October 31, 2009 has a charm that is inescapable, and, except for a stumble at the beginning, the songs are melodic gems. Fernando Tarango has created a narrative through-line that is remarkably consistent and enjoyable, with an intriguing combination of styles. Each song is like a different woman seen through the eyes of an eccentric and distractible man, a bon viveur Don Juan whose pathological optimism hides a deep-seated cynicism. There’s also a lot of talent on this disc which features guest appearances by Eric Clancy, Todd Harrold and Scott Feichter.
“Who’s Gonna Love You?” opens the disc rather poorly. It’s fairly standard rock fare and mediocre at that, but Tarango’s voice has an unusual, flamboyant quality, like a mix between George Michael, Styx’ Dennis DeYoung and American Idol’s Sanjaya. By the time you’ve finished the whole disc, you’ve forgotten how lamely it started. The second track, “Oh Michelle,” has a striking 60s feel, a mixture of modern and retro treatments vaguely reminiscent of early Supreme Beings of Leisure. The music is visually inspiring, and Tarango’s vocal charisma paints that picture in vivid colors, but the drum solo is unnecessary and, like the solos in the previous song, seems to exist only to showcase talent on the Fort Wayne music scene rather than to develop the arrangement. “Push On” showcases Tarango’s own voice, which is much more appropriate and satisfying. “You’re the One, Mon Cherie” has an over-the-top lounge feel that might have been serious in the 70s but in 2010 has a nice tongue-in-cheek quality that works well for the themes of seduction and conquest. The guitar and keyboard treatments work together with the vocals like a pack of wolves around an unsuspecting lamb completely unaware that she’s on the menu.
“Hard To Be Good” oozes with easy melody and groovy style. It’s a fun and candid look at the polarity between the protagonist’s conscience and his cavalier attitude toward liaisons that masquerade as relationships. Here Tarango sings about a man much like a 007 with a license to be a ladykiller: “Now Mama taught me to be an honest man, but I got a box full of chocolates and some greedy hands / it’s hard, it’s so hard to be good.” The next track, “Farming,” has an ironically urban, sultry sound that puts a city man in a rural landscape where agriculture becomes a series of steamy metaphors for passion. The temptation to stay forever on the farm is palpable: “This ramblin’ man’s gonna settle down / she’s gonna nail my feet down to the ground.” (Yeah, that’ll happen.) With a rap and vocal by Lyndy Bazile, farming has never been so sexy.
With “Bye Bye, Butterfly” comes an intriguing sonic shift on the disc from urban to folk. Tarango slips smoothly into the acoustic landscape like a lonely soul trying to connect with someone he’ll never see again. The effect is introspective. There’s an ache in this track for a kind of substance that playfully and cruelly eludes him. “Corner of Your Bed” feels like the resolution, an intimate look at the newness and discovery of romance, and “Paint Me, Lover” continues the narrative with more emotion, a Don Juan discovering for the first time that he has a soul. “I Believe” returns to the keyboard-oriented arrangement without truly departing from the acoustic feel. For the first time there’s a sense of genuine vulnerability. The string backgrounds create an immediacy, an epiphany that is less of an explosion and more of a rising sun. “Who’s Gonna Love You?” returns to the sonic urbanity in which the lover is jealous of a picture on the wall. It is a magnificent performance. “Simple Pleasures” ends the disc with an almost silly arrangement that treats the avoidance of the negative as a defense mechanism.
October 31, 2009 is a fun, candid look into the itinerant lifestyle and its effects on the soul. (Mark Turney)