Vance Gilbert

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Fugitives Review

by Evan Cater

Vance Gilbert's sophomore effort projects an image of an enormous talent searching for a way to corral his abilities into the confining medium of studio recording. Fugitives, like the earlier Edgewise, benefits from the perspicacity and wit of Gilbert's songwriting, not to mention the power of his rangey tenor vocals. But these country-inflected, middle-of-the-road easy listening arrangements seem a strange choice for an artist known for his exuberant live performances. The record is dominated by ballads like "Dear Amelia," "Pablo's Lights," and "Outside Looking In," which are fine folk compositions. But they are adorned here with soprano sax, clarinet, cello, and lap steel. Taken individually, these arrangements are sometimes successful but the album as a whole sounds like it might be a bit too comfortable being piped into dental offices. It doesn't seem a natural fit for Gilbert. Producer John Switzer seems less adept than Edgewise producer Alain Mallett at capturing and conveying the many aspects of the artist's charismatic personality. Both as a singer and a guitarist, Gilbert is restrained here to overly cautious performances that show only glimpses of his potential. Nevertheless, the album does contain a few luminescent highlights. Gilbert's a cappella rendition of the traditional ballad "Spencer the Rover" is a daring and rewarding choice. And the concluding "Just the Way It Was" is a beautiful and troubling examination of race relations that features a gorgeous solo piano accompaniment by Jane Siberry.

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