Ponticello: Dark Skies
The swirling foreboding begins immediately on the first track of Ponticello’s debut as vocalist/ bassist Ted Kamp emotes “Come On and Listen to My Heart Break” while violinist Chris Murphy and percussionist/ drummer Sean Shacklett let ripples of moody despair ooze out and slither within your sensory space.
Indeed, this Portland, OR trio has piled together an eclectic amalgam of roots rock, swing, Celtic, Bluegrass and trip hop, as has much modern music, in an attempt to create an original voice discontent on re-treading the past. And Ponticello’s hybrid of styles searches for validation as the songs fluctuate between disposable pop and sky singeing musical expeditions, but what sets them apart is maestro Murphy. Though adequately complimented by Kamp and Shacklett, Murphy is the driving force, igniting the atmosphere throughout, leaving one to wonder whether or not he has gone down to Georgia to conduct a little business. You will not miss the fact that there is no guitar on this album as Murphy’s searing virtuosity envelops the same heady space as Jimmy Page used to do during his infamous bow solos. Chris’s playing consistently straddles the stratosphere and if he keeps astounding, the band may have to rename itselfPonty-cello.
Dark Skies was primarily recorded in hotel rooms and green rooms during a two-week tour of California in November of 1999. This kind of crash course recording produces both moments of brilliance, such as the lead-off track “Heartbreak”, and head-shaking disbelief by the sophomoric “Thief” which is a tad bit obvious and just when you’re about to hit the skip button, Murphy diligently steps in to rescue the song, unleashing a stirring dose of violin that makes you forget the song’s origins. You just close your eyes and your consciousness is lifted high above, allowing your spirit to float among the heavens.
The album's title Dark Skies is, perhaps, slightly mis-leading as cuts such as “Shining Through” are feel good, both musically and lyrically, eschewing a swinging hoe down vibe while “I Wouldn’t Trade A Thing” reminds one of 80s bands such as Modern English. Definitely music to bob your head to as you’re racing down the freeway with the top down.
And just when you think the car will never veer off of pop autopilot, the title track revs up and injects a freeform sense of urgency. It begins by standing in the mesmerizing shadows of a Cream song, guided by a propulsive thumping bass beat and an effect riddled electro-violin, and elegantly launches into orbit. This song means business; the money track, the one that brings the house to its knees, the one where the clouds gray, bunch together and jostle the sky.
Resting on the flip side of emotion is the soul baring final track “World Don’t Stand Still” which showcases Ted Kamp’s vocals in a heart wrenching exploration of self-discovery. Accented by a simple dramatic bass line which achingly tugs at the heartstrings, the song seems as if it is at sea, drifting away, and when it is engulfed amidst the horizon, one sits for a moment in reposed silent reflection as if the sun just set, exposing the Dark Skies. But one also realizes that the sun will soon rise again, ushering in the Ponticello reign.
Chris Murphy (violin) / Sean Shacklett (drums & percussion) / Ted Kamp (bass & vocals)
Record Label: Siren Music
Style: Fringes of Jazz