Review Summary: Shapiro goes for a good feel sound, driving around music, and almost makes it.
Justin Shapiro has been trying to make a name for himself on the Washington DC area music scene for over ten years now, and Campfire Party, his debut album, seems to be a product of gigging around the area, trying to make something that would be “good time feel” music. I guess that is where the album title is coming from.
To get to a campfire party, or to any party or a gig, you have to drive or be driven there. That is where something that could be called ‘good driving music’ You can count many champions of such music, where probably the slick, well-produced sounds of Dave Mathews Band, and really good sounds of sadly departed Tom Petty take the crown. On the evidence of his debut, you can fit Shapiro somewhere there.
The thing though with such music is that it can be stimulating and win you over with great melodies and musicianship, but it can also be too unobtrusive, turning into ‘car wallpaper’. Shapiro seems to be riding from one end of this spectrum to the other. While he started out in Neil Young and Bob Dylan cover bands, these days Shapiro seems to prefer the Dave Mathews/ Ben Harper end of the scale, with touches of Pearl Jam territory here and there, with Young in Dylan more to be heard in traces (small traces, though) in his lyrics.
Shapiro goes for that good feeling, well produced and played sound, and things start out well enough with “Lost In Time” and “Mr. Bluebird”, which puts itself as the best single candidate here. The things continue in the same manner with “Tyrannosaurus Rex” and a bit slower “Brighter Days” with his acoustic guitar strumming and voice keeping that party, driving the pace.
The things do not go that well when he tries to ‘rock out’ like on “Inspiration Nation’, which sounds a bit too much like a generic hard rock band than Perl Jam. He gets back on track with “Forgive/Forgotten” and almost redeems himself by the closing title track which is, along with “My Own Way”, the best sounding song on the album.
That almost comes from the fact that some of the songs here sound a bit sameish and the album as a whole is a song or two a bit too long. Still, there is a promise here that he might just do better next time around.