This collection by AP Mauro gets off on a lively opening with crisp guitars and shimmering drums – as the melody ropes your ears in immediately. Mauro has a pleasant warm old-world style country voice but his vocal confidence is charming in “Love’s Done a 180 For You” as he manages to infuse it with expedient class. At first it sounds like it could be another country-flavored cliché of a song but no, not at all. It’s clever, driving and the manner in which AP pronounces his lyrics transcends the cliché. The band is tight, and AP is up to the challenge, though he is indeed walking a tightrope of styles. At first listen, he does balance his performance quite adeptly and maintains it.
This could have been a downer of a tune for being too antiseptic Nashville -- but AP provides the message in his lyric with sincerity and power. It has an infectious Eddie Rabbitt – Rocky Burnett type melody chase (Eddie’s “Drivin’ My Life Away,” "I Love a Rainy Night," and Rocky’s “Tired of Toein’ the Line,” come to mind) -- so if you liked those rock-oriented country guys – AP is worth a close listen.
The second tune is more country-flavored in the old tradition of the great Roger Miller and that ain’t a bad thing. “Tomorrow Walked Right Out the Door.” Again, AP teeters on cliché but it never happens. The song has good, sincere lyrics, wonderful pedal steel guitar and thunderous drums. AP has a voice that is not typical so he isn’t going to sound like cookie-cutter Nashville. He's not bland like American cheese, he's not edgy like some Italian cheese, but he is sweet -- closer to monterrey jack with a streak of red wine through it.
AP's from New Jersey -- not a hot bed of country music -- but, he is from the land of Bruce Springsteen and Mary Chapin Carpenter – so don’t snicker. AP has a warm, guy-next-door emotional manner, a gentlemanly way around a lyric hence, the first reason I hear a Jim Reeves influence. No big hats, beer belly, handle-bar moustache, and spangles. He simply weaves truth through his tales and maybe these songs are indeed little true stories. Whatever, he doesn’t sound like a singer just singing words. He is trying to convey some stirring stories, some brief glimpses into small realities.
“Follow the River,” remains anchored in traditional country. Where AP succeeds is that he seems to be channeling the country soul of the late, great Jim Reeves at times. With a voice as deep as Jim's classic baritone? No. But, while Jim may have been considered a country crooner he had a warmth in his voice that was gold. One of Elvis' last recorded songs was a Jim Reeves hit. AP Mauro has some of this warmth in his effort and for that is worth a listen -- if not because that country warmth is sadly missing from many country songs today. Don't say it's a different time now, that has nothing to do with having warmth in a good song. AP obviously strives to maintain that gift in his tunes. For those of you who can't recall Reeves, two of his biggest hits were "He'll Have To Go," and "Make the World Go Away." Reeves would have been eloquent with any AP Mauro song.
Old world style is still respected today or we wouldn’t still be listening to Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. Darius Rucker’s version of “Wagon Wheel,” is also typical old world country and he had a favorable hit with this. Mauro is country music when it gets under your skin and not into your dancing shoes. The backing band is complimentary in style. No matter how old the shoes, when shoes are shined they are shined. AP has the shine on.
He possesses a down home voice and that's a compliment. He can easily sit down in a classroom filled with children and he will have them singing along with him easily. That’s magic. Maybe he could be the next Pete Seeger.
The album is an EP with just six songs – a little lean, but they are all refreshing. “Don’t Say Goodbye,” is more deep and still imbedded in the old world-country idiom. That style seems to still work and its a song that sounds a little Glen Campbell oriented. With a little more heavier acoustic guitar – it would have been another Campbell hit. But, Campbell sadly isn’t here anymore to record and AP is. His version is dramatic – maybe at times a thumb nail too dramatic – but, the mandolin rescues that and the song chugs along at a nice steam engine speed. AP has a rich voice that may be too rich for this type of country music. He sounds like he could get more forceful, stand-up and be heard Johnny Horton at times – but, he would need a little more of a southern accent to pull that off. Nevertheless, it would infuse this tune quite a bit and it would be even more a winner.
“Drivin’ On Fumes,” is brilliantly energetic. Nice.
I would almost say it sounds like country-tea Bruce Springsteen but the song is better than that. It fuses a Mellancamp vein through it, a Steve Earle spike, and AP really beats it perfectly with a slight snarl in the vocals. I’ll bet as time goes by AP will sing this one even better, more vigorously, a year from now and grunge it up in a alt-country manner. The banjo is fiery, the drums gnarl, and the acoustics are all clear and sharp. This one is set on repeat. Eventually, I’d like to hear this song become a great top down, drivin’ highway song. It needs to be dirtied up a little on the approach -- with snarl-like energy in “The Little Old Lady From Pasadena” and “Surf City" tradition. Think Jan and Dean doing country music. Slowly build up, add voices, go faster. That’s what it is. It’s like a racehorse waiting to get out of the gate. The evidence of its potential for this track is all there and it's invigorating.
Now, just as I come down from the flames and smoke of "Drivin’ On Fumes,” AP does a brilliant turnaround into his closing tune “Imagine That.”
This is quite the masterpiece as well. It’s poignant, sung very well with all the sincerity a singer can muster. AP shows his diversity between the songs and while he started strong, he finishes with alchemy. It’s a beautiful testament of a song. Almost spiritual. Country music doesn’t get better than this. Grown men in the right frame of mind will weep when this plays. If you don’t, you don’t have a heart. The melody and lyrics are perfectly suited and AP has applied his best vocal in an emotionally wrought artistic manner. It’s one of those songs that songwriters call “once in a lifetime” tracks.
There was a song several years ago by Kathy Mattea called “Where Have You Been,” written by Jon Vezer (Kathy’s husband) and Don Henry. That song as well, is a tear-jerker masterpiece. I put AP’s song along that confidently. They tell different stories, but they are intense, powerful and emotional. Songs that easily can be placed on repeat and one would never tire of.
What is the problem with AP Mauro’s EP? It's mature. Yeah, it's a slice of mature country. The songs are slices of memorable pieces of life and the kinds of songs someone would always come back to. But they may not be young someones. But with time, I think AP will hit upon something country-groovy and rollicking in the manner that a younger person could relate to. Unfortuntely, we must always remember that music is also a business. I find the material rewarding -- finding an audience would be more of a challenge. So, AP has to probably journey out to a more outlaw fringe and dig deep for rowdy philosphical saloon beer swigging poetry. Maybe a song about how a young hero sharp shooter confronts a former paratrrooper-turned Governor in a bar. Mmmm -- that could get a lot of attention.
The album was produced by Dave Moody and all songs were written by AP Mauro. The album art is simple: Mauro standing reflective beside an old rusted truck – and that’s what we all become eventually. A truck has many miles on it when it’s that rusty, and a man has many memories inside him when he reaches a certain age. That’s my metaphor for the day.
Want to listen to something relaxing? AP Mauro is the tonic. And if it happens to be the song "Imagine That," -- then let someone see you cry. Maybe they'll ask you why...and that would make AP Mauro a happy man.
CMT Country Bio: http://www.cmt.com/artists/ap-mauro/biography/
Photography: From AP Mauro Website
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this review / commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression. All photography is owned by the respective photographers and is their copyrighted image; credited where photographer’s name was known & being used here solely as reference and will be removed on request.
John Apice / No Depression / October 2015