My Favorite Year

Tony Scalzo

East Liberty Records, 2013

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


In the early twenty-teens, Texas power-pop trio Fastball’s resident singer-songwriters Tony Scalzo and Miles Zuniga each took time to record and release a solo album. In both cases, the decision feels like it was the right one, reflecting the more personal nature of the songs each man was developing.

Zuniga’s These Ghosts Have Bones was an epic divorce album, bitter yet incisive and well-crafted in every respect. The context and intention behind Scalzo’s sardonically titled My Favorite Year is less public, but unavoidably similar; it’s a breakup album with an abundance of downbeat lyrics and unhappy endings.

Much like Zuniga, Scalzo is capable of writing positively ebullient songs when the mood strikes (think “You’re An Ocean”), but has also penned many a melancholy tune (think “Out Of My Head”). Titling the opening track “Love Lost” certainly points you in the direction of the album as a whole, a breakup song (“Tell your friends we had our last fight”) set to a peppy power-pop arrangement. The first thing you notice, though, is that the music feels rawer, simpler and less arranged-and-produced than Fastball typically does; it’s as if multi-instrumentalist Scalzo and drummer/producer Stephen Belans just set up on a Saturday morning and hit record without putting a whole lot more thought into it than that. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The other thing Fastball fans will immediately miss—as I did on These Ghosts Have Bones—is the vocal interplay between Scalzo and Zuniga. Darin Murphy contributes background vocals on a few tracks here, but in general the vocal arrangements on My Favorite Year are as basic as the production.

“Regretfully” offers another upbeat number about a breakup, while “Don’t Let Anyone” puts a Beatlesque spin on a similar theme. “Halfway Girl” plows the same thematic ground, but with strings that feel somewhat tacked-on, a bald ploy to add interest to an otherwise by-the-numbers tune.

“Ziggy” finds Scalzo working in characters—and co-writing with Chris Stills and Zuniga—but the mood is the same, a sad and lonely tune about a club rat who can’t manage to connect. The chugging “Reality” is a tune about a lovers’ spat that feels like one Fastball would’ve sharpened into something with more impact than this version manages. Then “Free World” finds Scalzo co-writing with Britt Daniel (Spoon) and Zuniga, and offers a welcome freshness to the sound, with unusual guitar textures, harmonium, horns and plenty of space in the arrangement.

The slumbery “Looks Like I’ve Thrown It All Away” delivers three minutes of wistful “you pulled the wool over my eyes” melancholy, while the dour “Par For The Course” leans much harder on the guitars. “Bed I Made” then turns up the backbeat, a muscular rocker with fuzzed out guitars and a rising-falling hook, as our narrator is faced with the destabilizing consequences of his decisions. “Bed I Made” and “Forever Girl” are probably the most Fastball-ish tunes here, the latter a thrummy, organ-heavy plea to a lover that leads into genuinely upbeat closer “Last Word,” a final stab at happiness in the form of a road song.

While all of these songs feel like they have potential, most never seem to achieve it; the production feels like an afterthought and most of the arrangements feel unfinished. Even the mix feels off; it’s that rare solo album from an established singer where it feels like the vocals are actually mixed too low. Maybe this all reflects the principal’s state of mind at the time—morose, judging by the lyrics—but My Favorite Year lacks the snap and polish of Tony Scalzo’s work with Fastball; it feels like a half-hearted effort that coulda shoulda woulda been better.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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