Record Cellar Records, 2002
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/17/2002
I have been reviewing music in some way, shape or form now for 17 years, and I still experience moments when I put in a disc from an unknown artist, hit "play"... and find myself sitting up in my easy chair, screaming, "What the hell was that?!?" Sometimes, it's an expression of disbelief that someone would put out something so horrible that poison control centers would use it to induce vomiting.
And then, there are the times I make that exclamation in pleasure, as if I've come across a $20 bill while cleaning the pockets of my pants on laundry day. Such was the case when I first heard Philadelphia-based singer/songwriter Richard Kaufmann. Imagine Elvis Costello and Neil Young rolled together, with a healthy dose of Van Morrison thrown in just for flavor. That still doesn't quite do Common Senses, Kaufmann's debut release, the amount of justice it deserves, but it's a good springboard to introduce you to an artist who you're sure to hear a lot more from.
One has to admit off the bat that Kaufmann's singing range is a bit limited - normally something I'd call a weakness in an artist. But in Kaufmann's case, it almost adds a charming aspect to his vocal delivery - just like you're hearing someone pour his entire being into these songs in case he were never to get a chance at making an album again. Not that there's a sense of urgency to these 10 songs, but Kaufmann most definitely gives his whole self in these performances, and it pays off.
Stylistically, Kaufmann is all over the musical map (thus earning the reference to Costello), yet he handles styles from country with a funk tinge to it ("You Never Listen") to all-out alt-rock ("Shiver") to pop balladry ("Shooting Stars & A Full Moon," "Ruby Sue") with such agility that it seems almost natural for the music to be so eclectic. Admittedly, Kaufmann's vocal delivery takes a moment or two to get used to, but he soon proves himself more than capable on Common Senses.
The only mis-step I can find is the closing track "Le Velo Noir" - not that it's a bad track, but that it seems almost anti-climactic to the whole experience. Granted, it's only a two-minute-plus ballad, but it somehow just doesn't sound like it fits into the big picture - and, no, I'm not faulting Kaufmann's choice to deliver the lyrics in French. Chalk this one up to personal preference, I guess.
This one slip notwithstanding, Kaufmann makes a strong case for his musical future on Common Senses, and demonstrates that he has both the talent and heart to be given a chance on the front lines. Sure, such an album might have fit in better in the late '70s (around the same time that Costello broke forth), but there's still an argument to be made that such music is commercially viable today. Besides, if anyone deserves a chance to prove its mettle, why not give Kaufmann the benefit of the doubt? Seems to me like he's earned that chance with this disc.