Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Halos and Pitchforks – Tom Vella and the Wayside


The best thing about Tom Vella and the Wayside’s more-than-a-little-impressive album Halos and Pitchforks is that it has all the musical reach and range of a group like the Dave Matthews Band, without the inevitable showing off that that dexterity usually brings.

You can’t fault them. Vella has a classic voice that will have radio programmers nodding with pleasure straight away – but he has personality with it. The band are inspired, lifting what could have been run of the mill lyrical conceits up into something else. But, and this may be what 18th century Irish novelist Laurence Sterne referred to as a bit of a ‘hobby horse’ here at Three Monkeys, the aim of the musicians at all points here is to become the song. It’s organic music, where everything fits into the bigger picture, and it’s an impressive picture at that.

The references are there – counting crows, Matchbox 20, and the aforementioned Dave Matthews – but, listening to a song like Better than good or Little Boy Lost (with great backing vocals by guest Blaire Reinhard, an accomplished musician in her own right) it becomes clear that Vella and the Wayside have their very own clearly defined sound. At its heart is an acoustic guitar, but built on that platform are songs thankfully a million miles away from self-indulgent tripe tossed out by your average earnest strumming songwriter. There is, in fact, a symbiosis here between Vella’s warm songwriting, and the lush driving sound that the Wayside brings to it (brilliantly demonstrated by the title track Halos and Pitchforks. One, probably, wouldn’t work without the other, but when coupled the results are instant.

A minor quibble? It wouldn’t be a review without one! Amongst the influences listed by the band are coutning crows, paul simon, and bruce springsteen, but aside from one or two clever catchy lines the lyrics on display remain resolutely secondary to the graceful delivery of the musicians and singer. Arguably the single most important thing that has elevated their influences above the crowd has been the intelligent and original lyrical viewpoint they’ve exhibited in their work – something which Vella and the Wayside have yet to fully demonstrate. To be fair to them, though, their are glimpses throughout of a real lyrical potential. Captivated by images, and with a preoccupation centred, like most great poets, on the divide between the carnal and spiritual nature of man, Vella may well deliver a knockout lyrical punch in the years to come, if he’s prepared to ruthlessly edit and avoid well-worn song-writing cliches.

With such a strong debut, hopefully Tom Vella and the Wayside will be around for some time to come, to grow naturally into a position where they naturally fit alongside their influences in the pantheon of great American songsmiths.

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