Friday, July 23, 2010

July 23, Vic Ruggiero, "Lonely Nights"

Artist: Vic Ruggiero
Song: "Lonely Nights"
Album: Something In My Blindspot
Year: 2008

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While in an overwhelming majority of cases, when an artist decides to break from his band and "go solo," it is due to either band problems or the artist feeling as if the band is "holding him back," there are a handful of situations where it becomes clear in retrospect that the artist in question simply wished to explore styles that the band was simply not capable of performing for one reason or another.  Rarely due to questions of musical aptitude, such changes are almost always a shift to a genre that simply does not accommodate the lineup or musical approach of the larger musical outfit.  Furthermore, in nearly every case, once an artist has gone solo, they rarely return to the fold of their original band.  Proving this first point, as well as showing that the second is not necessary, there are few artists proving to be more captivating and able to display as wide a range of sounds as that of Vic Ruggiero.  For nearly twenty years, he has been the focal point of the ska band, The Slackers, as well as making appearances with The Stubborn All-Stars, Rancid, and a host of other projects.  Then, in the late 1990's, Ruggiero began making his own records, and the stripped down, edgy, folk feel to his solo work makes these albums some of the most enduring and enjoyable of the past decade.  Rarely more than just his guitar and a drum, the music always leaves plenty of space to showcase his brilliant lyrics and voice, and the sonic beauty that is the solo work of Vic Ruggiero can be summed up in the soft, yet edgy song, "Lonely Nights."

Coming from his phenomenal 2008 release, Something In My Blindspot, the song was actually originally released in a different form on Ruggiero's album, Hamberguru a year previous.  This time around, the song receives a complete re-working, and it sounds far more complete than the original recording.  As is the case with nearly all of his songs, Vic Ruggiero quickly establishes a fantastic, yet unique mood for the song, and it is fully fleshed out as the song progresses.  On "Lonely Nights," there is an almost retro feel, as the setting could be in the 1960's as easily as the present day, and this ability to make the mood transcend time is one of the many talents that Ruggiero shows off on a consistent basis.  Backed by the almost jazz-style, light drumming from Andrei Kluge, the simplicity of the musical arrangement only helps to heighten the mood and better display the subtle beauty of the song.  It is within the guitar work of Ruggiero on "Lonely Nights" that one can also clearly hear the folk influences on his music, as he rolls and meanders through the track with a rhythm that in many ways makes the drumming unnecessary.  Regardless, the musical arrangement on "Lonely Nights" is absolutely perfect, and one can easily picture the song being played in an apartment, as the intimate nature of the song makes it nothing short of mesmerizing.  It is this ability to completely draw in the listener that runs through all of the solo work of Vic Ruggiero, and yet he proves time and time again that he is able to deploy this same allure in a countless variety of musical approaches.

One of the most noticeable differences on "Lonely Nights" versus nearly all of the rest of Vic Ruggiero's solo work is the fact that he has another vocalist alongside him for the song.  Appearing on a handful of the tracks on Something In My Blindspot, German singer, Lisa Müller (from Black Cat Zoot) proves to be nothing short of a perfect vocal compliment to Ruggiero's voice.  With Vic Ruggiero's deep, almost spoken tone and Müller's somewhat airy, gorgeous work in the upper vocal ranges, the two are able to pull out every nuance of the songs' mood, and "Lonely Nights" stands as one of the most truly beautiful vocal performances in history.  The dual vocals also help to highlight the intent behind the lyrics, as it is within the words that the brilliance of the pen of Vic Ruggiero comes into the spotlight.  Throughout nearly all of his songs, Ruggiero proves to have an uncanny ability to find the hidden beauty in everyday life, and on "Lonely Nights," he is able to highlight the tragic humor in what comes off as a very "real" relationship.  Taking a far more honest approach to the relationship, the theme of the song is perfectly captured in the refrain of, " you remember those lonely nights together, more than our sweet days in the sun..."  The song goes on to explore some of the less glamorous moments of the relationship, and yet there is a persistent grin throughout the entire song, as if to say that it is these memories that represent the "real" love between the two in question.  Such an honest and realistic approach to the idea of love is rarely found, and it is this consistently straightforward lyrical approach that makes the songs of Vic Ruggiero so extraordinary.

Standing as one of the most accomplished musicians of his generation, over the past two decades Vic Ruggiero has proven that he knows no musical bounds.  From his fantastic work in the ska-confines of The Slackers to being a part of the superb lineup of The Stubborn All-Stars, Ruggiero is able to find space to shine in nearly any musical configuration.  However, it is on his solo records that the true breadth of his talents come into focus, and one would be hard pressed to find a better sculptor of musical moods than one finds within his solo work.  Even on the most tragic of songs, there is a persistent, upbeat mood or some sort of wink to the listener, yet Ruggiero also digs deep in exploring a wide range of human emotions.  On his 2008 album, Something In My Blindspot, Vic Ruggiero presents all sides of his phenomenal musical talents, and the songs remain fresh and enjoyable even after countless listenings.  Though there is not a "bad" song anywhere on the album, it is the handful of tracks recorded with vocalist Lisa Müller that stand out, largely due to the stunning interplay between their two voices.  Bringing Ruggiero's fantastic lyrics to life, both melodically as well as emotionally, the manner with which the pair play off of one another is a beauty that must be experienced firsthand to be properly understood, and this element, as well as the rest of the aspects that make Vic Ruggiero one of the most talented musicians of the past two decades can be found on the truly remarkable song, "Lonely Nights."

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