It's been six years since Uncle Carl's sophomore CD, Bring Me Your Children. We described that '02 release as "solid musicianship parlaying a smooth mixture of jazz-club R&B with a Rock tilt wrapped around semi-serious lyrics that give us tales slanted to the humorous side of life and it's up and downs." We also stated, "as you mix another cocktail remember that the 'Children' Uncle Carl wants brought to him is the Child that remains in us all."
With his 3rd release, The End of the World, "Uncle" Carl Vreeland has left both the child and his band behind. Writing, performing and recording the album himself, Uncle Carl offers up a loose, semi-autobiographical, concept, song-cycle album exploring the space between losing and gaining love, life, and personal fulfillment.
Opening with the title track, the Sylvia Dee/Arthur Kent classic "The End of the World," Uncle Carl sets a somber tone of heartache and loss with light piano and sparse accompaniment. His sadness continues with "Please Come With Me," another ballad that sets the lights low as the music highlights the solemn tale of how he tries to beg her from boarding the train that will carry her out of his life. Was his confessional enough to convince her? Can he really change? The plea from the guitar is betrayed by the piano and somehow we know she's not buying it this time. Closing the fist cycle we get I Saw Irene Today, possibly Uncle Carl's catchiest song to date: An up-tempo, sing-along, that seems to pick up three years later when our narrator happens to spot his old girlfriend and does what he can to hide from her, all the while trying to watch her and reflecting how "I use to worship her/but then she left me flat/she didn't tell me that/she was gay," and "Yeah, she busted up that heart of mine [sic]/no, I didn't see the signs/when she told me she was leaving/I nearly up and died."
The 2nd cycle picks up where we'd expect to find any heartbroken musician; "All My Friends Are Drunks" sports a bourbon-soaked, slow-tempo, haunting tale related in a beat poet style reading that explains the dead-end of drinking one's problems into submission only to find that it wasn't the answer, even if it seemed like it was at the time. Fighting through the alcohol, we get a piano ballad that comes across as a sad, tender, out-pouring of heartache. But upon closer listen, "Without You" is a joyful happy ode to finally being without that person who was holding him down, holding him back. This is a liberation song, which should be sung with an uplifting lilt and even a side of in-your-face triumph. Instead, Uncle Carl delivers it exactly as he feels it: while the words speak of elation, the music, mood, and heart are as low as they can be without her. To finish this cycle we get a bit of gospel blues that tries to tell us to leave God and religion out of your drinking and sorrow over lost love. "Don't Get Drunk On Jesus" is our protagonist's failed attempt to debunk God's role in affairs of the heart. Again, it is the music that betrays him here: while he's preaching to avoid the spiritual connection, the music conveys the truth behind the denial.
But like any good/true story, the denial must be acted out/upon. The 3rd song-cycle is where our main character dives headlong into total debauchery. "Good Time" and "Oh Well" celebrate Classic Uncle Carl with solid, jazzy, R&B bouncing out a joyful mix of slinky rhythms and tight leads accompanied by soothing hooks, serious grooves and lyrical witticisms of fantastic fun and frivolity. "The Devil Is Me" wraps up that fun and frivolity with a confessional that comes forth from all that came before. Call it a reawakening, call it a rebirth, call it baptism by fire, but with unrelenting rhythm and lead guitar forcing the ` home, we realize that change has come.
The Final cycle begins with a dedication to "Suzie"— "I'm In Love Again" is that tender piano ballad to the beautifulness that is love. Hailing its saving grace and all the joy that brings tears to the eyes in a good way. "You Bring Me Back To My Heart" and "I'm Learning To Love" close this story, much the same way it started, in plain and simple terms. This time instead of lamenting the loss of love and the heartache that ensued, our singer extols the virtues that love (both mortal and spiritual) can give, but also acknowledges that it isn't something that can be given for your satisfaction, it is something that must be worked for and accepted not as an easy solution to your problems, but as a path that must be traversed daily.
It seems as though in six years Uncle Carl has revisited a lifetime and more.
It isn't The End of the World,
And the hidden track let's us know that for all the seriousness of the preceding tale, this musician can still live, love, and laugh just the same as always.
Check the smile and the wink as our Unc closes out his finest work to date.
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