Joseph Tonelli – Dust And Snow – Album Review
If you’ve caught recent episodes of SBS Live This Week or the SBS Podcast, you’re already familiar with the name Joseph Tonelli, his song “Wolf In Your Blood,” and my own boundless enthusiasm regarding his music. To say that I was looking forward to Dust And Snow and its official release would be a massive understatement – this is an artist you can hear and recognize something special in from even the lowest volume setting on your stereo-system…and turning it up only makes it all clear as crystal.
And I mean that. Well…you all know I mean what I say in these reviews already…but I’m talking songwriting, production, performance…Dust And Snow sparkles with the raw beauty that I was expecting it might from hearing that first lead-single. There are times where I enjoy being right more than others…and this is one of them. The pride I felt in listening to Joseph’s song “Wolf In Your Blood” hit me so profoundly that it didn’t just make me proud of him – it went well beyond that…I felt proud of the entire music-scene collectively. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to feel that connected to the music I hear…and it’s music like Tonelli’s that has those rare qualities that make you want to simply sit still, listen intently…and honestly just be thankful for the fact that I’m here, ALIVE…and that I had a chance to be here for this moment in his career.
Music like you’ll find on Dust And Snow needs a voice outside of Tonelli’s to really get out there. You can hear the humble-nature of this artist in his music instantly…and me being in promotions…I’m well aware that this rare-gem of sound I’ve found in Joseph is not the kind to brag…not the kind to be out there screaming from the rooftops to come and check this album out…that’s just not who he is or what the music itself would have you believe. But that’s what I’m for. Music like this NEEDS that extra push…that extra voice from out of left-field that comes along to confirm what anyone that would listen would already know: Joseph is that kind of extraordinary songwriter that only comes along so often in a lifetime. Believe me when I tell you that Dust And Snow is an achievement; what he’s done on this short record is pure audio-awesomeness…angelic in sound, smart in its writing and expertly performed.
Opening with its title-track, “Dust And Snow” begins the album by sending those chills right up and down your spine…you know the ones…those familiar shivers that feel like the music lives inside you as it begins to vibrate & resonate within your mind, body and soul. You can hear the classic songwriter in him immediately through this first tune…it’s a little darker in sound than our first experience with “Wolf In Your Blood.” The last thing I’d want to imply is that this opening tune is better than what I’d heard…but perhaps for me, there was even more here in this new-beginning and all-new experience with an entire album from Joseph. I dig the slow, brooding pulse of the pace & timing of “Dust And Snow” – it all feels extraordinarily well-thought-out…yet still pensive and intense all at the same time. It’s lyrically creative every bit as much as the music itself is stunning…it’s the kind of song where the atmosphere is so thick, so heavy and so real that you feel it on your very skin as it plays. It sticks to you with impact…and you’ll realize in listening to “Dust And Snow” quite early on as it plays that the music you’re listening to is the exact kind that you hear in your mind when someone mentions that ‘music is art.’ “Dust And Snow” is completely art…and Joseph Tonelli is much more than a musician; this is truly an artist. The words float through the air like poetry and hang there for you to think about as the melancholy music surrounds the thoughts & imagery in your head…it’s the kind of music you’ll find starts to make you think in pictures.
I’m sure I could tell you lots about the character of Joseph. My own interactions with him since first hearing his music, all through text, have shown me that this is one hell of a sincere artist with something to SAY…a staunch supporter of music and art…and humble to the extreme. I could…literally…go on and on about what a great guy I truly think he is and how wonderful I think the music he makes is…but I’d rather let you see the artist through his own perspective. It’s in saying that, that I invite you to listen to “My Situation” and realize that what you’re hearing in these lyrics would literally equate to his own genetic-makeup and how music resides in his very DNA. From the sound of what I’ve heard and read here in “My Situation” – he’s much similar to myself in his insatiable need to push himself to his creative-edge, sleep be damned. I can absolutely relate to the lyrics in this second track…it describes perfectly that need to create art…to go those sleepless nights all in effort just to get those thoughts in the brain recorded or written…and that struggle to do right by our own health in the process. A true case of ‘writing what you know’ – “My Situation” is a fantastic step into the true mindset of Tonelli and all the ingredients that fuel his creative-fire inside. Set against a sparkling & bright guitar melody…he sings with low-tones and a real honesty you can hear; this is as connected to a song as an artist can be.
When describing “Wolf In Your Blood” in the past on our shows…I’ve mentioned that JT reminds me of artists like Iron And Wine, Bon Iver…I’d even settle for a comparison to Toad The Wet Sprocket on this particular song if you were citing their track “Windmills” from their album Dulcinea…that’d be acceptable too. The list could go on I’m sure…and you’d always find him keeping great company amongst fantastic & beautiful songwriters, because that’s what Tonelli truly IS. “Wolf In Your Blood” is a surprisingly uplifting and inspiring song through its lyrics…you’ll miss that most likely upon those first couple listens and to be truthful, I know that I did myself. At first…it’s impossible not to simply notice just how beautiful this melody is through the shining, stunning guitar-work…and it’s not until after your mind lets you get past this that you’ll realize just how incredible the lyrics are as well.
And as IF this particular song needed any more assistance in being amazing…check out the video for “Wolf In Your Blood” below and realize that there is absolutely no losing with this song. No matter which side you look at it and examine it from, it’s about as beautiful as a song can be.
Put it to you this way…when you listen to “Sunken Ships,” you might finally begin to realize that everything you’ve heard along the way has been Joseph…how captivating and full in its sound all this has been…and it’s just been him all along. Quite often, just him and a guitar…maybe a couple of layers…maybe some strings or another subtle element, but really…this is Joseph Tonelli stark-naked and boldly letting himself out there for all to see & hear on Dust And Snow. On my first listen or two to “Sunken Ships” – I felt I was slightly mixed on this one…and this would go on to change swiftly the more I listened to this record. Here’s the facts…he’s written himself a comforting and familiar feeling verse…one that sits right on the fence of folk-music and country-music…and as much as I appreciated it, it’s impossible for me to deny that this is one of the most powerful songs on the record once he hits his stride in the chorus. The verse flows into it well…the lyrics are sentimental, sweet and smartly written once again…but if you CAN’T hear just how incredible that chorus is…go watch yourself some television instead…maybe catch a football game or two. What this chorus is made of, is pure audio-gold and one of the most beautiful melodies I’ve heard from Tonelli overall on Dust And Snow. “Sunken Ships” became a huge highlight for me as I continued to listen – it has an audible magic to it that sweeps over you gently as it plays…and right here in the middle of his record, he’s again uncovered another gem. The guitar in this track is more than noteworthy…there’s fantastic rhythm, absolutely stunning lead guitar as well, filled with fantastic tones and wandering notes…even beautifully played harmonics that sparkle and shine brilliantly in the incredible atmosphere he’s created on “Sunken Ships.”
Quite often, hearing something extraordinary on a record can lead to the next song taking a bit of a hit due to the impact of what you’d just heard previously. I think that “Sometimes” suffers a little bit from that…yet, I can also hear that this would be a song that would certainly resonate with many out there as well. I very much like the honest-nature in Joseph’s vocals throughout this song…they’re delicate and fragile…he sounds like this song is played with the knife still sticking right into his heart. With strings accompanying his sweetly-toned guitar, “Sometimes” shines a bright light on his mastery of atmosphere. It takes a little longer for this track to stand-out amongst the rest…but give it time and a few spins and it’ll secure a spot on your playlist along with the rest on its own merit easily. “Sometimes” is subtly insightful through its lyrics…some of what he’s written here will take a couple of spins to catch the real meaning in what he’s saying here – but again, it’s those layers of depth that make this track one worth repeating and discovering what it has to offer through listening to it multiple times over.
“June 15th 2009” is more than likely a significant date in Tonelli’s timeline. You’ll assume that this song refers to the very date he got his shit together, put down the bottle and really started to gain traction in life as he began to pursue music. Do I know this for a certain fact? No! Of course not! I barely know how to tie my own shoes…but my instincts don’t often lead me in the wrong direction. I’d be willing to assume that this is an extremely important moment for Joseph…one where he began to first discover the REAL strength he had inside and found the focus to make a life from his talents rather than let them sit upon the shelf. At least, that’s how I’m hearing it. He’s got a gentle approach to this one…but also a tone that really highlights that recognition and self-discovery as it details the story of what life had been like, but also what it could potentially become. If there’s truth to this song…which so far you’d expect it to be through the honesty of what you’ve heard on Dust And Snow to this point…then it seems as if we almost lost this incredible artist to the bottle at one point – and what an extreme tragedy that would have been. My world needs true artists like Joseph Tonelli in it and it’s a much, much better place with him in it doing what he’s clearly meant to do. “June 15th 2009” deals a lot with the depression, apprehension and thought-process behind an artist that just needs to find that will & strength to become who they’re meant to be…to embrace their talent and share it with the world. It’s a song that made me appreciate the simple fact that Joseph is HERE today with us, to make this record.
Ending the album with “Beautiful” and some of the records most gorgeous sentiments & intentions – it serves as a perfect summation to Dust And Snow and mirrors the integrity you’ll find in the man behind the music. Another inspirational set of lyrics that reveal his willingness to open-up and share himself with the rest of us…these words that have a real sense of carpe-diem and appreciation for what this life can be all about. Smart idea here to bring in a slightly different vocal-sound with the reverb-up to really give the album that sense of conclusion as the words indicate clearly that this is an artist who now knows he’s where he’s meant to be…and that no dream is ever worth surrendering. Full of melody and really taking up his performance one final-notch to end the record with a real emotional impact – I feel like Joseph has completely run me out of ways to praise what he’s done on this album.
Dust And Snow…is fantastic. As far as I understand it, we’re lucky as well…because the journey is absolutely NOT going to end here. There was a ton of material that he has kept off this record…I don’t know the circumstances but I applaud his discernment – as it is and as it stands, the seven songs that grace his album all sound like they completely belong together. So as to whether or not these songs were left off to keep the album cohesive…or if there’s more to say…or if they’re all b-sides – I’m not quite sure…but I do know that Joseph has planned to release them! I couldn’t find the posting this morning to confirm that 100% before releasing this review…but I am quite confident I’m still somewhat of sound-mind, and I KNOW I saw a posting indicating this possibility just the other day on his social media…
BUT! First things first of course! Dust And Snow is officially released on June 1st, 2016 – right around the corner from now and less than a month away. You’ll definitely want to do yourself and your ears a favor by picking this album up and giving it all multiple listens…it’s got a tremendously accessible sound that I’d imagine would appeal to a serious amount of people out there. I’ve mentioned many times that what we the people are connecting with in music right now is no longer the rock-star with the heavy task and burden of lifting their instruments to gift us with another song…those people out there who can’t stand the thought of playing night after night, recording another song etc. The very same ones we spent idolizing in the nineties during the height of the grunge era…until it slowly began to disappear altogether. It was replaced by a serious want from the fans of music of all kinds to find that artist that is genuinely proud to have made their music and wanting to share it with the world…the kind of artist with integrity, heart and genuine passion to connect to us all through music…
…the kind of artist just like Joseph Tonelli is today. Dust And Snow is a record he should certainly be proud of…the entire thing sparkles with beauty, relevance and emotion. You’ll connect to it easily…because it’s honest and it’s REAL; the music is stunning and his authenticity will astound you.
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