HGR CD Review: Cloud Party

CLOUD PARTY – THE DYING ART OF LIVING (DRP Records) It was first believed that the current technology age was supposed to make life easier for everybody, leading to shorter work weeks and more leisure time. But the opposite has happened; more people are now working longer hours and multiple jobs to make ends meet, and in the rat race to keep up with not just the Joneses but extravagant lifestyles promoted through mass media, people are stressing out and forgetting…how to live. These observations were not lost on Cloud Party singer, songwriter, guitarist, keyboardist and philosopher Jim Speese; and the result is Cloud Party’s first CD since 2005, called The Dying Art of Living. The disc follows the loose theme of society losing touch with the simple pleasures of living, played out over a baker’s dozen tracks. Speese, guitarist Mark Steffy, bassist Keith Smoker, rhythm guitarist Gerry Ronning, drummer Kevin Adams and pianist/backing singer Evelyn Christian explore various components of this modern-day dilemma; while serving up an eclectic sound that blends elements of classic and alternative rock, blues and Americana. The leadoff track “All the Nights” awakens to the reality that life is more than just television and credit cards, and yearns for meaning in that life. “Nowhere and Everywhere” makes a similar realization, that life is empty without moments and memories. Perhaps the centerpiece of the album, “Alive” gives a definition to being alive, being conscious and living every moment. Speese’s wit and candor prevail on several tracks, including the observational “The Irony of You,” and “The Superhero Song’s” wishful thinking. Speese and Cloud Party achieve some impressive tranquil moments on the album as well, including the acoustic ballad “Sad Eyed Rose” with its throwback to the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood,” the cello-assisted ballad “Waiting All This Time,” and the hopeful acoustic lullaby closer “Dreamland (Julie’s Song).” With a seasoned vocal style channeling elements of David Bowie, Lou Reed and Jim Carroll; Speese sells his words with varying levels of hope, wonder, wit and cynicism. The rest of Cloud Party serves the arrangements and moods of each song, giving each its own distinctive flavor while retaining a consistent thread and presence throughout. The Dying Art of Living amounts to Cloud Party’s most complete and engaging set yet, as the group hones its artistry while retaining its edge personality. (The CD can be obtained through Cloud Party’s website, www.cloudpartymusic.com.)