CD REVIEW: Joe Ferren - Open Skies
by: Cyrus Rhodes
- INDIE MUSIC DIGEST-
Label: Independent Artist
Genre: Americana, R&B, Country, Folk
Sounds Like: Lyle Lovitt, Delbert McClinton, Buddy Miller
Technical Grade: 9/10
Weakness: More solo segments, More vocal emotion
Florida based Americana artists Joe Ferren just released his latest CD entitled Open Skies in 2013. Since moving to Florida in 2011 Farren has maintained a rigorous gigging schedule, playing at venues including the Ritz in Ybor City, The Hideaway Café, The Vinoy, the Don Vicente and many others while feverishly writing fresh material. He first traveled to Nashville in 2011 in order to get closer to the energetic, expert songwriting in Music City and on return trips has played at Bluebird Café and Douglas Corner Café. It was during that first trip to Nashville that he met hit songwriter Steve Seskin, who motivated him to put together his sophomore album, Open Skies, produced by guitarist Jason Roller (Kelly Pickler, Winona Judd). Acousti along with bass player Lance Hoppen (Orleans) and a slew of talented Nashville studio players also contributed to the recording process.
The CD kicks gets off the ground nicely with the Track 1 “Not Worth Writing About” a jumping flowing intro piece that serves up slamming harmonica, Saloon style Piano, guitar driven groove meshed against walking bass lines, effective harmonies and soulful melody from Ferrin. Track 2 “Who’s that Standing in my Shoes” shifts gears a bit with steady flowing rhythm, well placed guitar chops painted against a grand slam chorus making for an impressive follow-up statement. Track 3 “Love Junkie” is another impressive groove that dishes out rock steady rhythm, impressive and shall we say thought provoking lyrical content that flows and ebbs its way through to motional fruition. The CD makes a great first impression dashing out 3 rock solid songs in a row. The musicianship of everyone involved (which includes a slew of session players) is above the bar. I would classify this music as classic Pop, Americana, with brief touches of Modern Country and even Saloon Jazz to R&B. Music is reminiscent of classic Lyle Lovitt, Delbert McClinton, and Buddy Miller. Along the way you will notice lush instrumentation with things like impressive harmonica, piano, dobro, fiddles, organ, impressive rhythm and solo guitar, well placed percussion, impressive Hammond Organ, lush harmonies layered everywhere all built upon a thick as a brick rhythm section. What I like the most about this band is how well they seem to groove together, testament to hundreds of hours of writing and rehearsal time no doubt. Now turning our attention over to Farren - as for his vocal abilities well he’s a great advent. His voice goes down smooth and fills the space peacefully and unobtrusively with a timber that is simply infectious. I might add he takes some impressive vocal risks indicating to me a confident vocal ability. Ferren also plays guitar and Piano on the album. All songs are extremely well crafted and consistent across the board - world class songwriting. This CD from Ferren delivers 11 solid tracks all providing musical enjoyment filled with strong musical variety and diversity. The music of Joe Ferren has everything you would expect from a world class musical production. From slamming ‘Drinking to Forget”, “What’s Her Name” to melodic “Side by Side” to rocking “Get Ready”, “Four Letter Word” and “The Tail is Waggin' This Dog Again” to smooth as silk American Dream” and “21 Days.” this CD has something for just about everyone. The CD ends with Track 11"If I fall Down” the perfect finale statement for a CD like this.
It’s hard to find any serious weaknesses with this release. I do however wish there were more extended solo segments throughout the catalog. I also recommend Ferren somehow bring more vocal emotion to the table on some of his performances. This can be done by providing more vocal peak and valley within the vocal delivery. Just listen to Joe Cocker’s “You are so Beautiful” or R.E.M “Hairshirt” to see what I’m talking about. At the end of the day people don’t buy paper and plastic, they buy emotion. It's a critical component especially within this genera. Perhaps dedicate 1 or 2 pieces on future release to this slow heart stopping emotional writing style, and a few movements that really showcase his pin drop vocal skills.
From start to finish Open Skies by Joe Ferren is a barnburner collection of music. The songwriting – the gold standard, all consistent musical experiences, each one possessing a unique personality, flair, and signature groove. Note for note, song for song there isn’t really weak piece on this entire catalog. The writing and playing abilities of Ferren and company are rock solid. The melodies and harmonies are well crafted, and the lyrical content is packed to the hilt with good old fashioned no holds barred R&B-Pop-Rock swagger. At the end of the day Joe Ferren brings the mojo and is clearly a marquee talent based out of Florida. One would be wise to keep a watchful eye on him over the years to come.