There is No Calamity
Peter Himmelman is an interesting cat. His voice may remind you of Declan
McManus channelling an amped up Randy Newman, his band sounds like a pub-funk E Street Band with a touch of Mink DeVille, and the man can seriously
write a song like nobody’s business. Add to this his compositions for film and
television, his series of children’s albums, his paintings—and the fact that he owns a company called Big Muse, that helps organisations to bring out the potential of their people with innovative thinking, team building, and leadership ability through the learning of songwriting—and you may have a true Renaissance Man.
A Renaissance Man who rocks, by the way.
THERE IS NO CALAMITY is Himmelman’s umpteenth album. Seriously, the man has
released a too many albums, compilations, soundtracks to easily keep track of,
and he’s been at this game since the 1970s, working with several bands as well as numerous solo projects. So to say that he knows what he’s doing, would be an
understatement. Produced by Steve Berlin, the sounds on this album are thick,
yet quick footed, the bass by Matt Thompson is snaky, fluid, thumping in a way
that makes this bass player want to practice a bit more than I already do, the
guitars are melodic and nasty, and the drums pound deliciously throughout.
Several of these tunes feature the kind of banging piano and lush keyboard
textures that you don’t hear enough of these days, and the background vocalists
are tight enough to do their job, yet loose enough to let go when required. Does
this sound like a host of contradictions? Yes, it does. The contradictions of rock ‘n’roll abound all over these songs. Hope and punishment, fear and dreams, the arcane and the profound, all played with near abandon, yet restrained just enough. Good car chase music. You ever see that movie Timerider? A motorcyclist is transported through time to America’s Old West. The soundtrack plays cowboy saddle ‘em ups for the modern day motorcycle shots and then shifts to contrasting hard rock when the dirty and bedraggled lowlife outlaws come on screen.
Himmelman and his band are somewhere in between, but smarter, no—make
that craftier. On the opening track “245th Peace Song” (which by the title alone
tells me Himmelman has a fine sense of humour, even on a song that has such a
serious subject matter) we get spit in your face vocals, thrilling harmonies (the
background vocalists must have had a blast putting these down) kick down your
door snare and some driving lead bass where you can nearly near the strings
digging into the neck the way I like. “Fear and Undoing” and “Rich Men Rule the
World” are deep piano burners, a bit of Ian Hunter in the choruses, some playful
Warren Zevon on the verses, and “Sacrificial” is a floor tom and distorted bass
throbfest where Himmelman lets it all out and pleads for answers, knowing the
world doesn’t work that way:
“How angry is too angry, how sweet is just too sweet?
How do you call out for love, when love feels like defeat?”
I know that Himmelman sounds nothing like Steve Earle, but I hear in these songs
the same kind of focused energy, a similar sense of responsibility of—not just to the music, but also the subject matter, and most importantly—the end result of the music. Which is to say creating art that hits you like a fist when you first hear it, and that also leaves a handhold on your heart. These are soulful tunes, full of wit and honesty, pluck and heart.
Released 11th August 2017
Guest reviewer The legendary Mr. Roy Peak