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Music Review: P.J. Pacifico – Surface

The first I heard of singer/songwriter P.J. Pacifico’s music was his 2011 album Outlet and I was very enthusiastic. At his best, his songs demonstrated an emotional honesty, a sincerity that belied their artistry, not to mention a real knack for infectious melody. When he followed it up with The Live EP earlier this year, a seven-song compendium of live solo performances offered as a free download as a thank you to his fans, I was impressed with how he managed to take over the stage while making more with less.

Next month, Pacifico releases his latest album, Surface, and from what he is quoted as saying about it in his publicity release, it is in some sense a more ambitious project. He was, he says, looking for a “bigger sound.” “Just a touch,” he adds, “just little tiny sonic stuff that make the sound of the songs bigger….” It is also intended to be bigger in its themes. No love songs this time out, no heartbreak plaints—”happily married and completely comfortable” he wanted to focus on “current issues, the appreciation of being alive, the NOW, positive forward emotion, hard work, paying your dues and mostly, anything can happen if you set your mind to it.”

Now while I applaud his ambition, and the bigger touch in the production works well, I must confess that I miss the simpler vibe of the earlier albums. Musically, the eight original songs on Surface are vintage Pacifico—infectious melodies sung with passion and sincerity, hooks that will have you humming. I must admit, though, that at times I find the lyrics a bit cryptic. I read the singer’s comments about individual songs and discovered that what he meant to say and what I think I heard are two different things.

“Half Wishing,” the song which opens the album, is a good example. I heard a love song: “I must be doing something right/ ‘Cause here I am with you tonight.” The “You” in the song, I take it for granted, is a young lady. Pacifico, though, says he was writing a song meant to open his performance and the “you” is the audience. Now to be fair, he does say that some listeners think the song is about a girl, and that’s alright with him. Nevertheless, his intention was to greet his audience. In a line in “Champions and Guardians,” “the two of us who never knew each other much,” he indicates he is talking about a divorced couple. But without his hints, I, for one, would never have known. “Surface,” the title song, has a lyric which mystifies me and the elaborate explanation Pacifico gives sheds little light.

On the other hand, a song like “Something Nobody Knows” is Pacifico at his best. It is based on an objective image—releasing a balloon with a note on the end of its string. It may be open to individual interpretation, but as a metaphor, it is precise. It is brilliant in its simplicity. “Lucky Bound,” with its image of reaching for the brass ring on a carousel, does much the same thing. “Hold Me, Austin,” which is based on the singer’s reaction to something he read in a free newspaper when he arrived to perform in what I would assume was South by Southwest, is as emotionally honest and sincere as anything on his earlier albums. The ninth song on the album is an excellent cover of Chris Cross’s “Sailing.” These are more examples of Pacifico at his best.

As with all of P.J. Pacifico’s music, the more I listen to this new album, the more I like it. If I don’t always understand his meaning in a given lyric, I do always appreciate his serious intent.

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