September 2004

Peter Himmelman - Unstoppable Forces
MRI 114-2
Released: 2004

by David Cantor 

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

I’ve greatly enjoyed "discovering" Peter Himmelman through Unstoppable Forces. Added to the 12 songs listed numerically on the CD cover are two bonus tracks, and there’s also a hidden second disc in the box, titled Himmelvaults III,that contains 11 previously unreleased tunes. None of this is throwaway stuff. If you like to listen to songs and get to know them, Unstoppable Forces and Himmelvaults III will keep you busy for a while.

My preferences lean toward Himmelman’s acoustic and lighter rock tunes, though the more heavily arranged, rougher-edged rock tunes are also well written and well played. Unstoppable Forces opens with "The Deepest Part," a light rock tune that features Himmelman’s up-tempo finger picking. Himmelman sings, "Faces in the mirror / Look at how much more we know / Yet the deepest parts / Remain unchanged." That last couplet concludes each four-line verse and also serves as a refrain repeated after each verse, putting this simple human experience at its core: Whatever may appear to change nevertheless contains something deep and lasting.

Roaming through the disc, you find everything on a style continuum -- near-solo, gently sung acoustic songs sit beside electric guitar-heavy, fully bassed and drummed, melodically growled stuff. Along the way, you hear echoes of George Harrison, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, and the Byrds. One of the catchiest tracks is the soft-rock "Racing off to Nowhere," with a great beat and this enjoyable bridge:

Do you remember the days we used to lay in bed
‘Till (sic) the sun was high
Now I’m running all the time
And, Lord I can’t say why.

I especially like Shane Fontayne’s guitar in another soft-rock tune, "Love That Lasts." Dave Raven’s skilled drumming carries a lot of weight in the harder rock tunes like "Still Don’t Know." Bassist Sheldon Gomberg also contributes to many of the tracks’ catchy rhythms, and his occasional McCartney-esque riffs draw attention to the Beatles-like structure of the band -- two guitars, bass, and drums.

Himmelvaults III contains tracks put together over more than a decade -- from the fine 1990 opening track "The Bond" to the 2003 second track "Ambien." Different ensembles performed the tunes, so it does not represent Himmelman’s art at the time of the two-disc set’s release. Still, the current Unstoppable Forces is at least as eclectic.

Though influenced by some of the most creative rockers of the past, Himmelman himself is in certain ways a more careerist latter-day rocker. Like many of his predecessors, he began performing in his mid-teens. But he doesn’t share their personas of political rebel, satanic poet, genius recluse, or hanging-by-a-thread addict. Rather, he has been nominated for an Emmy Award for prime-time television scores and his two acclaimed children’s albums that, ostensibly, do not frighten parents indicate he spends a lot of time with his four children.

Thinking of art as ultimately having to stand on its own apart from the artist, though, I wouldn’t suggest Himmelman’s work lacks creativity. He is a very talented songwriter who appears content to walk some of the broad trails previously blazed, making great use of the nearly infinite opportunities they provide for exploring music, words, and the human soul.