Brian Shapiro Band – “All That We See”
The Brian Shapiro Band, if nothing else, is one good thing we can point to resulting from the pandemic. The three-piece formed in 2020 and their debut release All That We See is a nine-track musical platter boasting more than enough riches to engross even the most jaded of listeners. The chief songwriter, Shapiro, has an obvious talent for constructing releases; nine songs is an ideal length for the release and none of the cuts overstep in terms of length. Philadelphia has a reputation in musical circles as being one of the most important hubs for classic soul and R&B, but these City of Brotherly Love transplants are making a convincing case the city’s musical identity runs far deeper than we suspect.
I reacted strongly from the first. The opener “Three Things” stakes much of its worth on the objective fact that few other contemporaries are successfully coupling a distinctive and often creatively rambunctious spirit with long-standing songwriting forms. His vocals are entertaining to my ears and capture the layers of meaning present in the songs, but he does have an unique vocal tone he’s capable of manipulating at will. “What’s Real” is another personal highlight. Some of the tracks included on this release deal with offbeat subjects, but others like this are much more personal and are grounded in recognizable realities. The reflective nature of both the words and musical accompaniment stands out even on an album brimming with glittering gems.
“Why Wait” recalls the work of late70’s punk/New Wave influenced acts, the CBGB crowd, particularly Richard Hell and the Voidoids. The same barbed intelligence present in those iconic bands and their work is present in Shapiro’s songwriting as well. It’s always a treat for me to hear how ably Shapiro and his collaborators reshape the by the book approach to mid-tempo guitar tracks into interesting variations on time-tested forms. “Thin Skin” is a great example of that.
It obviously pays tribute to the blues but in quite a distinctively ramshackle way. The true accomplishment of this bloodshot-eyed track isn’t lyrical or due to extended instrumental flourishes; instead, it owes its one of a kind demeanor to the constant feeling listeners experience that the cut is about to run off the rails any second, yet never does. The organized chaos of “Thin Skin” stands out even on this album. It prepares listeners well for the total helter skelter breakdown of “Away and Away”. There’s no track on this release with such a sharp theatrical bent and it scarcely normalizes when the song begins in earnest. Shapiro embraces the moment, however, and offers listeners one of the album’s finest and, admittedly, oddest vocal performances.
Acoustic guitar, effects-laden electric guitar, and an assortment of other studio tricks make “Gourmet Mind” an equally unsettling listening experience. This is the sound of songwriter and musician following the sound he hears in his head, disregarding any notions of accessibility or commercial acceptance, and bringing listeners along for the ride. The Brian Shapiro Band are responsible for All That We See producing a song collection unlike anything else you’ll encounter today.