This is a great album for the coming fall and winter. Ezra Vancil wears a lot of hats; there’s the touch of a poet in his lyrical acumen, a smattering of the virtuoso in his instrumental skills, the plain-spoken eloquence of a traditional folk musician, a measure of high-energy folk rocker, and a generous dollop of pop craftsmanship. It’s crowning touch, however, is the pastoral musical mood it invokes and maintains over the course of a dozen tracks. Vancil has the rare ability to frame often meditative and introspective lyrical messages around sweetened musical structures, but they never sound slick or calculated. His collaboration with musically gifted pre-teen daughter, partially dictated by the ongoing pandemic, nevertheless pays off for Ezra Vancil. Cozi Vancil is no interloper into this release. The affirmative yet inward looking spirit of this collection is ideal for that time of the year when the sun sets earlier and the days cool off. It’s likewise a thoughtful and profoundly melodic release.
The album begins with the track “Big Old House” and serves notice of what we can expect from this collection. Vancil shows a willingness to change things up as the album develops, but it takes a well-trod path rather than spinning its wheels with musical self-indulgence. Cozi Vancil’s talents are on display here, as well, and it is obvious from even the first hearing that she brings complementary skills to bear. Acoustic guitar is one of the predominant instruments included on this release and the opener is no exception, but Vancil excels sculpting a dramatic arrangement incorporating a variety of sounds. “Parables” is another performance where the guitar work shines and follows a somewhat similar pattern insofar as it begins on a bare bones note before evolving into something much grander. It, likewise, boasts one of the best lyrics on The Family Songbook.
The fifth track “Goodbye Grandpas” has a pensive mood Vancil keeps going for the entirety of the cut. It is one of the strongest musical moments you’ll encounter on this release and makes use of a wide array of instruments to achieve its effects. These selections never come across as arbitrary and, instead, serve the track rather than serving as musical tinsel – all surface and no substance. There’s ample substance here. Piano is one of the most important instruments you’ll hear on this release, but Vancil jettisons such touches during the track “Beat of My Heart” in favor of tasty bass playing and a slyly funk groove. It’s one of the most successful “commercial” tracks on The Family Songbook.
“A Cherry Moon” sports cool confidence after its brief introduction and the way it unrolls throughout the track keeps you listening. It’s another melodic gem on an album brimming with such jewels and the construction of the track measures up to The Family Songbook’s finest moments. The finale “Shine” closes Ezra Vancil’s The Family Songbook. It is the final uplifting touch on an album rife with such emotions; family life is often challenging, but Vancil never fails to find an ultimate redeeming value in it all. There are some minor missteps throughout the album, it comes down a matter of test, but it’s overall one of the finest releases in 2020 from any genre.
Photo credit: Siouxsie McCoy