John Bunzow hails from the Pacific Northwest (specifically Portland, Oregon). His voice might make you think he’s from the deep South. His first album was released in 2000, but he charted a single (“Easy as One, Two, Three”) on the country charts in 1995. His latest release is Counterfeit Salvation.
At its best, this album manages to bring a lot of older musical traditions into modern territory. I think that it doesn’t work as well when it tries to focus more on the newer sounds. Still, the bulk is in the “reaching back for direction” vein. Even when it misses, it’s still pretty damn good.
I like the folk meets country tradition of the opening track (“Song and Dance”). It has a good energy and vibe to it. There is a “slice of life” element to the lyrics.
There is a lot of that folk element on “Miss My Whiskey.” Sure, it has plenty of down-home rock and roll and country, but the vocal delivery has a similar cadence to Bob Dylan’s. It’s a good tune, but not as strong as the opener.
“Detour” is still very much rooted in tradition. The traditions just happen to be different ones. The tune feels more like an old school soul song. It’s a strong number.
I don’t really like “Regina” as much as I like some of the rest. It’s not that it’s a bad song. It definitely isn’t bad. It’s just that it seems a bit too pedestrian. It feels like any number of modern moody pop acts.
Now, “Since You Came Around” is more like it. Here we find ourselves back in mellow country territory. This ballad is tasty and classic.
When the horns come in later on “Quicksand,” it turns toward jazz. It actually reminds me a bit of War. There is a lot of classic sound on the song. While it’s not one of my favorites, it has plenty of merit.
The title track also makes me think of War just a bit. It’s not as strong a tune, though because it seems to lack direction just a bit. I’m not saying that it’s bad, but it doesn’t work so well.
While “Sometimes” is much more of a modern sounding piece, it’s also quite effective. I really like it a lot. It works particularly well.
Next up is a nice change. “Better Way Of Living Our Lives” has a lot of jazz in the mix. The classic soul sounds are here, too. Sure, it has some hints of country music, too. All in all, it’s like a tasty gumbo, packed with all kinds of flavors and working better as a whole than any of its individual components.
In a lot of ways “Too Much Love” drops back toward folk reference points. It’s a good song, but not a highlight.
Bunzow brings it all back home into the country territory on the closing tune (“Unwind This Tailspin”). That allows it to serve as a great bookend to the set.
There are no songs here that I really dislike. Some just appeal to me more than others. Bunzow shows a talent for songwriting along with a good vocal presence. This is a strong release.