New Jersey may be a fundamental influence, but Utah has added a fine refresh.
Anthony D’Amato has finally released his first full-time album in 6 years, ‘At First There Was Nothing’, though in the intervening period he was hardly idle releasing two EPs and touring consistently in Europe and America, pandemic permitting. New Jersey native D’Amato studied with Pulitzer Prize-winning Irish poet Paul Muldoon which gives an insight into his approach to songwriting, while New Jersey has influenced his choice of musical backing for his lyrics. Throughout his career, D’Amato has varied the sound and approach of his releases in a deliberate attempt to remain fresh, and for ‘At First There Was Nothing’ he went to American Fork, Utah, to work with singer-songwriter Joshua James and a band of local musicians. The result is an album that is full of energy and sharp insightful lyrics making it probably Anthony D’Amato’s most fully realised album.
The backdrop for Anthony D’Amato’s lyrics on ‘At First There Was Nothing’ is varied mixing soul, seventies rock, country rock and various sonic embellishments with folk which brings a bright and positive sound irrespective of how serious and dark the lyrics may be. The first track ‘Long Haul’ is about personal commitment even in face of separation and features piano and steel guitar as well as horns in a lively track with a traditional chorus that sets a positive tone for the album. Loneliness is the subject of ‘Ships In The Night’ and the longing for companionship but it is not a personal song, but rather a third-person narrative that explores the subject of loneliness. A simple guitar fill forms the basis of ‘Kinda Strange’, a meditation on change, that includes a more jazzy trumpet section that takes the song to another level. With a typical acoustic guitar accompaniment ‘Enough’ explores ongoing development. Horns give ‘Broken Tooth Smile’ a country soul vibe which the reverb on the vocals enhances. The instrumentation builds during ‘Everything Does’ which considers how everything changes with good have the potential to lead to bad. There is an anthemic quality to ‘The Oyster and The Pearl’ which makes it a potential live favourite. Next, we have a piano ballad ‘Breaking Slow’. Change is a theme of ‘At First There Was Nothing’ and ‘Trying To Change’ shows difficult it can be to achieve. Piano and steel guitar feature strongly on album closer ‘But I Go Final’.
Anthony D’Amato is an interesting artist and ‘At First There Was Nothing’ is probably his best album, and the panoramic scope is hinted at in the album cover featuring a photograph taken by D’Amato himself. While Anthony D’Amato is a solo artist, his best work is when he manages to really collaborate with the supporting players on his albums, and Joshua James and his Utah musicians need to be recognised for what they helped create. It may be six years since his last full-length album, but part of the album’s success is that it only has ten well-written songs proving that more isn’t always better. D’Amato has a perfectly good voice, but it is not as strong as his songwriting, happily here the production and the band arrangements provide appropriate support rounding out the best vocal performance of his career to date.
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