Bulbs of Daylight album review
Michael J Weiss is straddling a line. On one side is the most accessible, organic, and humble musician I've had the pleasure of knowing and listening to. And on the other side is a restless spirit that's hungry to take chances and push his music to new places. What happens, exactly, when a musician with a boatload of talent and healthy dose of fearlessness straddles that line? You get an album like Bulbs Of Daylight, and thank your lucky stars you didn't miss it.
There's no doubt that Weiss wears his influences on his sleeve; you can hear the flecks of James Taylor swimming around next to dabs of Simon and Garfunkel and a heavy helping of Jason Isbell. But the beauty of Weiss' sound is that he isn't exactly like any of those guys, he's just found a way to mix them up into his own signature cocktail - and he owns it.
While Weiss is known as a solo acoustic artist, this album takes every preconceived notion and expectation about what a follow up to 2013's Grounded would sound like, and turns them on their head. And therein lies the beauty; what good would Grounded Part II really be? Often times fans and listeners will connect with an album and expect that every proceeding album should float around in the same corner of the pool. Where's the fun in that? Weiss has done a masterful job on this album of employing some exceptionally talented musicians to back him up, including Jesse Rojas on drums, and album producer and engineer John Kelly on lead guitar and bass. The result is a record that feels all at once timeless and classic, and like a step into new possibilities for Weiss' music.
The lead off track Moving On is a guaranteed toe-tapper that feels like a Jackson Browne B-side in the best way possible. It's the perfect lead-off track, and showcases one of the threads that weave through his songs - Weiss is a master of the positive-song, a feat not many musicians can actually pull off. While many songwriters like to wallow around in the negative, there's always a sense that no matter what life throws his way, Weiss is going to find the silver-lining - and help you see it too. Moving On is an afternoon drive through trials and tribulations that says no matter what comes your way, you have to keep moving forward.
Here With The Sun - Possibly one of my favorite songs on the album. The 3/4 slow burner is melancholy, hopeful, and feels like a fall afternoon. John Kelly's accent work on lead guitar creates a beautiful opposition to Weiss' acoustic work, and his vocal melodies prove why he's one of the best songwriters around, especially in the Florida music scene. The message of letting go of the weight of your past and soaking up the light of the sun is one that I think a lot of us should listen to and relish in, especially when it's as melodically beautiful as this tune.
Lightning In A Bottle is one of Weiss' nods (either intentional or not) to the great Jason Isbell. Featuring some killer fiddle work and bouncing rhythm section, the nose is very much folk but the finish is almost country-esque. The blended result is a song that makes you want to get up and dance.
Get out your tissues, kids - Best Things is a tearjerker. It's summed up quite simply in the chorus line, "Pick up those feet, baby, one by one / Whatever you do, don't look down. / Pick up those feet, baby, one by one / There's no net where the best things are found." Weiss' ability to give you a shot in the arm and deliver an encouraging word never ceases to amaze me; this song feels like a late afternoon watching the sun go down with your family. Considering he's a father now, one can't help but wonder if some of his uplifting messages aren't inspired by his new role as a dad. Wherever the inspiration comes from, it makes for great music.
Take A Chance On Me is another foray into toeing the country line. Weiss and Kelly play off of each other wonderfully; their guitar playing races forward through choruses and slows pace in verses together in perfect unison creating some great musical dynamics, and the rhythm section sits in the pocket almost unnoticeably - Until you realize you're tapping your foot along with Rojas' drumming.
Open Roads will have you jumping in the car to drive out into the sunset. Weiss' ability to craft verses that will get stuck in your head as easily as choruses is a talent in and of itself, so it's no surprise that the verses of this song are unbelievably well put together; "There's a rocking of the timbers, there's a creaking of the boards / And the weight of all the souls that we insist must stay aboard / Lose all of our cargo, lighten up our load / Or we can hide them there forever so we don't feel alone." The scenes he manages to paint with his words and melodies are so vivid that the music becomes a living breathing story. This one is a can't-miss track.
Until You Wake is another Jason Isbell-infused country tinged slow burner. A song about loyalty and dedication to the ones you love, Weiss finds a way to take his voice from crystal clear belting and high-register tones on songs like Open Roads to soothing crooner vibes in this almost lullaby of a song.
Quite A Mess could almost be a John Mayer tune from Born and Raised - The chorus dances from major to minor and lends to the song's theme of disarray and trying to right the ship. Life can get messy, and this weary take on cleaning up after the chaos leans ever so slightly into a darker tone for Weiss, but is balanced perfectly with brighter verses.
Monsters is raw, stripped-down, and organic. Weiss and his guitar carry a beautiful song about acknowledging our demons, flaws, and regrets and hoping the ones we love can see beyond our faults and love us unconditionally anyway. I'd heard him workshop this song a few times live, and to this day, this one still gets me choked up.
Whiskey and Wine is exactly what you want out of an album closer. Raise your beer or your whiskey, say a toast, take a drink, and celebrate life. Weiss knows how to get a crowd going, and this one will undoubtedly have listeners at his shows buying each other brews and shots and reveling in this Irish-drenched drinking song.
In the end, Bulbs Of Daylight might not be what you expected from Michael J Weiss. And that's exactly what makes it so good. It's an artist exploring where his music - and he himself - can go next.
-Zach Caruso, KVA LLC