Firefall’s Comet, their first record in twenty plus years, spins with the same pop-country sound that graced the radio so many years ago. And quite frankly, what with the covid lockdown and general chaos everywhere in America, this is certainly an album for a lot of us who really don’t mind being stuck in the deep and mysterious grooves of ‘Hotel California’, with, of course, this new Firefall music on the dancefloor jukebox. Sure, “you can never leave”, but given everything, what’s the rush? And there’s something really nice about getting lost in such fab melodies.
Now, Frank Zappa and his Mothers spun an album called We’re Only In It For The Money. Well, this ain’t that.
And, my (beloved) Guess Who, who shared with Firefall the talent for the odd hit single mixed with more adventurous album cuts, recorded a song called ‘Glamour Boy’ in which lead guy Burton Cummings sang, “Come on, take time to sing and play/An honest song for the people tonight”. Well, this is that.
But just to cut an honest deck, the current Firefall includes three original members – Jock Bartley, Dave Muse, and Mark Andes – with Sandy Ficca and Gary Jones. Noticeably absent, of course, are main tunesmiths Rick Roberts and Larry Burnett. But the sound hasn’t changed what with the lush harmonies, a slight country vibe, pop choruses, and a Wranglers’ blue jean relaxed fit. And all the old puzzle pieces just fall into place.
So as (the great) Timothy B. Schmidt (who makes a cameo vocal appearance on the re-make of Spirit’s ‘Nature’s Way’), once sang, “Here we go again”.
The first song, ‘Way Back When’ (one of several Jock Bartley co-writes!), erases any Line of Demarcation between a ghost with a wonderous rock ‘n’ roll past and the reincarnated band getting the chance to play just one more poker hand filled with really nice tunes. But, as Dorothy (of Wizard of Oz fame) more than once said, “Oh my!”, the first song ‘Way Back When’ kicks off with a big-time devotion to the electric folk sound of The Byrds psyching up the pop charts. Then it takes (at least) three glances at CCR’s ‘Lodi,’ name checks a ton of Sixties and Seventies classic bands and their song titles, before it dissolves into the memory of Bob Dylan’s ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’. May I say, “Oh my!” again.
Two comments: First, this is comfortable scripture playing to the choir; and second, please accept my confessional booth comment that, despite its obvious construct, bless me father, indeed, I really like the song because I still, even after all these years, want ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ to “sing a song for me”. It’s sort of like watching Jerry Jeff Walker’s ‘Mr. Bojangles’ (as sung by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band!) dancing in the Woodstock mud and rainy muck while Richie Havens sings ‘Freedom’ into pi infinity. The tune simply splashes in warm puddles of psych-folk transistor radio forever memories.
The same is true for Gary Burr’s ‘Younger’. The song pledges the quelled hope of an aging singer who defies grey hair, back aches, and Social Security checks, but wants to (with quiet piano backing) “jump out of a plane in flight”, “give up cigarettes for good”, “try to lose a pound or two”, and, of course, “fix everything I have done wrong”–when, of course, “I get younger”. There’s even a slight reincarnation hope at the mention of “the next time around”. That’s always a nice thought. This is more comfortable scripture that writes its writ with hope “to find out what this thing life is all about”. Not only that, but the sublime melody is a warm sanctuary in these infectious times.
You know, Bob Dylan sang in ‘Forever Young’: “May you build a ladder to the stars”, and this tune just shoots up another space probe that wants to play with time.
Two songs continue the flashback to much nicer times. Robin Thompson’s ‘A Real Fine Day’ is filled with a sunny melody, a comfortable pulse, lovely harmonies, and a breezy guitar solo to boot. The tune survives through the current tough rush of bad news, big storms, and the current political mess. The same positive vibe explodes with ‘Hardest Chain’ (co-written by Tony Rosario and drummer Sandy Ficca). Ah—Dave Muse’s flute lightly dances and conjures the memory of classic Firefall—which added an interesting flute and sax wrinkle into the standard country rock blueprint.
Lest we forget that bassist Mark Andes was a member of the great band Spirit (of Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus fame!), there’s a really nice blast from the past: The eco-friendly (aka warning to stupid people everywhere!) song ‘Nature’s Way’ still makes a hell of a lot of sense and simply sparks like a long gaze at the wonderous night sky. Heck, this is the song of a universe that just wants to breed continuous new life.
Two pulsive pop rock tunes follow. Jock Bartley’ s ‘There She Is’ is late Sixties horn pumped rock soul worthy of Box Tops/ Big Star Alex Chilton Memphis romp. The tune could, indeed, weather its way into a modern radio spin time. Then, ‘Ghost town’ (written by Michael Ehmal and Tony Joe White) certainly gets into Dire Straits’ guitar drama territory with yet another country pop addictive tune. And yeah, that flute, once again, flexes and arm wrestles with a jazzy electric guitar that propels the song into this very modern Firefall overdrive.
The final three songs are soaked with dramatic harmonic beauty. ‘Never Be the Same’ simply shimmers with piano, guitar, and a sublime vocal. Jock Bartley’s ‘Before I Met You’ conjures the spirit of the Buffalo Springfield with an acoustic touch and ghostly big bass guitar and harmony voiced dreamy pulse—a pulse with a wonderous guitar solo. And ‘New Mexico’ (with glance, perhaps, to Rick Robert’s song ‘Mexico’ from the first Firefall album) darts and weaves with a song that tosses a pebble into the always flowing, and very necessary, big muddy baptismal American country rock river.
Now, (‘For what it’s worth’!) and it’s also just an opinion, but those first three Firefall records wove a continuous acoustic fiber with the yin and yang of Rick Roberts and Larry Burnett’s songwriting through their hand spun grooves. In contrast, Comet, while subscribing to the original vibe, is more of a collection of very good and very catchy songs. And there’s nothing wrong with that because, just as (the great) Burton Cummings of The Guess Who once sang “an honest song for the people tonight’, well, that’s what all the great bands did “Way Back When,” and that’s what this record does: It sings, with harmonies galore in a few “honest songs”–and that’s always a pretty great rock ‘n’ roll thing for any band to do.
Dave Muse was credited as “with” on the first album but became a full member on Luna Sea.
Artists website: http://fire-fall.squarespace.com/
‘Way Back When’ – official video: