Thursday, April 30, 2009

Romeo Spike "For the Cause" review - The Inkwell

Songwriting trumps musicianship in freshman album

CD Review: "For the Cause" by Romeo Spike

Daniel Callaway

Issue date: 4/30/09 Section: Entertainment
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Romeo Spike's debut release "For the Cause" attempts to fuse the country-music-standard pedal steel guitar with classic rock licks, but the tracks that let the songwriting star and rein in the post-production are the real gems.

The talent involved in the project is undeniable.

Mike Kunz and Donn Aaron, an industry-recognized pedal steel specialist, along with the magic of the studio - much of which was conducted by Grammy-winning engineer and producer Matt Still, whose resumé, visible at, speaks for itself - are behind the album "For the Cause." According to their website bio, the accidental album materialized after a weekly songwriting contest between the two friends spiraled out of control.

Producer/musician Still, an Atlanta-area resident like Aaron and recent Chicago-transplant Kunz, got involved with the duo early in the production process and lent his producing talents and backing vocals to nigh half the album.

"Spaceman" opens the album with a bass hook and B-movie quality - in the fun, retro way - spacey science fiction sound effects courtesy of the pedal steel. Organ and other tracks overlay solid classic rock guitar work, and a breakdown and brief sci-fi-themed guitar solo display the extensive talent involved in the project.

The downside is that it seems like the talent is trying to force this song into a futuristic mode - promotional materials bill the album as "futuristic classic rock" - and maybe are not letting it be whatever it actually is. "Spaceman" sounds more like a thesis statement for the album than a real song itself.

Conversely, "Star Power" follows it with a more natural flow. It sounds like a good Shawn Mullins single with light techno-influenced overlays that nearly overpower the strong male/female duet. "Star Power's" futuristic pedal steel guitar solo feels like an organic progression of the song rather than a science experiment.

Romeo Spike dips into the alternative country vibe at times. "Cocaine Skinny" is a slow amalgam of Ryan Adams, Bright Eyes and an odd touch of Jamiroquai on the vocals that encourages a slow draw of whiskey and the tapping of toes.

"Candy Heart" is a movie soundtrack-worthy country-blues ballad of love and regret that haunts with a rich mix of pedal steel and classic sounds, a nearly syrupy duet and bittersweet lyrics. It's the easiest track to pick up and hardest to put down.

"Sara Baby" pales compared to "Candy Heart" but isn't bad; "Specter's Ghost" and "Laserbeams" are solid additions that are similar to "Star Power" in heft and execution, though the former suffers from some of the same over-producing and over-thinking as "Spaceman."

The tracks that are produced more evenly and are accented by Aaron's pedal steel rather than those that feature it are the ones that stick with you.

If nothing else, make sure to legally download - pay the men their 99 cents - "Candy Heart," but fans of more radio-friendly alternative country acts and radio-safe pop rock (think laidback Lenny Kravitz) should definitely give Romeo Spike an online listen and seriously consider picking up "For the Cause."

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