Singer-songwriter Paul Manousos hails from the San Francisco Bay Area and his second solo album offers a refreshing blend of musical styles that would seem to have him poised for bigger things than just local notoriety. He's got a hugely soulful voice that suggests a roadhouse troubadour who's been around the block more than a few times.
Producer Steve Fisk (Nirvana, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees) has worked with some of grunge's greatest, and creates a crisp, clear sound on Common Thread that blends a little alternative with bluesy classic rock and rootsy Americana. The overall sound is somewhat reminiscent of Ryan Adams' magnum opus Cold Roses, with Fisk and Manousos succeeding admirably in their stated goal of creating an album with a live feel.
Opener "Don't Cry" comes right out of the gate to announce Manousos as a heartfelt vocalist who just oozes soul. The emotional tone of the song even resembles Guns 'n' Roses' "Don't Cry," although with perhaps a more comforting vibe. Songs like "Spell I'm Under," "Rhumba #23," and "Hold On" mix the bluesy roots rock with a bit of an old-school folk vibe to create a compelling backdrop for Manousos'consistently compelling and gritty vocals.
But Manousos is at his best on up-tempo rockers like "Stay Awake." There's an urgency to his vocals that just says "this guy is the real deal." His band, the East Bay Wrecking Crew, provides a tight accompaniment with tasty guitar fills by guitarist Darrin Fox over a solid groove from drummer Andrew Griffin and bassist Peter Canton. The song feels like it could be a hit if only it had big-time promotional backing.
A cover of Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings" conjures an ethereal, mystical vibe and backing vocals from Carrie Akre recall the team of Johnny Cash and June Carter. "Real World" is a major highlight, a dark political number with an intense vibe that recalls Bob Dylan's tone on the classic "Masters of War," as Manousos rails against "master of illusion" that's keeping the people from rising up. It then breaks into a hard-charging mid-tempo rocker, while still retaining the dark, bluesy vibe.
"Who'll Kiss the Girl?" mixes things up by opening with some melodic slide guitar that recalls George Harrison on songs like "All Things Must Pass" and "Isn't It a Pity." The band lays back, allowing Manousos to show how commanding he can be with just his voice, piano and minimalist backing. "Slow Poison" wraps up the album with a Stonesy, slow blues that sounds as if it could be an outtake from Sticky Fingers or Exile on Main Street.
Manousos and his band drew only a sparse crowd on a recent Wednesday night at the RockIt Room in San Francisco's foggy Richmond District, but it just goes to show how incredibly competitive the Bay Area music scene can be. The band delivered a lively performance, capped off with a sensational up-tempo re-arrangement of the Beatles' "I Need You" that deserved to be witnessed by far more people. Manousos has the talent to make it happen, if he can just get all the necessary forces to align.
Backing Band-The East Bay Wrecking Crew
Darrin Fox-Electric Guitar