Jesse LaMonaca has a voice that is hard to ignore. It shakes with soul and has a depth that moves the beat. On his latest record The Lament of Tumbleweed Hawk, LaMonaca puts that vocal to the test while exploring a plethora of musical avenues. Though Americana Soul is probably the best way to throw a blanket on the description of his sound, LaMonaca can wear different hats with ease without jeopardizing quality.
The album opens with the cool soul saunter “The Flood,” a strong up-beat opening statement full of horns, vocal, and attitude. LaMonaca throws his ace early, as this song features one of the best vocal performances on the album. It takes a lot to capture the depth and strength of the opening track, and instead of trying to cook up another bouncy soul workout, LaMonaca expands his sound on the second track “The Well Has Run Dry“ to include a colorful palate of strings, banjo, trumpet, and guitars. LaMonaca then moves on to “Crying Over You” which features a horn chart that punches up the chorus while Jesse’s voice begins to take on an Elton John-like quality.
LaMonaca does not seem afraid to stretch his vocals, something he is quite good at and does very well throughout the record. And when he does, you can feel it. On the fourth cut “Heaven Knows,” LaMonaca lets loose halfway through the song with a soul punch to the mid-section that shows you how good he can get.
Midway through the record on track 5, the pace shifts slightly with some playful piano that runs through the track “Maggie.” This one’s got a lighter feel than most on the album and serves as a slight break in the action. It also leads to some softer fare on the next song “Silhouette in the Moon,” an acoustic lullaby that features some pre and post song studio chatter to lighten the mood. After this two song slight reprieve, the album puts it back in gear as LaMonaca sticks a funky groove with “Wildcat” and takes off on a piano/harmonica romp that features the MLK Community Gospel Choir.
LaMonaca has also assembled himself an all-star cast of players from the local San Diego scene to help out on most tracks. The album features Brian Holwerda, The Hoth, John Meeks, Joanie Mendenhall, Nena Anderson, Ben Simonetti, Ian Tordella, Brady Alvarez, Rafael Salmon and Arabella Harrison.
You really get the sense that LaMonaca is giving it his all on this project. However, although you can’t fault the effort, a true theme-a cohesive thread that ties the whole album together-seems to be missing. Instead of doing 13 songs, the album might have benefited from LaMonaca sticking to 9 or 10. This tighter package could have strengthened the overall feel of the album and given this project just a little extra punch. Nevertheless, it’s without a doubt, that LaMonaca displays more than enough talent and ability to become an artist to be reckoned with for years in San Diego.
Closing the project is the beautiful title track “The Lament of Tumbleweed Hawk.” Here, LaMonaca takes his time and lets his vocals breathe, as he creates a nice elegant walk-through of the track. It really creates a nice book-end to this record and closes this Jesse LaMonaca and the Dime Novels project on a high note.