Nostalgia, if overused, can be a dangerous drug but, when the dosage is just right, it can serve as a wonderful gateway into an artist's personalized realm. Such is the case with pianist Bill Carrothers' Family Life. Carrothers broke his trio recording habit, which is well-documented on his prior Pirouet releases, and sat down all by his lonesome to produce this pianistic trip down memory lane.
While no single mood or ideal defines this work, Carrothers often conjures a bucolic and peaceable beauty that can be viewed as a musical representation of his family's rural existence in a sparsely populated section of Michigan. The album-opening "Our House," "Bud And Bunny" (borrowing his children's nicknames for a title) and "Good Dog" all wear this quality well. Other numbers ("For Better And For Worse") hint at this ideal, but in a more reflective and less obvious manner.
Carrothers' carefree delivery on some of this material is essential to its character, but it doesn't define his character. When he digs deeper and goes beneath the surface, he provides a more well-rounded view of himself and he comes up with some music that goes a step---or a mile---beyond the beauteous and subdued. His bluesy and free-spirited side comes through during "A Night Out," he taps into his inner-Philip Glass for the arpeggio-driven "Northern Lights," and he delivers dreary, yet steadfast and resolute thoughts during "Forefathers." Dark musings come into play on "Schizophrenic Weather," which alludes to Thelonious Monk in subtle fashion and proves to be one of the high points on the album, but the most outlandish and enjoyable number is the action-packed "On The Sled." Steady, clustered chords mix with bluesy ideas and strange asides as Carrothers creates some sort of hybrid of Igor Stravinsky and Jaki Byard. While this piece proves to be a real eye-opener, Carrothers usually prefers soothing thoughts to musical sensationalism.
This album is essentially an autobiography for the ears, and an excellent one at that. Carrothers filters his very being through his fingers on the brilliant, personalized piano statement of Family Life.
Our House; Scarborough Fair/Peg; For Better and for Worse; Bud and Bunny; Northern Lights; Snowbound; On the Sled; Schizophrenic Weather; Forefathers; Good Dog; A Night Out; Harbor Lights; News From Home; Gitchee Gumee; When We're Old.
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