A few years ago my oldest daughter told me she wanted to be an artist. I encouraged her with all my heart, sincerely as well, and didn’t tell her at age seven that choosing such a path in the United States, anywhere really, likely means you’ll never make much money. It isn’t a reason to not take that route, but it’s something people should know going in.
You don’t do it for money. You do it because you have something you want and need to say, you want to communicate it to others, you relish the communion occurring between yourself and the audience. Ari Pappalardo understands that. He’s a young singer/songwriter and musician who’s committed himself to a vision all his own and it’ll likely never make him famous.
What it might do, however, is transform some people. His album Minstrel Class is one of those albums a friend discovers and won’t shut up about until you hear it too. Pappalardo tosses a basketful of influences into a musical blender and emerges with wildly flavorful concoctions. The first, “Where is the Line”, has a surprisingly exhortative soulful quality. It’s like skewed gospel crossed with various stripes of pop music such as ballads or artsier fare. He’s far from one note in his approach, however, and the synthesis occurring here happens elsewhere as well.
“James” is an outstanding elegy, but you’d never know that from its music alone. Like any great minstrel or troubadour, Pappalardo knows the value of smoothing over potentially downbeat messages. There is triumph in his words, however. The singer is facing a huge loss, without a doubt, but the loss is relative – James is dead, but the effect he’s had on others around him far outlives him.
I love the plaintive quality of his voice during the song “Halo”, the light and glittering musical touches scattered throughout the song, and even its flashes of sly humor. The latter works well against the lyrics’ shadowy moments. There’s a lot of warring and conflicting emotions battling throughout “Halo” and other songs on Minstrel Class. “Don’t Shoot Me” breaks with the sound of its predecessors and moves into gritty rock with memorable results. Much of this is due to the elasticity of his voice; he slips seamlessly into each of these songs. The electric guitar and drumming are key, as well.
He accentuates a synthesized pulse at the start of “Running into the Storm” but it soon recedes when the full arrangement kicks in. I believe some listeners will hear a strong 80’s vibe during this song, but there’s no doubt he’s poured old wine into new bottles. It has unexpected freshness. “What Do You Stand to Lose?” ends Minstrel Class with a come-together moment but it doesn’t begin that way. The opening embraces minimalism, but it’s soon clear he’s opted for a slow build. It has exultant energy by the song’s end and puts this album to bed in the right way. Ari Pappalardo has scored a significant success in multiple ways with Minstrel Class and there’s no sign he can’t and won’t do it again – perhaps even better.
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