David Rhodes, perhaps best known for his long time collaboration with Peter Gabriel, has released Bittersweet, his first solo album to some well deserved acclaim. The CD features Rhodes singing and playing guitar on ten original compositions. His vocals sparkle with intensity whether he is softly creating a mood or rocking out with passionate verve. Tracks run the gamut from simply orchestrated melodies to avalanches of sound punctuated with pulsating rhythms, often throbbing with multi-cultural echoes. If these songs are any indication of what Rhodes can do, Bittersweet is a debut album long overdue.
In an interview for Performer Magazine Rhodes, telling Will Cady about his composing process, comes off as modestly cavalier: “When I start, I just start fiddling about.” But then he adds that it is the rhythm he generally begins with, and he lets the “sonic structure” grow by parts that suit the sound and the song. It is not strange then that it is the rhythms, their variety and their power, through which his music achieves its force and makes its dominant impression. “If It Could Only Be That Easy,” for example, a song that was featured as a USA Today pick of the week in July, builds up a rhythmic crescendo with a world music vibe reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” and even Ravel’s “Bolero.” It is the kind of music, regardless of the lyrics, that won’t get out of your head.
Even in some of the softer songs, there are passages where the rhythms dominate. In “Down By the River,” there is an intense throbbing beat that seems to echo the song’s description of the pounding of the distraught woman washing clothes in the river water. “Just Two People” uses the vocal repetition of the title phrase as a variation on rhythmic instrumentation. “One Touch” is another tune that uses the lyric to emphasize the beat and the beat to enforce the lyric.
“Bittersweet,” the title song, comes last on the CD. It is a plaintive chant with a sweet background vocal and piano line that plays against the lyrical admonition to make the most of all experience, the painful as well as the pleasurable. It serves as the way to deal with the reality that cracks and breaks and knocks you down described in the album’s first song “Reality Slips.” Like “Crazy Jane” it is important not to settle for the mundane. It is better to burn your hand on a star, than to wear a glove that fits and never to reach for that star. To be crazy like Jane the only way to deal with a life that doesn’t have the tidy endings you find in movies. Bittersweet is not a concept album, but it does offer something of a systematic world view, and it sets that world view to an infectious vibrating beat.
Joined by a band including Ged Lynch on the drums, Charlie Jones on bass, Dean Broderick on keyboards and some backup vocal work by Peter Hammell, David Rhodes has come up with a winner.