49. Anybody Out There? – Burlap to Cashmere
ANYBODY OUT THERE? (1998)
Burlap to Cashmere
It only seems fitting that the review for this amazing debut release would be posted the same week the band in question released their first full studio release since this debut. In fact, it was nearly as long between reviews.
I remember attending the Gospel Music Association week in Nashville a few months before the release of this album. The industry was abuzz about this band with a weird name, an original sound and dynamic sound. I worked my way into a special private performance and left wondering what going to be foisted upon an unsuspecting industry.
Many artists claim originality, but very few have matched their preview hyperbole with the goods quite like this project. Gypsy folk rock? Latin groove pop? Euro art house? What the heck? Band leaders and cousins Steven Delopoulos and John Phillippidis created something so unique and intriguing it was hard to know just how the industry would respond.
They responded well indeed. Mixed a decent mainstream record distribution deal, the band was poised to change the music world on both sides of the artistic gulf. Then they disappeared for 13 years only to return this week with the years best album, their self-titled sophomore release.
Born out of Marymount Manhattan College, the two cousins formed a singing and acting troupe that incorporated ethnic music inspiration, intelligent script writing and acting, and a flare for the original. The band grew with friends and family members until they were discovered by A&M Records four years later and released “Anybody Out There?”
The great joy and utter frustration in reviewing this album is that there are so few reference points for comparison. How many artists can reflect Jose Feliciano, Van Morrison, Gordon Lightfoot and a Greek/Gypsy folk all in one song while sounding nothing like the aforementioned artists and styles? Seriously, this album is just that uniquely wonderful.
Oddly enough, the above is accomplished with an immediately likable and commercial appeal!
The album starts of the acoustic guitar driven and infectious “Digee Dime.” This is as good a time as any to note the wonderful percussion work of drummer Theodore Pagano and percussionist Scott barksdale. Their creative and precise rhythms are simply captivating. The acoustic guitar work is flawless and drives a song that is rockier than forst impression. The perfect album lead track the song would remain a constant favorite for the past 13 years.
Christian radio picked up on several songs. One of those is the beautiful, mid-tempo balled , “Eileen.” This dreamy song revels in its simplicity while just drawing the listener in completely. It is a song of hope for the struggling. The image of an angel sharing its wing one with another is very impacting and lasting.
The big CCM hit, though, was “Basic Instructions.” The odd thing about its wonderful success is just how unique and upbeat the song is and how different it sounded on Christian radio. Very ethnic and our of the ordinary, the pablum most associated with CCM radio was just overwhelmed by its potency. But the song also contains some of the most blatantly “evangelical” lyrics, but with a decidedly or intelligent bent. the bridge with the Latin vocals and acoustic guitar is priceless. That added with what could almost be called a “drum solo” on a radio single was unheard of.
It was a real “wow” moment for Christian radio!
A personal favorite is “Chop Chop.” The Van Morrison like acoustic intro builds to a more anthem sounding chorus. The hook is just ridiculously infectious. Again the influences are there, but not enough to place a positive stamp upon them. Man’s cruelty with words ring ture in a timeless fashion.
The title track slows things down quite a bit with a wonderful harmonic vocal that would have sounded fresh in the 1970’s as well as in 2011. The yearning and passionate vocals take the listener through the first one-third before the song picks it up a notch and then becomes a full forced acoustic rock number. The song of doubt reveals an artist in need of the answers as much as the audience. the answer is revealed but never in a Sunday School simplistic way. Again, the acoustic guitar solo work is just tremendous.
One song that some Christian radio discovered in the nearly worship-like “Treasures in Heaven.” More a Psalm than hymn, this ballad owns a memorable chorus that lead many to use the song in a worship setting. Those radio stations that did add the song ended up iusing the song for years as it never grows old or stale.
One sign of a great and timeless album is the rarity of “throw-away” songs. Even those songs that did not make an impact on radio or even amongst general fans, still are brilliant works. One example is the stunning “Skin is Burning.” Starting slow and then building into a great Latin groove, the song was still heads and shoulders above its contemporaries.
To decode “Divorce” as simply a song about the pain and justification of a marital failure is to, I believe, miss the point of the song. The song possesses the “onion factor” as repeated listens reveal deeper truths that expand beyond a surface level.
Another long term personal favorite is “Good Man.” A simple acoustic pop song with a great presence. One could almost hear a pop/country artist cover the song and make a hit out of it. Musically and thematically, the song has a real middle-American feel to it. the blue collar, faithful man living his life and hoping for heaven is such a common theme. In fact, listening again to do this review convinces me that John Mellencamp would have had a hit with this one.
The wonderfully funky, progressive and utterly enjoyable “Scenes” follows with a musical journey unlike even the rest of this project. The military like rhythm matches the spiritual war-like theme.
The acoustic rock driven “Ancient Man” looks at the struggles to discover what is really true and the easy work of deception in spiritual matters. For some reason I remember this song the most from the private performance than from the album, but the electric guitar solo here does separate it from the album, but in a good way.
The album closes with possibly the best song on the album, “Mansions.” Vocally more passionate than anything else on the album, this song of praise has the great line ,”Love me, light me, give me, guide me” that repeats over and over at the close and leaves the listener longing for the same. The perfect album closer (concert closer?) has a real “lighter and swaying” feel to it.
There are really not forgettable songs on the album.
Then they disappeared. Several members (most notably Steven Delopoulos) would release solo projects and less than a handful of live or bootleg projects, but no sophomore studio release until just this week. And, as mentioned above, it is brilliant!
It may not be the greatest “debut” album in CCM history, but I cannot think of too many others that can compare. This is also one of those “friendship breaker” albums where someone’s opinion of the album impacts ones opinion of the person.