by Lindsay Cobb
Zane Kuchera's first CD, Patterns, is truly a do-it-yourselfer. Have you watched This Old House? Kuchera's show would be "This Old Recording Studio." He composed, arranged, performed and produced the entire CD, employing electric keyboards and a software application (and although he can burn his own disks, he depends on MP3.com for packaging and distribution).
But if the production is a "labor of love," the songs themselves, and Kuchera's performance of them, are a labor of love, heartache, grief, healing and redemption - the work of a lifetime. Indeed, the songs on Patterns were written over the span of two decades, and as such, serve as the story of Kuchera's life. Or, perhaps more accurately, the songs tell the story of his love life, from the first forays into puppy love (and hangdog disillusionment), through a sad marriage, to a growing self-awareness and centeredness as a gay man.In every song, Kuchera wears his heart on his sleeve, and it's a gorgeous heart. His lyrics are forthright and unpretentious as they examine love gone bad, the tension between romance and long-term commitment, and the yearning for something sure and lasting. Kuchera's strong tenor rings out with understated candor, expressing the emotion through words and music rather than any vocal dramatics. This clear-eyed exploration of love ultimately offers hope, if only the hope of getting beyond the hurt and becoming stronger.
The style ranges between lush ballads and mid-tempo pop, suggesting Kuchera's roots in contemporary cabaret and torch song - Peter Allen, Barbra Streisand, and (don't laugh) Barry Manilow come to mind (Kuchera does confess in the notes that he wrote one of his prettier songs, Tell Me When, while having "a Diana Ross moment"). Some particularly catchy melodies include Haven't Got a Clue, Simon Says, Fantasy, the anthem-like Isn't Enough, and a sweet, almost baroque instrumental called Somewhere in This World.
Rounding out the set are three alternate takes, labeled "unplugged," although that is a slight misnomer as Kuchera continues to accompany himself on electric keyboard, but with a stripped-down arrangement. It might have been nice to hear these songs genuinely "unplugged" on, say, grand piano.
In fact, now that Kuchera has proven himself as a talented singer-songwriter (arranger- producer-musician-engineer), my wish for him is that he could eventually develop enough financial backing to hire a band. On a few songs I could imagine female back-up singers joining the chorus, and the energy created by musicians playing together is often difficult, though not impossible to attain in a solo effort. But this is not the first recording by one man and his MIDI, and very few sound even half as lovely, or achieve half the energy that Kuchera achieves here. You have to start somewhere, and on Patterns Zane Kuchera is off to a running leap.
(P.S.: such rugged individualism has been paying off. "Patterns" has received glowing reviews on several web pages, including http://mp3.boston.com/bands/zane.shtml, and stage.vitaminic.com/zane_kuchera/singles, http://www.stonewallsociety.com/EqualPride/ep20zanekucherareview.htm.)