Danny Federici

Deadeye / MusicMasters Records, 1997


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Danny Federici has nothing to prove... and everything to prove.

Having spent over a decade as the keyboardist for Bruce Springsteen's celebrated E-Street Band, there's no questioning his talent behind the ivories. Just listen to songs like "Born To Run" or "Born In The USA" and hear the voice that Federici added to those numbers.

But just as much as his background speaks for itself, Federici also has to face the challenging question: is he capable of making quality music without Springsteen? The answer lies on Flemington, his first solo album... and the answer is yes, but don't look for an E-Street repeat here.

Federici does invite two of his old bandmates to help him establish his own musical voice - Nils Lofgren contributes guitar to two tracks, and Garry Tallent to a pair as well (though both do not appear together on any track - smart move). The cast of musicians varies throughout the album, but the most common players are guitarist John DeFuria (who is underutilized in my opinion), bassist Shem Schroeck (who can lay down quite a funky groove), percussionist Charles Slone and drummer Tony Braunagel.

Federici seems content to be a voice of the band more often than a featured instrument. There are times when his piano work stands out among the performances, and his accordion work often takes the voice of a singer. But Federici isn't stupid - he realizes his bandmates are as intregal a part of the music as his keyboard work.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

For a good half of the album, Federici and crew craft some fine music that borders on new-age and light pop rather than the arena-rock that made his occasional-still employer famous. The title track adds only bass (here provided by Jim Hanson) and drums to create a peppy opener to the album - and occasionally reminds me not only of his E-Street Band work, but also keyboard-driven television theme songs. (This is not necessarily a bad thing - I happened to like the theme music from "St. Elsewhere" - so there!) "Pennsylvania Avenue" also has the same magic, though here the piano line is especially highlighted - and for good reason.

There are many solid performances on Flemington. "In The Next Five Minutes" has Federici getting both funky and bluesy (is that a word?) on the piano, something I wish he had done more often. His piano's trading off with the sax work of Joe Sublett is especially interesting. "Egg Beater" is also a fun track to listen to, one that doesn't seem to last as long as the time sheet says. Also creating interesting moods are "Mr. Continental" and "My Little Cow".

But the problem with Flemington is that Federici doesn't seem to want to constantly challenge himself. While he successfully breaks out of the "Bruce" mode, he seems content to just play light jazz with not much frills, thank you very much. Because of this, by the middle of the album things tend to stagnate a bit. "A Doorman's Life," a song which is supposed to be a loving tribute to Federici's father, fails to do much for me. Likewise, "Carousel Breeze" and "Round & Round" don't connect after a while - one almost wishes that Federici would turn up the intensity on these tracks just a little.

And it's not that Flemington is a bad album; it is, in fact, better than many smooth jazz albums I've listened to over the years. But its weakness is that it fails to break new ground - maybe this was due to Federici's wanting to escape from Springsteen's shadow. Well, this has been accomplished - now what? I've listened to this disc three times just before writing this review, and still I find myself waiting for the real fireworks to begin. (Fortunately, there's a small taste of this on "Pennsylvania Avenue", but not enough to whet my appetite.)

I have no doubts that Federici will continue to thrive as a solo musician, and Flemington is a great portrait of his talents as a songwriter and keyboardist. But going for the vanilla is okay the first time around - here's hoping he'll throw a little pepper sauce into the mix the next time.

Rating: B-

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Deadeye / MusicMasters Records, and is used for informational purposes only.