Today's album review is At the Edge of the World by Howard Ashby Kranz.
I picked this album up at the release party in Barisha's Basement earlier this year, and then promptly set it aside somewhere and forgot about it until a few days ago, when markiv1111 requested that I review it, graciously offering me a review copy if I didn't have one. So I decided that I really needed to play it a couple of times and report on my impressions.
The packaging on this album makes it clear that it's a home-produced album rather than a commercial release. It would certainly look more commercial if the inserts were on glossy paper and had a background design instead of being mostly white paper, but the liner notes do include full lyrics to the songs. It would be nice to have the running times of the songs and brief notes with the songs where the artist says a little bit about why he wrote the song or what it's really about, but it does have what it needs and it doesn't deliberately hide the information in a blast of visual oddities the way major label releases seem to find necessary. Still, I suspect the packaging will make it a slow seller.
The songs cover a range of material. This is not a filk album; some of the songs are SF-relevant, such as "Dinosaur's Dream" (a nice take on evolution), but most of them are much more mainstream, running from snarky politics ("Middle Class Tax Cut Blues") to religious ("Cornerstone"), and somehow touch on the generic human condition, not specifically the fannish. The songs are well written, and the lyrics do say something, but for the most part they don't hit me very profoundly.
The album seems well produced; the sound levels are good, the additional instruments and harmony vocals well chosen, the mixing good. The backup performances are good. In fact, everything about the way the album sounds is great except for one thing, and that's the lead vocals. It varies from track to track, but on almost all the tracks, Howard sounds nervous, quavery, and whiny. This is intentional and spot-on in "All Whine Together", but completely out of place (and presumably not intentional) on the rest of the album, but I actually found the album difficult to listen to the first time through. I have heard Howard perform live, and while I don't expect the Met to scouting him as the new Pavorati, I don't remember him sounding like this. Now, I need to make clear that I don't have a good memory for sensory impressions; I can't mentally play back what Howard really sounded like when I heard him live; I can only remember my impressions. What I hear, though, seems consistent with him being so intimidated about recording an album that he couldn't sing comfortably and naturally. I can sympathize, but still, it seems like most of the tracks needed another take on the lead vocals on a better day.
I feel a little funny about having a numerical rating; it's harder for me to try to say "here is a number that rates how much I think you will like this album" than it is for a book. But I guess it's a tradition. I'll go with a 6 out of 10. That low rating is really because of the lead vocals; the songs deserve an 8, and the rest of the production a 9.