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“If Life Was Easy” review by Bartosz Kazana

As I enjoyed “Snapshot” a lot, I’ve waited for “If Life Was Easy” with great interest since it was first announced few years ago. “Snapshot” proved an excellent showcase for RG’s broad horizons as a composer. The album was also a masterpiece in terms of arrangements, production and performance. Backed by the multi-talented Randall Bramblett, daughter Gillian Glover and some of the finest New York session players, RG has found the right musical aesthetics for creating what – under the name of The Guilty Party – became in a way a musical alter ego, allowing him to compromise successfully the ‘solo’ aspect of the project.

It seemed “Snapshot” was intentionally as much an RG album as Randall Bramblett’s, or The Guilty Party’s, or any artist other involved. In this sense “If Life Was Easy” is a one man’s artistic statement, although it again features The Guilty Party at the back seat. Yet, it’s an entirely different album to it’s predecessor, balancing between the latter’s happy-go-lucky attitude and the Dylanesque trauma-driven confidences.

It’s clearly RG’s most personal album to date, and it’s eclectism seems the best evidence of the turbulent time the completion of the CD had to stand against. The personal context, revealed in liner notes, obviously imprinted heavily the whole process of writing and recording, chaning the overall character of the album into more serious and down-to-earth than “Snapshot”. At the same time it seems more lyrical, less flawless and somehow more uncompromising.

Although from obvious reasons thematically “If Life Eas Easy” seems more consistent, music-wise it’s more a collection of songs than an album. First and foremost there are one-man, bare-bones pieces like “Welcome To The Moon”, “When Life Gets To The Bone”, “Staring Into Space”, and the title number. They all showcase a very inimate sort of performance in the manner of Bob Dylan, Tim Hardin, or JJ Cale, and even Mark Knopfler. By their specific nature, these are the most heartfelt songs on the album, and it’s also the first time ever we get to hear RG in what is in fact an almost face-to-face performance. The very private character of the aforementioned numbers is also apparent because RG sings on all of them. Despite – as mentioned by RG himself – the underwhelming demand for his singing, it works fine to the point it’s hard to imagine somebody else singing those songs. We also get to hear RG in “Box of Tricks”, a very groovy and vibrant number; “The Car Won’t Start”, a brilliant mixture of folk and reggae, and “Cruel World”, which also features RG playing on ‘Tin-Tone’ guitars.    

The reggae element, very important already on “Mask”, and to an extent also on “Snapshot”, is here also represented by the opening number “Don’t Look Now (Everything Has Changed)” with a wonderfully pulsating bass by RG and the warm voices of Randall Bramblett and Gillian Glover. It’s one of only two songs co-written by Bramblett, who played crucial role on “Snapshot”, both as a writer and performer. On “If Life Was Easy” Bramblett also sings on the very “Snapshot”-like “Stand Together”, again with well-crafted vocal harmonies and guest performance from Don Airey on pianet. On the rest of the album Bramblett is featured mainly as a backing musician playing keyboards and Hammond organ.

The Guilty Party also includes familiar names of Joe Bonadio, Nicky Moroch and Joe Mennona, as well as a newly recruited guitar talent of Oz Noy. He’s is featured heavily on “The Dream I Had” with guest vocals from Nazareth veterans, Dan McCafferty and Pete Agnew. Noy adapts easily into various musical genres on the album. He plays wonderful atmospheric guitar on “Moonlight”, which has that old school feel to it, partly thanks to Bramblett’s playing on Hammond organ and Mennona’s discreet horn arrangement. The song features the finest of three vocal performances by Gillian Glover who this time also co-wrote two songs with RG. Fans of Gillian’s voice won’t be dissapointed and will probably treat her performances on RG’s album as a foretaste of her upcoming CD, a follow-up to Gillian’s brilliant debut, “Red Handed”.

“If Life Was Easy” features three more guest singers: Walther Gallay, a young French vocalist whose performance on “When The Day Is Done” is an obvious bow to Leonard Cohen; Sahaj Ticotin, leader of a rock band Ra, who turns in what is a fantastic performance in a modern day rocker “Feel Like King”, which closes the album alas somehow abruptly; and Mickey Lee Soule, who does the best imperssion of Dylan in the melancholic yet uplifting “The Ghost Of Your Smile”.

I think there’s one more person who deserves a credit. Peter Denenberg. He’s done some wonderful job mixing and co-producing the album with RG. And it’s not the first time. He’s familiar to all Deep Purple fans for the fantastic work he did on Purple’s albums in 1990s and also for working with RG on “Snapshot”. I was very happy to find out that he was also on board while working on “If Life Was Easy”. It paid off well.