Singer and songwriter Joe Firstman seems to be an artist who moved in reverse in order to mature. After the big notices of his debut album and the support spots on big tours, after his job as bandleader on the Last Call with Carson Daly show ended and his name faded, he took stock of where he’d been since he left South Carolina for Los Angeles, and understood what a schmuck he had been. He moved out of L.A. and into the tiny surf community of El Porto. This album reflects that unsentimentally, without navel-gazing or whining. The album was co-written with Brian Wright and produced by Jimmy Messer. Firstman played everything. This music's sound is immediate -- rootsy, loose, and as if it were recorded live at home (it was). There are loads of acoustic and electric guitars, bright, popping drums, and even a horn section in a couple of places. Country, rock, and folk styles merge with their edges intact. The skittering “Marlene and Her Sisters” opens with quick fingerpicking and a dobro, and speaks urgently about loss and desperation: “The skies are endless/above the pastures/in the land of kitchenettes and hungry bastards.” On “House,” a Fender Rhodes and a strummed acoustic pair with a two-note bassline and a thumping trap kit. Firstman lets loose, singing hard into the mirror about a man who has completely lost his way. Songs enter and vanish quickly -- the entire album is a shade over 25 minutes. “The One That Makes You Happy” is fueled by acoustic guitar, electric bass, some handclaps, and a rickety piano; it's a confessional love song steeped in repentance. It nakedly expresses its desire for a second chance. “700 Lb. Piano” is a straight-out rocker with blazing guitars, cracking snares, and a lyric that details the strange lives of people he knows as a commentary on his own behavior; it contains a brief, scorching guitar solo. El Porto feels like a first album, yet its raw sound and less-is-more aesthetic reflect the maturity of a writer at the place of dead roads, who knows he has to begin all over again, and therein lies this album's beauty.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek