jason kundrath tickles the ivories…
The guitar is a great instrument. Learn a few chords and you can pretty much play any pop song ever written. But let’s be honest: the piano positively towers over the guitar in terms of its range of dynamic, depth of character, and boundless potential. And Tom Brislin is one of those exceptional players who effortlessly draws life from a keyboard with a preternatural ability that suggests a hard-wired connection between his brain and the instrument. It’s the kind of virtuosity that embarrasses most folks who like to think of themselves as musicians.
But Brislin is no mere concert pianist. Rather, he is a hopelessly gifted and creative songwriter with a beautiful voice, a mesmerizing sense of melody, and a penchant for crafting lush, layered songs of a cinematic quality that connect with the impact of all 88 keys. And while Hurry Up and Smell the Roses may be his first solo album, Brislin is not new to the game. Fronting his former band Spiraling – an epic, progressive pop/rock juggernaut – he explored themes of love, longing, and loss at high volumes. As a lyricist, his words have always been smart, honest, and emotionally powerful. But poets like Brislin can only ruminate on such topics for so long before they begin thinking about the bigger picture. So – as its title cleverly suggests – he is drawing some inspiration from his own growing sense of mortality. The results are at once dynamic, delicate, and devastating. And while the album’s 11 tracks are deep, they are far from dark.
Sure, he hits the nail on the head with the “I Hold a Candle,” a haunting and lovely reflection on life’s steady melt. And he painfully recalls a promising love pulled apart on “When You Told Me Not to Go” – a profoundly mournful solo piano composition, beautifully elevated by strings. But he also flexes his pop muscles on the sharp grooves of “Stuff You Would Understand” as well as the soaring “Your Favorite Day,” where he lovingly details the sublime joys of a day down the shore (in 7/4 time). He even treats us to three purely instrumental compositions, including the ambient, spacey expanse of “The Outskirts,” and the stately melancholy of “Visitor.”
As a whole, the album has a cohesive feel and flow to it, held together by Brislin’s unique vision, striking arrangements, and masterful performances. Grand and affecting, Hurry Up and Smell the Roses is the brilliant work of one of the best artists you don’t know. For those of us in the know, however, we can only hope Brislin’s candle continues to burn brightly and leads him to a few more albums of this caliber.