Artist: Erik Viel
Album: Off the Beaten Path
Label: Upstate Strong Recordings
Sounds Like: Allman Brothers, country rock/blues
Production/Musicianship Grade: 10/10
Overall Talent Level: 9/10
Songwriting Skills: 9/10
Performance Skill: 10/10
Best Songs: Southern Highway, I'll Be Loving You, Off the Beaten Path, Badlands
If an independent musician asked me for one piece of advice (none ever has, but here goes), it would be to make sure the first cut on your CD is a great one. Remember Mom and Dad saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”?
Well, the opener, “Southern Highway” exuberantly leaps off this disc. It’s a road trip-worthy rocker, driving and anthemic in the style of the Allmans’ “Ramblin’ Man” and Springsteen’s “Rosalita.” Guitarist/songwriter Viel and his band cook behind Andrew Black’s powerful, bluesy vocal.
Viel mixes tasteful instrumentals in between the sonically big vocal tracks; on “New River Waltz,” which follows “Southern Highway,” pianist Chris Corso shines. On “Bard of Ontario” Viel plays shimmering acoustic guitars over George Sandler’s percussion. Sandwiched in between is the very electric “Wandering Blues,” on which Viel delivers a Clapton-esque solo, saying more with less and making every note count.
“I’ll Be Loving You” is one of the highlights. Another vocalist, Nick Graveling, packs the wallop this time, and this one smokes with funky jam-band intensity. Viel’s multi-tracked, melodic guitars are particularly sweet.
“I’ll Wait Another Day” is a soulful number delivered by yet another talented singer, Brian Burke. Keyboardist Corso’s organ provides rich texture. “Saranac,” the haunting instrumental that follows, serves as a sort of elegy to the bittersweet tale Viel tells in the lyrics of “Wait Another Day.” Then comes a bit of humorous irony – a folksy cover of John Prine’s “Please Don’t Bury Me.”
“Multi-Colored Lady” is noteworthy because the first time I heard this nice mid-tempo country rocker, I though it sounded like an Allman Brothers song. Turns out Greg Allman wrote it, and Viel and company deliver an easygoing version with a rolling Corso piano solo.
The title cut is Viel’s only vocal turn, and he should have sung a few more. His voice is smoky and down-home, and the song itself is a nice reminder to enjoy life. The instrumental “Badlands” closes the disc in a heavenly, atmospheric guitar-and-organ showcase.
Erik Viel is a talented writer and arranger of both instrumental and vocal Southern-style Americana, and he has a traditionalist’s taste in covers, too. Off the Beaten Path is a fulfilling trip.