Justin DiFebbo – Skin and Bones
Justin DiFebbo follows up the considerable promise of his first album Turn Out the Light, Turn on the Stereo with a strong sophomore effort Skin and Bones. The Philadelphia based singer/songwriter’s ten songs are primarily filtered through a retro sensibility, but beneath the pomp and circumstance of the album’s orchestrated approach, melody is the release’s beating heart. They seem to flow naturally out of DiFebbo and, even on the more experimental pieces, they may be fractured or disjointed, but they are omnipresent. The vocal melodies, in particular, are quite strong and free-flowing, but DiFebbo’s voice capitalizes on them and elevates them higher. The production has an almost taw immediacy; it seems like DiFebbo spared himself no effort in creating an aural experience that suggests the band is in the same room with you throughout the album’s duration.
It’s a particularly vivid effect on the album’s first song “Adrift”. The music and vocal readily match the title. Tasteful drumming pushes the song along slowly, creating large spaces between the beats, but each bar seemingly wafts by the listener with a kaleidoscopic effect. This means that the song seems like it’s in a near constant state of metamorphosis from its first notes to the last and DiFebbo’s vocal evolves with it. The opener sets an incredibly high standard, but DiFebbo shows his bravery by indulging himself in the same general area on “Air You Breathe”, though acoustic guitar plays a much bigger role here than it does in the first song. The song’s guitar solo is one of the album’s finest instrumental moments and the wide-ranging vibrato brings a lot of extra feeling to the track.
DiFebbo turns into rock territory for the hard-hitting “Back and Forth”. The rhythm section digs out a deep, simple groove that anchors the song, but DiFebbo’s band pulls off a number of impressive tempo shifts in the song centered on its dreamy chorus. The title song combines big chords that seem to dangle in the air, strong pedal steel lines, a dollop of tremolo guitar, and understated keyboards. DiFebbo coaxes his lyric out with patience and care and the attentiveness to detail results in his best vocal. “To My Love” is mid-tempo light rock for the most part, but ramps up on the chorus without ever losing its melodic qualities. The song’s energetic sweep is ripe territory for some incendiary lead guitar work and DiFebbo doesn’t disappoint. “Blue Melody” relies more on keyboards than most of the album’s songs, but its interesting tempo changes, colorful guitar fills, and sharply observed lyrics are the highlights. “Too Much” comes to the listener as another sleepy stroll with effects-laden guitars, an acoustic rhythm track deep in the mix, and light keyboard touches. DiFebbo’s vocal has all of its customary sensitivity and precise phrasing.
This is perfect music for late nights or rainy days. There’s a genuine joy detectable in the music, but a strong hint of melancholy hangs over the ten songs and gives them an appealing, lightly bittersweet flavor. Skin and Bones is a work of great imagination and musicality.
9 out of 10 stars.