Sheldon has led an interesting musical life, beginning as a child in the Boston area. At a young age, he bought a guitar from no less a talent and inspiration than James Taylor, and as a seventeen year old got the job as lead guitarist for Van Morrison. A few years later, he moved to Los Angeles and began doing session work. Later still, he moved to San Francisco, and in 1980 opened a national tour for Linda Ronstadt.
After relocating back to Boston to raise a family, he worked as a carpenter and continued his involvement in music, playing in bands while also earning a degree from the New England Conservatory Of Music. Throughout the years, Sheldon put out a few albums with his band Blue Streak, and worked more and more at his songwriting, eventually sending some songs to his old friend Taylor. This led to the kind of break that most of us don't even dare dream about: James Taylor recorded one of his songs!
Taylor's October Road included, as one of its' many excellent tracks, Sheldon's September Grass, which appears in its' original version right here on Sometimes You Get Lucky. Six months later, another of his songs, Bittersweet, was included as a "previously unreleased" cut on the most recent Best Of James Taylor album, the recording having been done with Sheldon playing guitars on it!
Sometimes you DO get lucky, but to paraphrase the old saying, luck is often the product of a lot of hard work. The two Sheldon songs that Taylor has recorded are clearly worthy of a talent like Taylor, and not simply the result of a longtime friendship.
So, on to Sheldon's album itself.
The best parts about it, and they're top-notch, are his songwriting, the recording quality (i.e. the sound) and the instrumental prowess he exhibits. He plays all guitar parts and bass. His singing is serviceable on most of the songs, not great but certainly above mediocre. His voice itself is appealing enough to compensate for whatever technical shortcomings may exist. Interestingly, it's probably at its' worst on September Grass - and not just when compared against Taylor's recording. But don't misunderstand that to suggest that he's a bad singer - far from it.
Many of the songs call to mind other well-known artists, in their style, sound or feel. A few make me think of Lindsay Buckingham, due largely to the guitar style. Another brings to mind Al Stewart, and the instrumental opening to The Right Way (To Say It) immediately conjures up Tom Petty. That's not to suggest that any of the songs are derivative, simply that some of them show some of the influences that have gone into creating John Sheldon, songwriter/musician. When your influences include the aforementioned, having it show isn't a bad thing at all.
One of my favorites on the album, Reuben's Train, has a little riff in it that I knew I recognized, and finally sussed it out as reminding me of an old Atlanta Rhythm Section song, So Into You. There are two instrumentals that are also very nice, the first of which has some Santana overtones, the second - the album closer - being an acoustic number that puts a pleasant finishing touch on a very enjoyable album.
If forced to come up with at least some criticism, albeit insignificant, I'd say that there are occasional spots in which all of the playing seems to not be quite in synch. It's very minor, at best (or at worst), and my sense is that the cause is one explained by one of the differences between a group of musicians playing together and a multi-tracked recording - the synchronization isn't quite as organically harmonious as when you have a group of people sharing the same vibe at the same time, "locked in" to use the musicians terminology.
But, as I said, this is so minor and infrequent as to be indescernible by most listeners.
Fans of well-crafted, melodic songs, performed by the songwriter, should enjoy this album. It's acoustic enough to not be electric rock-and-roll, but has some excellent electric work on it - folk-rock-pop, with the best elements of each. It'll get plenty of play on my stereo.
As interesting and enjoyable as this album is, make sure you also go to John Sheldon's web site for some even more interesting reading - particularly the Bio and News pages. I DO wish, however, that web sites for artists were kept more up to date than some I find (including this one).
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