Friday, April 12, 2013

Review: David Alter - Songs for Sale

David Alter’s child just might have a future as a musical talent scout. As Alter recalls, “My ten year-old heard my music and said ‘This stuff is great, you gotta do it, you gotta live your dreams.’ That was the defining moment for me.”

That moments been a long time coming for the singer-songwriter, who boasts a day job as “a highly esteemed cardiologist and an epidemiologist scientist that’s published over 125 manuscripts” as well as starting his own organization, Vigour Projects, which is “dedicated to applying, evaluating and promoting the benefits of music on health and medical outcomes.” And while Alter ultimately chose medicine over music career-wise (he had originally studied piano at a conservatory), his love for music has never left.
Songs for Sale is just a tip of the iceberg that showcases Alter’s songwriting skills as he culled ten songs from a staggering one hundred-plus, written over twenty years, and that feature something of an autobiographical journey for the artist. And inspired both a disdain for his own vocal stylings and the advice of producer, George Koller, who suggested, “Why don’t you get out there as a songwriter and have others present your music?,” Alter found the confidence he was looking for. Gathering some of the better vocal talent from around Canada, Alter presents his sound and stories in a great package.

That package is one that hearkens back, by and large, to the great and soulful singer-songwriters of the seventies and early eighties. With heartfelt lyrics and arrangements that recall artists such as Elton John, Billy Joel, and James Taylor, Alter’s compositions carry an old school feel with hints of timelessness that let them be enjoyed today. Those Taylor/Jim Croce elements are readily heard on the opening track, “Travelin’ Down Country Roads” with its quiet acoustic backdrop while the piano-driven pop of “Never Look Back” easily hearkens to the sounds of Joel and John and is skillfully delivered by the soulful vocals of Michael Danckert.
Further strengthening those ties to a generation gone by are tracks like, “Brother,” sung ably by Mark Kopman and Alex Samaras and telling the tale of a family that struggles with caring for a developmentally disabled family member alongside soaring chorus lines and piano pop and the low-key acoustic offerings of “Sobriety,” again featuring the vocals of Danckert. Alter takes up the mic on “Lai Lai Lai” and “Start Again,” his tenor vocals managing well over more subdued soundscapes that let the artist’s lyric stand stark and true.

And while Alter continues to deliver a more soft and quiet approach throughout, providing tracks such as the tale of “Jennifer,” telling of a challenged street performer and her dreams who boasts “lines on her face” that “cannot be erased, but she doesn’t seem to care,” and “Still the One,” driven by piano and telling the story of the artist coming to grip with the death of his mother, it’s a rather unexpected track that steals the thunder here.
That track is none other than “Live for Today,” performed by Yvan Pedneault, who boasts vocal delivery that brings to mind early Richard Marx or Leo Sayer. It’s a classic pop rock ballad, starting gently and building, offering the right flourishes of electric guitar and throbbing bass at just the right times, creating a wonderfully emotive experience and drawing the listener into the track with each and every progression. Pedneault’s vocals soar and Alter’s lyrics rise above, marking this as the must listen of Songs for Sale.

And with the continued rise of the singer-songwriter genre, and the listening public’s drive for something more substantial than the usual Top 40 fare, David Alter may be just the breath of fresh air many listeners are looking for. And, if things go that way, Alter may need to set his scalpel aside for a time and keep his pen busy writing more because there’s a very good chance these songs are going to sell out.

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