ERVIN ALLEN – Moon & Stars
Raised in Madison, Ervin Allen Carpenter has spent most of his life dabbling in songwriting. He was raised in the coming-of-TV-era on Elvis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and the Beatles. Carpenter fronted a few local bands in the late seventies and then took up a career in special education, continuing to write songs now and then. It was during his teaching days that he became acquainted with local singer/songwriter extraordinaire Sara Pace, with whom he worked in a facility located in the Masonic Temple in downtown Madison. Pace was a huge inspiration to Carpenter, who has since retired from teaching and is back in the game, as it were, performing his songs live to backing tracks and releasing his first album Moon & Stars.
Carpenter takes a decidedly Jimmy Buffet-like approach to his presentation, mixing in some average-Joe humor with songs about vacations, rum and women. He covers Pace’s “Whiskey,” which is arguably the best song on the disc and a demonstration that in his mid-50’s, Carpenter still possesses a wide vocal range. The rest of the album’s twelve tracks were all penned by Carpenter.
In addition to befriending Pace, Carpenter ran into the Stonefloat crew at open-mic events around town. This led to Moon & Stars being recorded in Stonefloat’s studios, production being done by bassist Andy “Bear” LaValley and instrumentation being provided by the band. Unfortunately, the tracks that play best are those that avoid the use of the supporting musicians, despite a nifty kazoo solo by Tate McLane on “What Do You Do?” The mix is also pretty murky, with the overuse of bad reverb becoming annoying, and there are some downright awful lead guitar solos that overshadow Carpenter’s strength, which is his voice.
“I Never Saw Her Face” starts off with a pretty cool sixties groove but quickly degenerates into elementary pentatonic guitar, like the kind you hear on early sixties records. “Didn’t Ya?” has a catchy melody but ultimately suffers the same fate. Not surprisingly then, the best tracks are the acoustic-guitar-based ones, such as the title track and the aforementioned “Whiskey,” that reveal some of Carpenter’s personality. The album also includes his bid for the city’s theme song, “Mad City,” which, as the title suggests, is a worn collection of lyrical clichés.
Carpenter has plenty of passion in his vocals as well as the enthusiasm to pursue his love of songwriting. A closer listen to Pace’s recordings, however, may be in order and might help reveal the need for arrangements that frame his style more suitably.