Fernando – Dreams of the Sun and Sky

Dreams of the Sun and Sky

I’m a huge proponent of the recent surge of classic American music. Lately, roots music – particularly blues and folk – have seen their influence grow in leaps and bounds. Everyone from Bob Dylan to Mark Kozelek to Will Oldham is writing traditional American music, and even experimental groups like Jackie-o-Motherfucker are incorporating classics like “Amazing Grace” into their headstrong experiments. There’s been an increased interest in the instruments of this music too; banjos, Hammond organs, and harmonicas have all seen a resurgence as of late. And if the music has occasionally been marginalized in commercials and movies (Nick Drake – ok, so not technically American – and the travesty that was Oh Brother Where Art Thou), its just another testament to the influence of this music. It seems that Fernando Viciconte (who apparently only goes by his first name, like Britney, only, um, different), is well rooted (pardon the pun) in this revival of American music. Everything about his album – from the delicate acoustic styling, to the laundry list of auxiliary musicians, to the use of instruments above – reeks of a folk/blues revivalist. And while I’m certainly not ready to equate Fernando with any of the artists mentioned above, his indie-folk aesthetic does hold a certain appeal.
Folk music is the real touchstone here – and if it doesn’t always show up in Fernando’s songwriting (he’s far more Pollard than Guthrie), then the instrumentation more than makes up for. Everything from harmonicas to pedal steel guitars rings through the mix from song to song, beefing up the sparse arrangements and no doubt enhancing Fernando’s songwriting. In fact, it’s the arrangements that carry you through the first couple songs on this album, which for some reason, aren’t nearly as good as latter songs. Both “The Jackal” and “Climb” open with somewhat trite lyrics that sound heavy with their own inflated meanings. But between the two, Fernando comes up with an interesting horn section, some harmonica work, and even a clarinet, saving the songs from total worthlessness.
Fortunately, Fernando packed his best material into the second half of the album. The intro to “Only One for You” sounds like the music that gets played in a 1920’s detective story, but when the big, booming bass drum and subtle organ kick in during the chorus and he sings “and now there won’t be no crying,” things aren’t so bad. Occasionally, Fernando still sounds more indie than folk, and while its certainly not terrible – “The Fly” is actually quite good – he should probably stick to his guns. “Killer Waits” opens with a deftly plucked acoustic guitar and a melody that sort of reminds me of Dylan, sans the nasal screech. The piano that opens “Hold On” sounds all the world like an Elton John tune, but really it’s an excellent song so I’m willing to forgive Fernando for the rip. The last song is probably the best – the superb “Fade Out,” where Fernando just kills on the chorus: “Yes they all, fade out, and for me it’s been fading for years.” It’s the album’s best line, tucked into the album’s best song, composed of that same acoustic plucking laced with harmonica.
I’m afraid I might’ve led you a bit astray. Fernando does not come off as an overtly folk-y artist, though the traces certainly show up in his music. The reason I’ve put so much emphasis on the freakin’ folk is it’s the element of Fernando’s music that sets him apart. He’s not an outstanding songwriter, but he’s above average, and with the throwback instrumentation and styling, he sounds damn good. Not every song on this album is excellent, but he doesn’t miss often. Fernando won’t stun you into submission, but he’ll softly pluck the guitar until you sway into his own little retro Americana.