Brian Shapiro balances a successful academic career with his burgeoning career as bandleader of the Brian Shapiro Band. The Philadelphia-based band’s sophomore release It’s Amazing follows their recent debut All That We See without any drop off in quality. The debut served notice of a songwriting sensibility and musical approach far afield of your typical alternative rock act, but the follow up doesn’t merely match its excellence. The Brian Shapiro Band, instead, doubles down and pushes their theatrical inclinations further than ever before. There’s other moments, however, that shows the diversity Shapiro and his cohorts can seemingly invoke with a figurative flick of the wrist.
“Ambitigeddon” lays down the gauntlet. The song moves like someone who can’t sit still, but there’s a clear design to how the track unfolds. It kicks off with a handful of flourishes before finding its pattern and settling into a slinky groove that carries listeners along. Ben Kutner-Duff’s drumming is crucial to making this song work and has a great sound. Michael Brenner’s sax gives it unexpected dimensions.
The guest musicians continue with Behn Gillece’s vibraphone contributions to “So Much”. It’s arguably the most arch song on the release and some listeners may not understand, at first, if they are intended to take the track at face value. The contrast between its musical setting and the lyrics is stark. Gillece’s playing will tether the song to earth for many listeners. “More Memories” stands out as the band jettisons the full arrangements of earlier songs in favor of a song with voice and piano alone.
Many listeners will be quite taken by Shapiro’s handling of the subject matter. It’s a glimpse of his full potential and a reminder that while there may not be anything new under the sun, there’s always new ways of saying it. “New Newz” takes that idea to an extreme as the band shifts gears into a full on punk rock style for a broadside against corporate media that does nothing but tick off the roll call of the current forces in that world. It succeeds as an angry rant and even a bit of satire.
“Take-N-Make” has the most deliberate pace of any song on the album. It will be a mixed success for some, however, as the song’s energy level never rises above a certain level. Adding brass to the album is an important facet setting it apart from its peers and St. Clair Simmons’ trombone during this song is one of its most memorable aspects.
Gillece’s vibraphone returns for the last time with “Savor”. This curtain-closer is taking stock and sharing its experience is never heavy-handed or unmusical. It’s one of Shapiro’s most sensitive vocal performances; he doesn’t have a conventional voice, but its ability to draw from a deep emotional well shouldn’t be underestimated. It serves him well here and helps the Brian Shapiro Band bring It’s Amazing to the conclusion it deserves. This isn’t an easy release but stick with it and you’ll find its riches are considerable.