Rich Pagano + the sugarCane cups – Rich Pagano + the sugarCane cups

January 01, 1970

(Hi-Fidelity Music)


A general rule of thumb in rock ‘n’ roll is that auxiliary
band members (i.e. drummers, bassists) and sidemen (ditto) shouldn’t even attempt to record solo albums. The
cut-out bins and used record stores of yore had shelves littered with examples
of poor major label decisions (Bloody Egg Yolk are a BIG band, so it follows
that the bassist’s solo album, recorded in his basement with his wife and next
door neighbor, should be HUGE!). Sure, there are exceptions to every rule, no
matter how many lamebrained rockcrits say it’s so, but for every stellar effort
from a Ringo Starr or John Entwistle, there are a hundred crappers rotting on
the store shelves from Keith Moon, Tommy Lee, and (too many) others. Really,
can you imagine a Lars Ulrich solo album, even in your worst nightmares? Eewww,
wot a stinker that one would be!


Rich Pagano is a major exception to the aforementioned rule.
A former member of the late-‘90s alt-pop outfit Marry Me Jane, in the ensuing
years Pagano has become the skinman of choice for every pop-rock genius and
street-smart rock ‘n’ roll idol to come down the pike, from Patti Smith and
Willie Nile to Ray Davies and Ian Hunter, among many others. Performing and
recording with a diverse range of talents has honed Pagano’s skills to a
surgical precision, yet his drumming retains the unpredictability of
spontaneity. It’s with this musical background that Pagano steps into a
spotlight of his own with the sorta self-titled Rich Pagano + the sugarCane cups, his debut album.


Right off the bat, let’s agree that Pagano is no poetic
dilettante or wannabe wordsmith, but rather an impressive songwriter with a
grasp of the language, imagination, and something to say…my guess is that Rich
was paying attention when working with notable writers like Hunter and Nile. As
such, Rich Pagano + the sugarCane cups provides a rich lyrical experience, Pagano venting his spleen on such heady
subjects as suicide (the darkly beautiful “Rearview St. Jude”);
addiction and its effects on relationships (“You Want To Stay High”);
and the frustrations of the working man (“Nine Lives”). 


Musically, Rich Pagano
+ the sugarCane cups
is a curious hybrid of classic rock and 1970s-era
progressive rock, with a few folkish traits thrown in for good measure. Pagano
doesn’t particularly wear his influences on his sleeve like some artists, but
they’re certainly haunting these grooves, and you can pick out elements of John
Lennon’s solo work, the Beatles, the Band and Levon Helm, and other sources
among the blazing guitars and gospel-tinged keys. As for the aforementioned
proggish tendencies, Pagano might not even realize that they’re here, but you
can hear ’em in the thick arrangements, instrumental virtuosity, and swooping
musical landscapes that surround his whipsmart lyrics, scraps of Yes, the
Strawbs, and Genesis ringing as clear as a bell.


Pagano’s backing musos, the “sugarCane cups,” are
an all-star collection of the best and the brightest that NYC has to offer,
with guitarists Andy York, Steve Conte, and Jack Petruzzelli, along with
keyboardist Jeff Kazee shouldering the heavy loads, while various name-brand
talents like Trey Anastasio, Ian Hunter, Willie Nile, and David Johansen drop
by to lend a hand. Recorded in bits-and-pieces over the course of a year,
Pagano used whatever friendly collaborators that he could rope into a session,
but the results are surprisingly uniform, with the obviously inspired
participants leaving behind some good work when they walked out the door.


As a result, Rich Pagano
+ the sugarCane cups
is an album that looks forward towards the future
while gazing longingly towards the past. Pagano’s rough-hewn vocals are a
welcome throwback to the pre-Pro Tools era, glorying in their warm authenticity
and sometimes ragged emotion, while his percussion work sits comfortably behind
his fellow players, rising now and then in the mix to add an invigorating blast
of energy.


An original and creatively exciting work, Pagano’s solo
debut is a modern-sounding collection with a contemporary edge that still
wouldn’t have sounded terribly out-of-place in, say, 1975. This is timeless,
well-constructed rock music, and Pagano deserves every column-inch of critical
accolades that he’ll receive for the album. Even if he doesn’t garner the ink
spilled on undeserving, trendier artists, it won’t change the inconvenient
truth that Rich Pagano + the sugarcane
is among the best albums that you’ll hear in 2009. You can believe it
’cause the Reverend says so!     


Standout Tracks: “You Want To Stay High,” “Ariel’s Return,” “Change



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