Port of Call by Very Small Animal is the kind of music you might hear sitting around a campfire with a bunch of friends. Toasting marshmallows, that kind of thing. Somebody sets down their cup of hot chocolate, picks up a guitar and everybody starts to feel warm soft and fuzzy. They politely pay attention to pleasant, on and off-key, earnest sounds of scant consequence, which they’ll forget all about ten minutes after they’re done listening.
It’s slightly more interesting here because more than just the guitar and voice, you’ve got the recording studio to play with bringing in production values — it’s cleanly recorded, fine fidelity — and, naturally, drums, bass, backup vocals and such. Slightly, but not a whole lot more — especially with the artist not having a great deal of regarding for hitting his pitches. At times, perfect point in case being “One Propeller,” his voice falls so flat it’s painful. (A lot of singers are too proud to have the engineer fix it in the mix — this fellow shouldn’t’ve been).
“Buried Alive” is another nails-scratching-across-black-board listening experience. Which could’ve been avoided, except when the singers get swept up, waxing passionate, pitch goes right out the window. Added to which the lyrics are trite. As in, “I was buried alive in the summer … six feet underground.” Hardly an original image, copping the ancient quip: everybody’s buried six feet deep. “I was buried alive / Now, I’m clawing my way out.” This sort of hackneyed melodrama pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the writing.
It isn’t all absolutely bad news. The guy shows promise for his next outing. Hokey as “Buried Alive” is, there’s fleeting moment of actual artistry when the singing goes beyond listenable to, in fact, interesting. Sounds like Donald Fagen. On a couple of the others, he brings David Gates to mind (point being, anyone who can bring to mind Fagen and Gates in the same breath can’t just be dismissed). And the album’s music, every once in a while, is fairly emotive. Take the cleverly done title tune. The composition is a Freddie Mercury-ish ballad that, indeed, Queen — or Robert Plant — could have put over with no problem. Very Small Animal could put it over, himself, but the cut has the same failing as the rest of Port of Call: mistakenly self-impressed singing. If he wants to have the poignant effect he keeps reaching for, he’s going to have to respect the material more and take a lesson or two at hitting his notes.
You can find selections from Port of Call on YouTube and, quite imaginably, half a dozen other outlets. Or watch and see if and when he shows up on a bill at one of the area’s showcase clubs or coffee houses. It may be your cup of tea. As for me, I’ll pass.