There are certain albums that we use to mark time. Consider this chronology. In 1969, Neil Young released his first, self-titled, solo album which demonstrated that he was a distinct artist apart from the Buffalo Springfield. In 1991, Matthew Sweet released Girlfriend, a mix of ballads and joyful hard rock pop that resulted in its becoming the best-selling album on college campuses that year. And in late 2012, Brian Dolzani released his lower-case entitled 12-song collection, If I Don’t Speak a Word.
Dolzani’s website uses three words to describe his album: Introspective/Heartfelt/Intimate. It’s a start.
My first impression, upon hearing an early sampler with five songs from word, was that Dolzani sounds more than a bit like early Neil Young. He also has a freshness and love for his craft that calls to mind the younger Matthew Sweet. It just so happens that both Sweet and Dolzani are admirers of Mr. Young, and sing one or more of his songs when they perform live.
Dolzani has a great way with words and phrases, some of which are only caught after listening to his songs more than once: “I spent a lifetime looking for a lost clue…,” “I fell in a forest and nobody heard me…,” “History is yours to steal….”
The CD begins with “Older Now,” which sounds like a track from the Crosby, Stills and Nash album. The singer is still trying to figure out life, and we’re the beneficiaries of his confused pondering. Track two, “Reasons,” sounds like Leo Sayer in its melancholy tone and lyrics. Which takes us to “Whether or Not,” the best song never recorded by Neil Young and Crazy Horse. The singer is battered and bruised by life and love’s indifference: “I lose blood and it matters not to me….” He wants to see the face of the guy who his girl now loves more than he. Although the band behind Dolzani is a bit too synchronized to be Crazy Horse, any Young fan will agree that this is a fine song in the style of Everybody Knows This is Nowhere or After the Gold Rush.
In “Before Midnight,” the singer asks his girlfriend to respond to his questions: “Are we still good together? Are we still in love?” Here, Dolzani comes across like an early Jackson Browne. He interacts well with the instrumentation, singing with it and not overpowering it. “Sail This Sea” is a divorce song that might have been written by Phil Collins. “I’ve been trying so long, and all I got was another song.”
The protagonist of “Broken” views his life as a mess, with the pieces of his body lying on the floor. The singer has been knocked down, but he’s ready to get up and rejoin life; he’s healing even if it means having to revisit “old feelings, old dreams.” It’s a Tim Hardin-style song that reminded me of “No Regrets.” In “Not As Lonely,” the protagonist tries to convince himself that the world has not ended because his lover has left. It recalls “I Thought I Knew You” from Sweet.
“Hey Dad” is Dolzani’s tribute to his late father, a man who was not perfect. It’s enlivened by a Beatles Revolver-style backing track. “Wilted” includes a Harvest-era harmonica, as the singer concludes (in words that almost sound lifted from Young), “Happily ever after is a fantasy….” The protagonist in Young’s “The Loner” would identify perfectly with this song.
“Fair” is about the unfairness in a relationship in which one party loves more than the other. The sentiments are similar to those on Sweet’s “Nothing Lasts” and it’s bolstered by a nice steel guitar. In the piano-based “Autumn in Central Park,” the singer expresses ambivalence about love. “Even when you know that you’re in love/There are times when you’ve had enough….”
The album concludes with “I’m Sorry Now.” The singer is down: “I’m sorry for the way I can make you feel like you’re dead.” But, there’s a tone of hopefulness for the future on the edge of his voice. It makes for a fitting conclusion to the album, except that it feels like an idea for a song rather than something fully realized.
I think most will find this to be a pleasant and enjoyable collection of songs. Its weakness is that it suffers from a lack of variety in tone. As one person remarked, “A little of that guy goes a long way.” On Girlfriend, Sweet sang a number of heartbreak ballads, but he also unleashed three wild and heavy rock songs, “Divine Intervention,” “Girlfriend,” and “Does She Talk?” Perhaps Dolzani can find two or three lead guitarists to similarly embolden his next recording session.
Bear in mind that Brian Dolzani is a very talented and creative musician. He may now have to live with the knowledge that – as stated by the enlightened philosopher Snoopy – “There’s no heavier burden than a great potential.”