Justin Shapiro is set to drop his debut album, Campfire Party, May 18. Shapiro provides guitar and vocals, while being backed up by Derick Wiggins on bass and guitar, and Dave Chaeltzky on the drums.
From Washington, D.C., Shapiro started out playing in cover bands, followed by forming his own band, called Green River Junction. After the band’s drummer relocated, the whole thing petered out. So he decided to go solo, incorporating flavors of rock, folk rock, Americana, and alt rock into a sound reminiscent of Dave Matthews, Pearl Jam, and Tom Petty.
Campfire Party encompasses 11 tracks.
The best songs on the album include “Tyrannosaurus Rex,” which emanates a heavy Dave Matthews feel. Shapiro’s vocals are okay, but inevitably, since the song sounds like a Dave Matthews cover, most listeners will make a comparison and Shapiro will come up short.
“Brighter Days” opens slowly and then ramps up to energetic folk rock levels. Bob Dylan immediately comes to mind while listening to the song. And again, Shapiro’s efforts fail to measure up. “Inspiration Nation” offers Shapiro’s attempt at all-out southern-flavored rock. He growls out the lyrics, but the whole feel of the song is still just blandly ordinary.
To my mind, “Stand” and “My Own Way” are the most original songs on the album, proving that Shapiro can write music that doesn’t sound like a poor imitation of Dave Matthews or Bob Dylan. The hitch is Shapiro’s voice, which isn’t bad – it’s just not great. There’s nothing distinguishing about it. It’s too average, and he’s trying too hard to sound like Dave Matthews.
My suggestion is for Shapiro to write the music, foregoing anything even remotely associated with his influences. And that means trying a whole new genre, maybe country-western, maybe reggae, maybe SoCal soft rock – heck, maybe even electro-pop or dream pop. And then find a frontman, or better yet a frontwoman with a unique voice.
As it stands, Campfire Party oozes mediocrity and offers little to recommend.