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From the music blog, “STEP INSIDE THIS HOUSE”
Joe Iadanza is in many ways just a regular guy. Now in his late 40s, he’s a divorced father of one, and that one daughter is a freshman at Vassar. But for as much as he insists he’s just a common man, the truth is he’s also a very talented songwriter. The appropriately titled Common Man is his first album in over a decade and arguably the best album of his career. Inspired by said divorce and said empty-nesting, Common Man is a sneaky good record and veritable proof that Iadanza’s hiatus away from music might have actually done him some good.
The album opens with “Remember Me” aided by an airy organ and a sonic veneer that is wintry and weary. There’s in inward introspection that calls to mind Neil Young. Ostensibly a song about a wading through the breakage of a break-up it is a quiet and understated song that draws on a searing guitar solo and a gentle rise towards the conclusion. The entire thing feels 1970s Laurel Canyon and that is never a bad thing.
The title track follows and once again benefits from some gorgeous organ work. Stark and wintry, it is another simple, understated effort that sort of hearkens a back-to-basics approach for Iadanza. An endearing tonic about gratitude, the organ fills and the song’s hymn-like structure makes it a gospel-infused ballad that gives the album some much needed heft. The sedate approach continues on “Rainbow Shine,” a bedroom DIY cut that features just vocals and an acoustic guitar. The lyrics rise above the melody and while the song might be a tad bit corny, you can’t knock Iadanza for trying to find something to smile about in a country so darn divided.
The quietest song on the first half of the album is “Wait,” a spartan and placid ballad that features a faint organ whirring in the backdrop, inching forward and trying to breathe life into the song second by second and note by note. Iadanza is at his best when he sings songs just like this. A timeless paean to solace, comfort and parenthood, “Wait” is an absolute gem on an album chock full of winners.
The first song with a definitive pulse is “Weary Hearts,” a rambling ode to perseverance and being resolute amidst adversity. In some ways, it sort of sounds like a prayer and that Iadanza is on his knees pleading to God. Whether that’s the case is anyone’s guess, but that’s exactly the motif that’s portrayed here. That definitive pulse rings out emphatically on “Reach High,” the first effort in which Iadanza’s session band finally shows off their collective mettle. An engaging song about taking risks and chances, it once again features a gorgeous organ solo and some of Iadanza’s best vocals to date.
The album surges forward in the latter stages, due in part to a series of some serious apex moments. “Emma Rose” is an upbeat valentine to his daughter and the entire thing is fun, frolicking and vernal. Iadanza is not one you think of when you think “summer song,” but “Emma Rose” certainly changes that narrative. The weary, wintry veneer returns on the pensive “Lorraine.” Channeling his inner Bon Iver, the song is a plaintive, sorrowful and deeply moving effort. In short, this is a song Iadanza would not have been able to write a decade ago. The time away has allowed him to grow as a songwriter and that is evident in spades on “Lorraine.” Iadanza finds his groove again on the ringing and melodic “That’s Why,” a roots-rock stomper with accordion, organ, rumbling guitars and a thumping rhythm section. All of it is downright resplendent and the entire thing is nothing short of fantastic.
The album dives into pensive introspection on the haggard ballad “Lover Tonight Reprise.” Ostensibly a play-by-play of Iadanza’s divorce, it is the very essence of a heart breaking and trying to navigate the mess. These are the kinds of songs that have earned Iadanza the favor of WFUV’s ever-influential DJ John Platt, and why he continues to play some of the nation’s biggest folk festivals.
Common Man concludes with “Mama Don’t Care” a 3-minute front-porch song that sounds culled from the Bleecker Street archives. Timeless, indelible and deeply rewarding, “Mama Don’t Care” is just another reason why Iadanza remains one of the Northeast’s best-kept secrets. That should change on the strength of this album. Though it is far more introspective and heady than his previous albums, the songs themselves stand the test of time, and really in the end, isn’t that all that matters?