Artist: Julia Kasdorf and Pete McNeil
Reviewed by Matthew Warnock
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)
Collaboration is the spark that has ignited some of the brightest musical fires in songwriting history. When artists come together on a project featuring a core duo or group and a number of guest artists, there is something that can happen that makes these moments special, especially when the stars align and everything winds up in the right place at the right time. Songwriters and performers Julia Kasdorf and Pete McNeil have recently come together on just such a record, which features the duo on each track alongside various other accomplished artists. The end result, Impromptu, is an engaging and enjoyable record that possesses a sense of cohesiveness deriving from the duo’s contribution, but that moves in different and exciting directions as the different guest musicians come and go throughout the album.
Though most of the album is a collaborative effort between McNeil, Kasdorf and guest artists, there are a couple of tracks that feature just the duo, including “The Minute I’m Gone,” though one might not realize this unless the liner notes were consulted. Kasdorf, being a multi-talented multi-instrumentalist, contributes the lyrics and music, as well as performs vocals, both lead and background, guitar and bass, while McNeil brings his talents to the drum work on the track. Not only is the song a sultry, blues-rock number that grooves and grinds its way to being one of the most interesting songs on the album, but the duo do a seamless job of overdubbing each part to make it sound like a band playing live in the studio, rather than two musicians playing all the parts. The same is true for the other duo track, “Motel,” though in a more laid-back and stripped-down approach. Here, the brushes played by McNeil, set up Kasdorf’s vocals, bass and guitar in a subtle yet effective way, allowing the vocals to float over the accompaniment while interacting at the same time. Recording in this way is not easy, especially when trying to create the atmosphere of an ensemble in the studio, but Kasdorf and McNeil pull it off in a way that is both creative and engaging, and it is one of the reasons that the album is so successful.
McNeil also steps to the forefront of several songs to take over the role of lead vocalist, including the Cream inspired blues-rocker “Doldrums.” Here, the drummer lays down a hard-driving groove that is supported by Kasdorf on rhythm guitar and bass while he digs deep into the bluesy vocal lines that define the track. Guest lead guitarist Eric Nanz contributes a memorable solo and plenty of bluesy fills to the song, bringing a Wah-based tone to the track that brings one back to the classic tone used by late-‘60s blues rockers such as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. McNeill also takes the reins on the track “Kitties” where he sings, as well as plays drums and synth, with bassist John Wyatt filling in the bottom end. With a psychedelic vibe to it, the song stands out against the rest of the album in a good way, adding variety and diversity to the overall programming of the album while featuring the talented drummer-vocalist-pianist at the forefront of the track.
Overall, Impromptu is not only a cool concept, but an album that stands on its own musicality and songwriting regardless of the writing and recording process used to bring the project together. All of the artists featured on the album, the core duo and guest artists alike, gel together in a way that serves the larger musical goals of the record, providing an enjoyable listening experience along the way.