CD: 14 Songs, 72:41 Minutes
Styles: Americana, Traditional and Contemporary Piano Blues
When it comes to the subgenre of Americana, trying to define it resembles nailing Jell-O to a tree. After all, its name is the adjective “American” with an “a” on the end. It’s not quite folk, not quite blues, not quite rock, and not quite soul. Happily, Toronto’s Julian Fauth gives us a fourteen-song definition on his newest album. Its title, which might also grace a great future novel, is The Weak and the Wicked, the Hard and the Strong. That describes this CD’s subjects to a T: the alcoholic Panama Canal worker “Bad John” (weak), the Reconstruction-era robber “Cole Younger” (wicked), Frankie of “Frankie and Johnny” (hard), and the Holocaust survivor of “So Far Down” (strong). This motley cast of characters is more than entertaining. They represent our country’s most famous heroes and villains, whether fictional or flesh and blood.
Now that we know the protagonists of these musical tales (three originals, two covers and nine traditional tunes with new arrangements,) what about the telling? Fauth’s delivery is wholly conversational. Not only that, but his pacing on almost every song, including the 1680’s ballad “The House Carpenter”, is way too fast. Even though only one song is under three minutes long, our hero doesn’t need to rush through them like a nervous student giving his first public speech. Listen hard and listen quickly, because the lyrics are tough as nails to decipher. The good news? Fauth’s top-notch piano pours out its ivory soul, bolstered by his talented co-musicians.
With Julian, as he performs on lead vocals, organ, piano and foot for all tracks, are guest stars Ken Yoshioka on harmonica and background vocals; Donne Roberts on guitar; Tim Hamel on trumpet and background vocals, and Alec Fraser on percussion effects and background vocals.
The following traditional tune showcases the chief benefit and chief downside of this CD.
Track 05: “Casey Jones” – To call the tempo of this song “frenetic” would be an understatement. It accurately puts one in mind of a mail train out of control, barreling down the track at lethal speed. Unfortunately, Fauth tries to keep up with the barrage of notes from his piano by singing at almost double-time. At the end of the song, when Casey has sacrificed his life to save everyone else on the locomotive from certain death, his wife says, “Children, hush your crying, ‘cause you’ve got another daddy on the same damn line!” Tim Hamel’s trumpet is terrific.
When it comes to Americana, one might not be able to define it with a set of words of which Merriam-Webster would be proud. Never fear. Julian Fauth feels it and plays it with every tinkle of the 88 keys in which he specializes. His latest offering may not be perfect, but The Weak and the Wicked, the Hard and the Strong will outlast its weaknesses in time – just like its subjects.