Fernando Saunders

I Will Break Your Fall

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"Consummate professional" is a tag that often follows the name Fernando Saunders; "quintessential sideman" is certainly another. "Solo artist" doesn't trip off the tongue quite as easily, though, and it's a shame, because Saunders has more than enough credentials by this time to wear that mantle proudly. His 1989 release, Cashmere Dreams, and his solid 1993 effort, The Spin, proved that not only did he have all the chops; he had the voice as well. Saunders has a nice set of pipes on him -- smooth, soulful and unadorned -- and is possessed of a songwriting style that complements those strengths efficiently. Uncomplicated lyricism gets married to uncluttered arrangements in a way that just screams "play me on mainstream radio." Why, then, is Saunders' solo stuff not in rotation on your favorite adult contemporary station? Anyone's guess -- but, most likely, it's the unshakeable image of "support guy" that's haunting him. 2003's I Will Break Your Fall was a well-put-together album, concerned with the emotional battlefield of divorce and the search for (and the discovery of) hope -- a very respectable showing (on all fronts) that came and went, without so much as a ripple of interest. Possibly in an effort to give this decent record a second chance Summit again issued I Will Break Your Fall in 2006, with three additional tracks that didn't appear on the original pressing. With collaborators like Lou Reed and Marianne Faithfull onboard it would seem a grandiose affair indeed, but it's not. I Will Break Your Fall succeeds in remaining well-grounded, despite the notoriety of its guests, and proves to be Saunders' project through and through. It's soulful, folky, and spiced with urban influences that all sit very nicely in Saunders' tasteful and tidy arrangements. "Angel" and "Pain" both fall on the more soulful side, with the latter taking cues from Dobie Gray's reading of "Drift Away," but proving to be the antithesis of that song lyrically. The Stones' "Back Street Girl" finds Saunders trading lines with longtime collaborator Marianne Faithfull, turning the tune into a kind of "Fairytale of New York" for old-school freaks, while the Lou Reed penned "Baton Rouge" plops listeners right back in that comfortable Blue Mask / Legendary Hearts vibe that has worked so well for those guys in the past. For aficionados of the fretless bass (Saunders' chief claim to fame) there are a couple of nice instrumental workouts here -- most notably the dexterous "Live in Spain," complete with all the slide-y harmonic goodness the man is famous for. As for the extra tracks, "Baton Rouge" is clearly the standout (though, truth be told, harmonizing with Lou Reed is largely an exercise in futility), while the alternate "Iceland" versions of "Lover" and "All for You" fall just a little south of great, and seem unnecessary. Quibbles aside, I Will Break Your Fall sounds just as solid as it did three years ago and proves to be well worth another spin, especially for those who missed it the first time around.

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