Universal Dice Aims High With New Single 

They aren’t a band that turns out hodgepodge collections of songs. Gerry Dantone’s songwriting aspires to accomplish greater things. His work for Universal Dice wrestles with hard-hitting themes supported by superb musicianship and thoughtful, layered musical arrangements. There’s no coasting with Universal Dice’s material. Their latest single, “Once Upon a Time”, from the new album Misfit Memoirs supplies evidence of this. It is an excellent standalone track that illustrates the band’s merits while clearly working as a piece in an overall storytelling puzzle that will fully reveal itself with the release of their new album. It will engage brains and bodies alike. 

Too few modern musical works manage this. The path of least resistance often steers them toward the body certain, more often than not correctly, that audiences have precious little patience for thinking and prefer to boogie. Universal Dice isn’t mindless. Gerry Dantone’s songwriting grapples with serious questions about what it means to be human and frequently under the most trying circumstances imaginable. He doesn’t forget that a crucial part of his songwriting mission entails entertaining listeners. However, it’s part of a total package, rather than the sole reason for being. 

“Once Upon a Time” never spares listeners. Its depiction of an unhealthy father and son relationship in a fallen world rings out with honesty rather than coddling listeners with cliches. The accompanying musical arrangement emphasizes the deep emotion stirred by the words without ever falling prey to bathos. Gerry Dantone doesn’t shy away from the theatrical aspects of “Once Upon a Time” and his other work but shows care that he doesn’t allow them to dominate. 

Many longtime music fans will appreciate his take on the rock form. This review loosely uses the term rock as “Once Upon a Time” never embraces uptempo 4/4 bravado, blazing guitar solos, and frontman histrionics. The new single continues in much of the same vein Dantone explored during its predecessor, “Curse”. It is perhaps a little more direct than its forerunner. It nonetheless builds around the same classic rock aesthetic. You won’t be able to pick out one above all others, but Dantone’s influences are audible. 

He doesn’t treat the style like a butterfly pinned under glass. “Once Upon a Time” is a living, breathing musical work rather than an unearthed relic. His attentive vocals are perhaps the marquee element. It’s dazzling to hear Dantone shepherd the song every second of the way, embodying each turn of the lyrics with care, and shaping his singing to the arrangement.

Gerry Dantone’s vocals are as well-rounded a singing performance as you’ll hear this year. 

It further solidifies Misfit Memoirs’ status as one of 2024’s must-hear collections. The auspicious level of talent responsible for a song such as this never rests on its laurels. It glows with craftsmanship and a willingness to take risks that few others dare in the modern musical landscape. “Once Upon a Time” is a deceptively ambitious gem you should hear and grows on you with each added listen. 

Zachary Rush