Johnny Cuomo is a talented guy. He could probably make a living emulating Bob Dylan, and on the occasional track, he does, but mimicking an artist, even a great, is just not in his makeup. True, on occasion, his voice is quite Dylan-like, but it is the exception rather than the rule. Slightly rough around the edges, it can deliver the soft ballad and the light acoustic rocker with equal ease. On American Idle, it can go beyond that, thanks to the inclusion of cohort Dan Lowery in the mix. That's right. Here you get two-for-one—two talented pickers and vocalists and, you guessed it, songwriters, for all thirteen songs are co-written and performed in duo form (with help on occasion from six backup musicians).
As is usually the case with me, the cuts recommended by Cuomo and Paradiddle are pretty decent. The title track, American Idle, is a pop folk slam on reality TV and is catchy enough, especially considering how much many people hate the low common denominator of such shows (talk about setting the bar low—sheesh). Heaven's Gate is a pleasant contemplative look at life, complete with sixties' folk harmonica, as is Field 2. All picked by those who know, all good and presented in a very Americana way. To my ears, though,Milk and Pumpkins is the real winner, Cuomo's voice carrying on the winds of despair or maybe loneliness, sparse instrumental background adding to that effect. It clocks in at a very short 6:36, which is a way of saying it flows smoothly. Cuomo and Lowery bring in the band, so to speak, on the old-timey sounding More Bricks, a song right up there with the best of Tim O'Brien in that vein. The picking is tasty, thanks to Cuomo's dobro and Benny Stowe's aural perfect banjo, along with whoever picks the acoustic guitar lead—smoo-o-o-oth. More mainstream pop than folk, Songs From Paul closes the album on a high note for me, a catchy tune very polished indeed.
This is not the first release featuring Johnny Cuomo. He surfaced with a fairly well know band on the East Coast known as Voice of the Turtle, which got quite a buzz going a handful of years ago, and he has released one other "solo" album, There & Back Again, as well as having contributed to Paradiddle's compilation LPs, Bob Dylan Uncovered and Happy Holidays from Paradiddle Records, Volume One. And after hearing American Idle, I am sure he will grace us with albums in the near and hopefully distant future. Like I said, the guy has talent.
On the business side, Paradiddle's Bill Herman is one of probably more than a hundred small label heads out there these days promoting regional artists who otherwise would be consigned to the artist-does-all category, a musician's purgatory, and that is not to negate his importance. Every one of those hundred-plus fill a void created by the major labels in the sixties, a time when corporate took over music and art. Since that time, the Johnny Cuomos and Dan Lowerys, not to mention the Jim Dawsons and Tom Pachecos and even the better known Jim Posts and Tom Paxtons, have been at the mercy of a market geared more toward major bucks than the arts. A handful of small labels over the years tried their best, but the Green Linnets and Flying Fishes were few and far between and the resources slim. Well, the resources are more than likely still slim, but Herman is doing his best, presenting a stable of Long Island musicians of note which includes Cuomo along with many others—Jay Scott, Chris Van Cott, Lisa Itts, Last Charge of the Light Horse, and the East Coast's somewhat renowned Bob Dylan cover band, Ghost of Electricity, and that covers only a few Paradiddle artists. Music will one day write volumes about these small and many times struggling companies, left to their own existence by the major media and covered only slightly by smaller press. Until history gives Paradiddle and its like their due, we should all tip our hats. Purchasing one of their many fine offerings will be tip enough. You might even start with American Idle. It is worth a serious listen and more.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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