Friday, November 30, 2012

Vegas Stratosphere Headliner Frankie Moreno's 2012 Release is Albums within Albums

Photo by John Knopf

After seeing the Frankie Moreno Live show at the Stratosphere Thanksgiving Eve, I became a new fan of the man and the band. A writer, a thinker, a ridiculously intuitive entertainer, and someone that can give you the chills many times in one night from sheer talent, I buckled into the task of reviewing his first self-titled album. No pressure. The album is a completely different experience and feeling than seeing the band live. The album also totally captures the feeling of the band live. Let me explain.

The live show is a mix of massive musical hits that are highly recognizable to the audience (swing, blues, rock) and the original music that the Moreno Brothers compose while abroad every year. The originals in the show are stand-outs for those of us who thrive on new music. The album is nothing but pure Moreno goodness with piano and vocal front-man Frankie Moreno displaying the skills of his musical depth, which have no limits. What I found is that there were three different albums within this album. Here they are.

I began listening to the 11 song album of originals in the car on the way home from the show. Still buzzing from the experience, I immediately wanted to section off certain songs to keep the high upbeat energy of the Frankie Moreno Live Show going. Songs I'd heard live I wanted to hear first. My after-show playlist from the album would be tracks five, six, and 10... I'd just heard these live and in that order on the playlist (among the rest of the show's set). "I'm Sorry", "Black Mascara", and "Tangerine Honey" are the most dramatic songs, most vintage arrangements musically, and they conjured great memories of times dancing - they stood out. More about those in a minute.

Every single song on the album brings the quality of Frankie Moreno's gorgeous addictive baritone vocal talent, with clever meaningful lyrics that explore various states of being in love, (or lust) and the journey of life. Every song articulates what we cannot, with great style. This combined with addictive rhythms and melodies, a skilled back-up band, and originality, yet familiarity, makes for an album that Frankie told me was "half way to gold" after his appearance on Dancing with the Stars in October, 2012. It's no surprise.

The Album's Core, Tracks: 1,2,3,4,7
Album opener "A Million Roads" is a song that could be heard on any radio anywhere in America, anytime U.S.A. A great travelling sing-a-long about the journey of life. Lovely voice dips (almost yodeling at times) and a wide vocal range between highs and lows reminded me of another great favorite of mine, Chris Isaak. Then classic stuff like "Moonlight Matinee" carefully paints a picture of cherished late-nights in young love we have all experienced. The rambling guitar and piano parts on "Story" mixed with those tender vocals and delectable, catchy lyrics like "this is a story of forever, the time that I want us to be together" would make anyone sigh. Piano-intro-ed, and waltz-timed "Beautiful" quickly conjures a Beatle-esque quality, then launches into a full melodic chorus with "b-b-baby, just keep on doin' what you do, 'cause it makes me feel beautiful too", so Elvis. Loved that. "Missin' You" hearkens to a love lost and the valid sentimentality that comes with the clarity of hindsight, and the hope that it's not over. Lovely guitar and horns are featured.

The Album's Break-Up Songs, Tracks: 8, 9,11
Some of the Capitol Years of Sinatra brought us whole albums of break-up songs like Only the Lonely. "Gotta Move On" is on the 'album within album' of stellar break-up songs, as well as "Just a Memory". A candid love song with gorgeous delicate piano and drums, with a little hint of country ballad in its style as in "with each word we slip farther away". Again helping define those moments we can't deny take place in the process of love, Just A Memory has some very beatlesque guitar licks that were tantalizing. "Never Mine" offers classic piano and lyrics like: "chasing sunlight 'cross the cold and lonely sky". The song rings out with gorgeous cello and violin parts elevating it higher and higher as it escalates to "there's nothin' left to say". Just gorgeous stuff, which made me long to hear it live. 

The Blockbusters, My favorites: Tracks: 5,6,10
"I'm Sorry" showcases the piano man, and ads a rock vibe and big band horns to create a rich atmosphere which wrangled me in immediately. "How can anyone fight on a night like tonight?" sets the scene, and we journey to I'm Sorry with every luscious note from the backing band. If a rainbow had sound, this may be the audio for the visual. Half-way through the live show I was loving the song: "Black Mascara", said to be written on an Egypt trip. This song hearkens to an amazing Jazz classic called Caravan. The beckoning words, the minor key, and the progression to a major key in the chorus have the same style but with a completely contemporary modern feel. This is the new Caravan for me, thanks Moreno Brothers (Caravan was composed by Jaun Tizol and first played by Duke Ellington '36). Horns and chunky guitar stirred with violin and cello accents sound like a journey into the unknown, and then burst into "gotta find a way to make 'ya love me, love me." It's bold and stupendous in style. It's hot.

But can he swing? The man can swing. The band can swing. They wrote my favorite song "Tangerine Honey" while in Paris looking at the Eiffel Tower on a Moreno Brothers writing trip. The building was glowing a bright orange which spawned the name and led to a story of a lusciously desirable woman who "can really put the spice in the night - she can show you how a wrong can be right." With all the sophistication and panache of Brian Setzer or Cab Calloway, and all the sexual tension of Elvis, Moreno then adds the piano superiority and precision of Harry Connick Jr., and the tricks of Jerry Lee Lewis. Moreno powers through the big band arrangement with timeless lyrics, spectacular muted trumpet backings and swelling swinging horns which make Tangerine Honey something you'll never tire of. But nothing beats seeing this performance live. Swaggering musical talent Frankie Moreno is taking over the strip, and next: the world. It's time to meet the new Vegas royalty, if you haven't already.

Frankie Moreno "Frankie Moreno" 
(2012) Bermuda Records
via iTunes via CDBaby
Score: ***** (5 OF 5 STARS)
Highly Recommended by Frankie Tease Magazine

Written and Produced by: Moreno Brothers 
(Frankie, Tony, Ricky) and Pat Thrall

Frankie Moreno: Vocals, Piano & Acoustic Guitar
Tony Moreno: Bass
Russ Letizia: Electric Guitar
Pat Thrall: Additional Electric Guitar (Solos : Gotta Move On / Just a Memory)
Jose Pepe Jimenez: Drums and Percussion
Chandler Judkins: Trumpet
Rob Stone: Sax
Caleb McKee: Trombone
Jennifer Lynn: Violin
Monique Olivas: Violin
Lindsey Springer: Cello

Related links
Frankie Moreno Live Show Ticket Deals 
at Stratosphere Las Vegas
Fan Club and Merchandise
Frankie Moreno Live on Dancing with the Stars ABC Show 

Read my full Vegas Show concert review, extensive interview, and after party details including exclusive high quality pictures of Moreno  in "The Best of Frankie Tease Magazine Vol. 2" now via