I once asked Vance Gilbert after a show why he didn't perform "Godzilla" or "Country Western Rap." He told me that he was interested in creating and performing music that was timeless and lasting. His fifth solo CD surpasses that goal.
Had I not known Gilbert frequents the folk circuit, listening to Unfamiliar Moon I would have thought he was a vocalist or torch singer in the style of Tony Bennett or kd lang. This collection is mostly a melancholy and mellow collection. There are no rockers like Takin' It All To Tennessee or anthemic singalongs like When Jimmy Falls in Love. The songs mostly deal with heavy topics: maritial infidelity, relationships ending, and war.
The ones that deal with cheating are standout tracks on the album. Lie To Me is presented, interestingly, as a gospel song.
The jazz stylings of "Unforgivable" recalls Nat King Cole, and demonstrates Gilbert's ability to jump across musical genres. Leaving Avon, with the catchy chorus, is more stylistically reminiscent of his previous albums. That Front Porch Song is a blues song of a mother whose husband has died in war. (Listen for the dog barking during the intro.)
The title track is Gilbert's most-requested song and it's easy to see why. The song has a compelling melody; appropriate, but not overwhelming, backing instrumentation; expert imagery and passionate delivery. Gilbert sings "Now that there's no you, everything is new, like this unfamiliar moon."
Amid all this heartbreak, Gilbert throws in Your Brighter Day to cheer things up.
The album ends with two songs for peace: I've Got a Plane and Alone Down Here. I've Got A Plane ends with what sounds like an outtake of Gilbert jazz-scat singing. Duke Levine throws in some pretty mean lap steel guitar to give the song a country flavor.
Unlike his first earliest albums, Gilbert seems natural in the studio on Unfamiliar Moon. The instrumentation is complex, but not distracting from the song. Gilbert's vocals are still prime in the mix. This is a mature collection of songs that will not grow old with repeated listenings. This is easily Gilbert's best album.
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