Bill Passalacqua and Mike Nicolai
Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., May 16, 2003
Bill PassalacquaPeace of My Mind (Reckless Pedestrian)
Mike NicolaiRooster Nudes
Bill Passalacqua and Mike Nicolai have virtually nothing in common. The exception being that they're both local singer-songwriters. Otherwise, they work in different musical terrain, and as evidenced by their new albums, both are desperately in need of a producer, or at least someone to bounce ideas off of before they let these things loose on the public. Passalacqua sounds like a guy who'd go see A Mighty Wind and not get the joke. Peace of My Mind is his attempt at a political message, and while his heart may be in the right place, he sings in an overly earnest, slightly off-key way, and his music screams, "This is folk music!" He starts things off by sucking the life out of one of Butch Hancock's best songs, "You Coulda Walked Around the World," then attempts to adapt the melody to John Prine's "Flag Decal" to his own design and in the process destroys the song's impact and meaning. Passalacqua's own tunes aren't much better. "Inside Trade" is a talking blues in the form made popular by Woody Guthrie. It's a decidedly difficult song structure to work with, and Passalacqua makes a game effort, but he falls flat by being too wordy, making his point in a way that you can tell he thinks he's being clever. To his credit, he's got some great players backing him -- Darcie Deaville, Marvin Dykhuis, Chip Dolan, and Rich Brotherton -- but all the good musicians in Austin aren't going to help bad songs and bad adaptations of others' songs. Nicolai is something else entirely. His backing is rudimentary, mostly acoustic guitar with the occasional keyboard and drums, but the problem lies with his lyrics, which are overwhelmingly linear, lack a distinct melody, and seem to be just nonsensical, silly stream of consciousness. In fact, the whole project, from the name of the album, Rooster Nudes, to the song titles, which include happy ditties like "Messiah the Clown," "Mammoth," and "Local," seems to be a joke of some sort that only Nicolai and his acquaintances are in on. Then there's the fact that he can barely hold a tune. After about 20 minutes of his moaning, you wish he'd get over himself. There are artists that can put this type of fare across successfully; Richard Buckner and Mark Eitzel come to mind. Nicolai needs to travel a long way to catch those two. More songs like the straightforward set closer, "Rope," which actually possesses a chorus(!), and he might be on the right track.