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Bill Ricchini
Ordinary Time
Red Square Records

Bill Ricchiniís Ordinary Time is one of the most fragile records I have heard in recent memory. When I pull it out of its cardboard slip-sleeve, I always do so very gingerly, and while Iím listening to it, Iím always careful to give it my full attention, just to make sure it doesnít fall to pieces. From the opening a-capella notes of "Deliver Me" to the last playful notes of "Robot Kisses", this debut from the Philadelphia songster, who has recently finished touring the country with homeboy Joey Sweeney, sounds as quietly desperate and vulnerable as Brian Wilsonís "God Only Knows" or Elliott Smithís "2:45 A.M."

But Ordinary Time is also a lushly beautiful and insightful record. If Ricchini were British, this record would be selling out at the local kiosks faster than you can say "Mercury Prize". Ricchiniís brilliant juxtaposition of stripped-down, heart-on-the-sleeve songwriting with lush instrumentation including strings and horns brings to mind many past Prize-winners and short-list makers, including Ed Harcourt and Badly Drawn Boy. Throw Elliott Smith, Brian Wilson (both dominant Ricchini touchstones), Phil Spectorís Wall of Sound on a shoestring, and chamber-pop by the likes of Belle & Sebastian and fellow Philly-ite Matt Pond into the mix, and you have some idea of Ricchiniís sound. Even the most opulent of Ricchiniís arrangements, replete with cellos, circus organs, trumpets and sleigh bells, manage to avoid seeming hackneyed thanks to Ricchiniís uncertain, hesitant whisper and his remarkable songwriting.

Most of the songs on Ordinary Time arose out of a tough time in Ricchiniís life when he lost his girlfriend and his high-tech job. Fortunately for us, he was able to turn all of that loss into a deliciously poignant and heartbreaking song cycle that somehow manages to be uplifting. "What You Wanted", perhaps the recordís most unabashedly romantic song, effectively conveys that jumble of emotions one often feels after a breakup: Turn around if you want/Iíll be standing out in front/Of your house, waiting there/íCause I still careÖShouldnít have slashed your tires. Later, the poppiest and most upbeat track, "Julie Christie", with its childlike melody in the verses and gorgeous harmonies on the chorus, cuts straight to the heart of things with verses like: Man, that girl is really cool/Man, that girl is really it/I would love to talk to her/But she knows that sheís the shit. "Candy Hearts", one of the tracks on Ordinary Time that seem more like a sketch than a song, is carried by a beautifully gentle guitar arpeggio and a lazy vocal melody. The song moves along at the pace of a warm summer day, with its instrumental coda as the sunset, as the simple lyrics take on an almost haiku-esque gravity. On "With Grenades", Ricchiniís clever vocal phrasing creates the aural equivalent of enjambment, turning lines like I just wanted to make you smile into I just want/Ted to make you smile.

As an instrumentalist, Ricchini also demonstrates prodigious talent on Ordinary Time. In fact, in addition to vocals (and vocal harmonies) and guitar work, Ricchini also plays most of the organ, bass, accordion, xylophone, keyboard, and percussion parts youíll hear (you see how the Brian Wilson comparison keeps playing out). He receives some help with drums, cello, trumpet, and piano (the last is played by Brian Christinzio, who has since joined The Trouble With Sweeney).

As a whole, Ordinary Time plays like a novel about the bittersweet process of learning to accept loss, or as Ricchini puts it in the liner notes: "This is a summer record about the winter." Yes, itís a bit melancholy, but Ricchini expresses his sadness with remarkable humor and grace, never bludgeoning the listener with self-pity or self-indulgence. Ricchiniís remarkable ear for arrangement and engineering, partnered with his exceptional gifts as a lyricist, vocalist, and musician make Ordinary Time a record to notice. If you have a hard time finding it, keep looking. Itís well worth it.

ó Eryc Eyl

[Ed. Note: The Red Square pressing of the record has completely sold out, but, as of October 1, Rykodisc will be distributing a re-release with a bonus track on Megaforce/Transdreamer, meaning it will be available basically everywhere.]

Track Listing:

  1. Deliver Me (prayer)
  2. Like An X-Ray
  3. What You Wanted
  4. Rain Parade
  5. Stand Up Straight (Snowman Blues)
  6. You Heard Wrong
  7. Julie Christie
  8. Ballad in 2-D
  9. Candy Hearts
  10. Think Of Me As A Place
  11. Truth And Secrets
  12. Like Falling Asleep
  13. Slow Introduction
  14. The Beginning Of The End
  15. With Grenades
  16. Robot Kisses (theme)

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