Carl Baldassarre may not be a familiar name to many, due to various fluctuations in his fortunes and his career choices. Some may remember him from his time with Sam Giunta in US prog duo Abraxas, which eventually became the band Syzygy, releasing their first album in 2009 – not to be confused with the UK electronic duo Syzygy, formed in the early 1990s. Baldassarre’s skills covered a wide range of disciplines, as a guitarist, composer, songwriter, music teacher, thereminist and all-round deep student of music theory, but he dropped out of the music biz altogether and took up a position in civvy street. He’s back now though, and in addition to his successful YouTube channel as “The Professor Of Classic Rock”, he has released Grand Boulevard, credited simply to ‘Baldassarre’, as his debut statement of intent as a solo artist.
Baldassarre doesn’t position himself as a proponent of any specific genre though. Due to his understanding of how music works, and how each musician attains their particular voice, he delves into many and varied styles in the 16 songs on this album. He chooses to open with You’re Gonna Be Right, a 2½ minute up-tempo new wave / indie pop rocker, reminiscent of Green Day, or British bands like Freefaller or McFly. This is followed by Dead Ballet, which covers a number of bases on its own, with an ‘80s electronic intro that brings Mama by Genesis to mind, but then introduces glam metal power chords and includes a wailing wah guitar solo. Ready Fire Aim is a three-minute soft jazz-rock ballad à la Steely Dan, with acoustic strumming and bongo backing.
Sands of Tarifa has a distinctly eastern vibe that rock fans may recognise from Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, complete with orchestral instruments courtesy of the London Philharmonic – an excellent track along the lines of Ayreon’s glorious ballad Valley Of The Queens from Into The Electric Castle. Tower Of Power’s Marcus Scott lends his high, smooth vocals to a number of songs, giving them a 1970s light soul feel, especially Forever With You, which brings Smoky Robinson to mind, with a very melodic, almost ambient vibe; Little Bit Of Heaven even veers into Bob Marley territory, but with a backing chord section that might be recognised by fans of Walking On The Moon by The Police. A couple of the songs introduce a distinctly Latino feel, such as the gentle samba So Seville Good, and Margarita, which features a nice trumpet solo, no less. It might remind certain listeners of Who Needs You by Queen, or OMC’s How Bizarre.
Other influences are heard on Another Day, which shouts Pleasant Valley Sunday by The Monkees, and slow rock number The Reckoning in 3-4, which is reminiscent of a Glenn Hughes power ballad. You’re Wrong (Dead Wrong), on the other hand, is pure Kiss. For all its various sources though, the entire album has a gloss of soul pop, which is accentuated by Baldassarre’s own smoothly pleasant voice. Although most of the material was written during the Covid lockdown, this is no solo effort produced by a hobbyist in his bedroom, it’s a full-band affair, featuring drums by Nick D’Virgilio, bass by Dave Martin, and keyboards and programming by producer Phil Naish, all of whom have worked on sessions for high-profile artists of the calibre of Elton John, Foreigner, Genesis and Bootsy Collins. Also look out for vocals from Charles Iverson on the poignantly beautiful Gin With Alice, with its Larry Carlton-style guitar and tasteful alto sax solos. Musicians and singers are brought on-board when they are needed, to make the most of each song, and even the simpler pieces have surprisingly complex musical structure. The bonus track, Love Never Dies, could be a centrepiece straight from a West-End musical.
The idea of the album – its concept if you will – is to help us not to worry so much about the future by reminding us of our shared past, where we have been and what we have accomplished. As such, every song is reminiscent of some period in our lives, and each will mean different things to different people; it’s a clever idea, perfectly executed, and we are promised a whole lot more material from this stable. Guaranteed, it’s all gonna be good.