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Album Review: Joe Iconis & Family Release a Hyper-Generous, Uber-Artistic, Super-Sensational ALBUM

Album Review: Joe Iconis & Family Release a Hyper-Generous, Uber-Artistic, Super-Sensational ALBUM

The Ghostlight Records release features seventy-plus artists and nearly four hours of music.

There are two tells right on the cover of the new CD release by Joe Iconis titled ALBUM that will let the listener know precisely what they will get when they press the 'play' button on their device, and a third tell that appears, like an Easter Egg, in the credits. The first two are the title and the cover art, and the third is an icon and a word that almost always appear after the name Joe Iconis.

Tell number one: An Album, as Mr. Iconis details in his opening track, is more than just a collection of recorded songs released for the listening enjoyment of an audience. And a Google search on the definition of the word album first describes a blank book for the purpose of storing photographs, stamps, and pictures. To that end, what Joe Iconis has created is both an album of music, and an album of photographs - photographs that come to life, one after another, jumping off of the page, as though in some mystical movie where still life art begins to move and create a story before our very eyes. Each one of the forty-four songs on the three and one-half hour CD is a photograph, capturing a moment in time, a story, a slice of a person's life, and each of these tales springs forth from the mind of Mr. Iconis in ways wonderful, whimsical, and even a little bit wicked. It's a gallery of gorgeous glories, captured for all-time, for repeated observation.

The second tell on the album cover is the fact that the face of Joe Iconis is completely obliterated by the word ALBUM, which is superimposed over a fogged over photo of the musical storyteller. That's Joe Iconis. He writes the songs and he gives them over to the artists to tell the stories, allowing himself to become the blank page upon which the story is being written. He becomes a faceless entity, fading into the background, working in service of the telling of the tale, and the tellers of the tales.

Which brings us to the third tell: & Family. An icon and a word. This icon and this word frequently appear after the name Joe Iconis. Oftentimes Mr. Iconis will perform in concert as Joe Iconis & FAMILY - indeed they have just finished a sold-out run of shows at 54 Below. Mr. Iconis is the patriarchal figure in a collective of New York City artists that act as his inspiration and his conduits, with him creating works of musical storytelling for them, which they, then, deliver unto the public. The mission statement of the man that is Joe Iconis appears to be one that will support and promote the artistry of the family of artists that he calls his own. It's a special way to live, and while it is a foregone conclusion that there are other (as the saying goes) "Logical Families" like this all over the world, when it happens in New York City, among a group of Manhattanites, there is a vibe about it that is uniquely NYC. All of that is captured on ALBUM.

As a listening experience, Album is a bit like life, a bit like every day of life, a bit like every potential adventure that happens when a person decides to get out of bed each morning: you never know what's going to happen. It would be nice to recommend turning the recording on and just allowing the stories to unfold for you... but it's a three hour record. Three and a half hours, actually. Listening to Album will take a few days (or one day, with stops for meals and bathroom breaks, maybe a pause to play with the kiddies and the puppies, or to let the spouse know you love them). The good thing, though, is that taking Album in in installments is easy, it's fun, and it makes the adventure last longer. Since it is an album comprised of a collection of songs Iconis has written over the years, there isn't a journey that was planned out for the listener, like with a pop album (I always go back to THE WALL and TAPESTRY - albums created to be played-through). Album can be taken in, piecemeal. Every track played is a new story. It's sort of like an audible version of a demented Mother Goose Tales, for grown ups. And, each song being a story unto itself, the actor (or actors) tasked with bringing those stories to life in mere minutes get to invest all of their tale telling talents into these little one-act plays. How divine is that?

In forty-four character-driven compositions by Joe Iconis, singing actors like Danny Burstein and Krysta Rodriguez, Jason SweetTooth Williams and Annie Golden are given the pleasure and the privilege of getting to live for a few minutes inside of the Wonderland that is the Iconis brain. That's not a figurative Wonderland, it's the real thing, right from Lewis Carroll. Goodness knows from what flights of fancy sprung forth the songs "Velociraptor" and "Amphibian" but they are two of Joe's most popular compositions, performed by artists all over the city in group shows, and, finally, there are digital recordings of the songs, and by Liz Lark Brown and Will Roland, no less. And while Alice Liddell may have drunk a potion and eaten a mushroom, Joe Iconis simply woke one day and decided to write "Helen Sharp" and, now, it is the property of Lorinda Lisitza. Other artists may sing the song, but it is Lorinda's, for all time, and the proof positive is right here, on Album.

Many of the songs on Album are ones that the & Family have been performing over the years, with YouTube videos popping up to help keep the public devotion and fascination in the compositions and Mr. Iconis growing - and they should be ever-growing because he is the musical voice of a generation. Although the prolific creator has played Broadway only once (with Be More Chill), Joe has several musical plays and stand-on-their-own songs that he has written that have made him the obsession (this is not hyperbole) of many people of varying ages and demographics who seek a voice that speaks for them. Working with lyric schemes and rhyming patterns that sometimes seem so spontaneous, so random as to be straightforward stream-of-conscious conversation, and melodic lines that flow in and out of the human body like breathing while dodging pedestrian traffic on a New York City sidewalk, Joe Iconis embodies a completely unique musical style, in all his compositions. Sometimes those compositions are informed by influences from the genres of rock and roll, musical theater, Top Forty, and even (listen for it, for it is there) bluegrass, but there is nothing, never anything, ever, ever derivative in what Mr. Iconis writes. It all bubbles forth from a place of absolute originality, and that is why the young people of today are so in tune with those compositions (and please don't mistake this writer, for when employing the word 'young,' it is not the ages of the fans to which I refer - it is their consciousness). These are modern times (even though it, sometimes, feels like they are going backwards) and the artists of these times crave a modern voice, a modern outlook, a modern sensibility, a modern honesty and frankness, and Joe Iconis is where they have found it. That's why people want to sing his songs. That's why people want to hear his songs. And on Album, they get to hear them performed by some of the greatest musical storytellers of this modern world.

Everyone who listens to Album will find a favorite track or two, they will claim that track or two as their own, and they will nurture them as their most personal prize. That is one of the delights of Album. For this writer, the curation of personal favorites started early on in the journey, seven cuts in, with Andrew Rannells singing "Kevin" because, even though I do not live in Fort Greene, the experiences and emotions outlined in this profoundly accurate little canticle resonate THIS BIG with this New Yorker. After one hearing, I became besotted by the recording and played it another four times, on a loop, before moving on with the rest of the CD. Then there is the matter of soft guitar strings opening "52" and leading to the sweet, pure voice of Danny Burstein (why isn't there a Danny Burstein solo album?), telling a story that every New Yorker will understand and recognize, smiling ever more as the song rolls into the heart and muscle memory. And, later in the recording, there is the sigh of relief that is the long-overdue recording of goddess Lauren Marcus and sensational Eric William Morris bringing their own personal magic to "Party Hat" - a song that defies description, of which everyone remembers their first hearing. Let it not go unsaid that everyone should be prepared to call their mom after hearing "Muthers R Speshel (Wen Yer Sad)" because the deceptive nature of the composition will lead one to think it's a silly little ditty, but the more the three and a half minute recording by Lin-Manuel Miranda gets under your skin, the more nostalgic you get for a time when you could hug your mom around the waist, burying your head in the soft cushion of the belly that bore you. These five recordings from Album are the ones that will land on this writer's "Most Played" list but each person who is lucky enough (smart enough) to invest the time in this bizarre and beautiful box of storytelling chocolates will curate their own favorites, like a scavenger hunt designed to deliver all the experiences available in the emotion rainbow.

It may have taken a few years to create the compositions, to find the family, to cast the show, and to get it all so precisely and perfectly prepared for public consumption, but Album is here now, and that's what matters. So open up the cover of the Album, pick a portrait, and enjoy the story to be found therein.

Album is a 2022 release on the Ghostlight Records Label. It is available on all digital platforms.

Visit the Ghostlight website HERE.

THIS is the Joe Iconis website.

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