitar Hero” baloney we’ve all subjected ourselves too at one time or another. Dantone’s voice, likewise, revels in artistry. His intense rendering of a vision for America that is inclusive, benevolent, and consistent flies in the face of its context, but that’s the point.
Dantone uses the original motto of the country as a launching pad for a virtual call to arms, an anthem-like portrayal of ideal national virtues. Don’t feat that it’s pretentious or heavy handed. It’s impassioned, but Dantone is careful to never slip into sappy melodrama and pares his lines down to economical length. He’s an experienced lyricist and never steps wrong during the course of writing this song. The drumming opening the track strikes the right note.
The little drummer boy rolls we hear are clear and full of snap. Dantone’s sharp production instincts are vividly illustrated by the song without ever challenging the other instruments for supremacy in the song arrangement. Some might call re-releases of such old material as a staying action, the sign of a floundering band attempting to hang on.
It’s far from that. So far. It’s a forceful yet musical recall of humans in peril that everyone needs to hear because these tracks are as relevant as ever. Dantone and his collaborators bring the full-force of their creativity to bear on this work without pushing listeners into hackneyed or overwrought waters. It helps make “Last Prayer” and “One of Many, One” one of the best listening experiences you may have this year.