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It’s been just a little over a year since I reviewed Preston Gunderson’s album “While I Was Gone,” in that year it has become apparent to me that he is one of the more dedicated musicians to come from this area. Many love music, but few take the steps to go the path he has chosen. After seeing him play live one time, it occurred to me that Gunderson is in fact the real deal. With his latest album “Getting Good At Starting Over,” he shows that he is totally serious about his music. He was a casting finalist on NBC’s “The Voice,” so perhaps some other more qualified opinions would agree with me. The latest album is certainly a step in the right direction for Gunderson and his pursuit of making music.
The opening track, “Getting Good At Starting Over,” sets the tone of this album. When it comes to musicianship and overall production, it’s evident that this album was not slapped together just for the sake of making an album. There is a lot going on in most of the tracks; in the first song there are well executed string sections, piano, backing vocal harmonies in parts of the song that are all held down by Gunderson’s somewhat soft yet personable voice. In his last album, I may have said something to the effect that although it was well done, it seemed to lack meaning. This album drives a little deeper and Gunderson pulls out a little more of himself in the lyrics that deal with relationships, falling apart and starting again.
What’s very important in an album is to create a listening experience; it should be interesting and entertaining. On the second track, “Stuck On You,” a full horn section and funky layers of sounds laid down by some excellent studio musicians fills the song out wonderfully. There is a lot happening in this song, but throughout the album what really shines as far as on instrument goes, is the bass. The bass on the album was laid down by Jonathon Thomas, “he’s a monster, best bass player I’ve ever played with, and one of the best I’ve ever seen,” replied Gunderson. Thomas certainly delivers some top notch bass lines in this album. The organ on this song is also great.
In Gunderson’s last album there were a couple of songs that featured rap artists. This album just has one song featuring the rapper known as Homeless. There are a number of times Homeless says “yeah, ok” in various parts of the song and I’m thinking the exact same thing, “yeah? ok?” I was a little nervous that he’d go Lil Wayne and that’d be the only contribution to the song. The song has a sentimental string section and once Homeless actually starts rapping, then the song takes a deeper turn that’s actually quite good. Everything from the build up of the instruments to the background swells of vocals creates a beautiful arrangement.
The fourth track, “Night,” features Minneapolis musician and vocalist, Jillian Rae. I think this will be a featured single which will have a music video soon. The song is bordering on country, which is easy to say because it is predominately driven by an acoustic guitar and mandolin with some nicely laid down piano just under the surface. There is a certain intensity between Gunderson and Rae’s vocals that rivals anything you’d expect from the genre of pop or country. As with most of this album, it’s a well written, performed and recorded song.
Some other songs I enjoyed from the album include “Thunder Lullaby.” This song also falls close to country and bringing in a fiddle and slide guitar usually helps with that. The break down of lead guitar and backing vocals at the 2:20 mark creates a very dramatic effect and I do like that they brought in a decently recorded rain sample that begins and ends the song. Little creative touches like that just makes a recording more interesting at times.
The overall production of the album is expressed in the song, “Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t.” Through out the album there are always several instruments in the mix as well as percussion. The album was recorded at The Terrarium in Minneapolis and mixed by former Superior resident, Steve Murray. With so much going on in the album it seems that it’d be easy to have something out of place where it’d be distracting and competing with something else, but things were handled very well on the recording and mixing end. It’s subtle but it seems even the cymbals are squashed (using a compressor or other recording method) when they have to be and shine when they’re supposed to.
The final track, “We Fall To Rise,” is a fun and funky tune and kind of light way to see off this album. There is an amusing amount of reverb on the snare and the slap bass is great. Multiple layers of backing vocals, horns and intricate guitar parts take this fairly simple song and bring it to a level that is meant for maximum impact. The lead guitar solo towards the end tight, fun, technical and puts it’s mark on this well made album.
Overall, this is Gunderson’s sixth recording and from the sounds of it he has no plans of slowing down on his aim of making music his life. The only question with this album is how he can replicate it live, because there are really a lot of instruments that create a full sound that ranges from groovy to emotional. “Getting Good At Starting Over” is a great step for Gunderson, and as an album, it displays a strong backbone of professionalism and talent. If he’s raised the bar this high for himself on this album, it will certainly be interesting to see what he comes up with in the future. Visit www.prestongunderson.com for information on shows and how to get this and his past albums.