WELCOME TO ROTO'S SUMMER HOME -First solo album by former member of Air and Mr. Bungle- It's tempting to describe guitarist, pianist and songwriter James Rotondi as a "journeyman" musician, due to his lengthy stints with the French group Air, Mike Patton's Mr. Bungle, jazz-hop pioneers The Grassy Knoll, and other groundbreaking bands. Still, the Brooklyn-based performer would insist that the title of his first solo album, Summer Home, aptly suggests the sense of homecoming that the record represents; a laid-back, free-spirited musical home base, rooted in power-pop, psychedelic folk and jazz-rock, that he's never really left. "This is the record I've been carrying around in my head and in notebooks and on dirty cassette tapes for the last several years, while on the road with other bands," says Rotondi (better known by the nickname "Roto," given to him during his West Coast years by fellow players from outfits like Bungle, Garaj Mahal and Critters Buggin'). "The title Summer Home, on one level, speaks to that place you go where you leave the working world behind, and rediscover all the things that you connected with as a kid." For Roto, those touchstones include his older sister's vinyl copies of CSNY's Déjà Vu and the Beatles' Revolver; his big brother's Jeff Beck and Led Zeppelin records; and his Mom's penchant for Astrud Gilberto, French crooners like Gilbert Becaud, and the smokier side of John Coltrane. Those sounds, and beyond, are distilled on Summer Home into a smoky, bracing and heady-but still warming-musical tonic that Roto ironically likens to his favorite single-malt scotch: "Like a glass of Oban, the album should ideally wake up your palate, be smooth and warm in your gut, and go right to your head!" While the album boasts some head-buzzing synths and trippy guitar textures, it's Roto's thoughtful and multi-layered lyrics that provide the most cerebral thrills. The title track, for instance, is less an homage to the sunny American Dream than it is a critique of wealth's insulating effects: "I don't want to know about those good citizens/And their sad innocence," declares the song's narrator. "Just let me cynical, even clinical/In my indifference/It's just good common sense." (Rotondi brings a similar kind of satiric bite to his regular column for The Huffington Post, and his many past articles and reviews for Spin, Guitar Player, The Boston Phoenix and other magazines and blogs.) The Harry Nilsson-inspired track "Chasing My Shadow," says Roto, deals with "the uncomfortable process of discovering your inner jerk." "Salvation came and went/I moved a little too slow," he sings. "My soul was heaven-sent/Sent me chasing my shadow." But there's poignancy as well. In "When the Talkies Come," Roto creates a metaphoric love-gone-wrong tale set in 1920s Hollywood: "When the cameras had come and gone/The sets were struck and the dailies were scattered on the cutting room floor/I declared our contract void, and left my favorite star/To find her fortune on the boulevard." With a stunning cast of musicians fleshing out these pop novelettes-including keyboardist Didi Gutman (Brazilian Girls, Bebel Gilberto), drummer Shawn Pelton (Sheryl Crow, Bob Dylan), guitarist Joe Gore (Tom Waits, Tracy Chapman), and acoustic bassist Jeff Eyrich (Tim Buckley, Kelly Flint)-Summer Home is more than just the sunny sum of it's musical parts. Produced by Roto with engineer Steve Rossiter at Axis Sound in Hell's Kitchen, New York, it's a collection of urban-even urbane-folk tales in which romanticism and sarcasm happily coexist, and where the French chanson of "Collette" and the analog art-rock of "The Fullness of Time," the power-pop of "Congratulations" and the pop-tropicalia of "Baby, You're the Man," seem entirely of a piece. Welcome to your new Summer Home. Have some taffy.
Chasing My Shadow
When the Talkies Come
You'll Never Make Me Break
In the Fullness of Time
Baby, You're the Man
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