Album Review: Reese Fulmer & The Carriage House Band’s “Live at Just the Right Time”
Original songwriter and musician Reese Fulmer is, at heart, a storyteller. Fulmer likes to write about real things like capitalism, drug abuse, and social ills. But he also writes about the personal: love lost, family members that age, parents cutting loose. All that is represented in his new album “Live at Just the Right Time,” scheduled to be released July 28th.
Fulmer, beloved for his soulful folk music that has won listeners (and an Eddie Award) across Nippertown, has a new album that shares out 17 songs performed over four Capital Region venues. The album features his Carriage House Band, an ever-changing and yet constant tribe of talent that offers a lush and beautiful accompaniment to Fulmer’s smooth vocals.
It is no secret at our house that I am a huge fan of Reese Fulmer’s as I listen to his music during any assortment of chores and activities. From dancing through dinner to folding laundry at night, I find Fulmer’s songs a mix somewhere between reading poetry and singing gospel: they soothe and also uplift.
As a musician, I’m fascinated by how Fulmer can arrange his music to flexibly fit his Carriage House Band members’ talents and instrumentation. Sometimes with six and other times with five musicians, The Carriage House Band model allows Fulmer’s songs to be performed with the complexity they deserve. And his choice of musicians is high caliber, reflecting talent enough to pivot as needed by Fulmer’s songwriting.
The album offers up a mix representative of Fulmer’s eclectic approach to his art. Fulmer is proud to defy genre and opens with a spell-binding guitar picking on “Long Black Car,” performed at The Hangar. The song’s opening words, “Smoke and fire,” could just as easily be a description of Fulmer’s vocals on the song. Smoky and blue, he bursts out with lyrics and background singers that are aflame with imagery prompting vivid visuals.
My favorite parts of the song are teased out by the strings, with guitar player Jimi Woodall, upright bass player James Gascoyne, cellist Katie Weissman and octave mandolinist Chris Bloniarz leaning into one another to tell the story through their musicianship. Quiet harmonies in voice do not distract from the careful and quiet string work, all of which lend “Long Black Car” a haunting sound that echoes in your brain long after the last note is played.
Fulmer’s choices on this album were imaginative and often surprising in contrast to one another. “Just Gravy” is the improv piece the band performed at each venue. I recall hearing these at each venue when I witnessed the bands play them live, but listening to them out of context from the overall performances permitted a savoring that wasn’t allowable at the live performances. While all of them are fun explorations of sound and rhythm, “Just Gravy #4” from Caffe Lena highlights JP Hubbs on keyboard and Chris Carey on drums in a way that captivates my feet into a rhythmic dance. Enter Connor Dunn’s sax playing, and you might even find yourself enjoying some jazz.
A light and playful “Shake Those Blues” from the Playhouse deserves a second and third listen when you play through the album. A turn away from the more serious subjects that typically are the focus of Fulmer’s music, “Shake Those Blues” is reminiscent of some rockabilly music that my parents might’ve loved. What I find enjoyable is the smile clearly on Fulmer’s face as he’s singing the song; you won’t have to see it, you’ll hear it.
Highlights of the album for me are “Ohio” and “All the Summertime Sunshine,” songs that reveal Fulmer’s ability to empathically describe experiences combined with melodies that explore the storylines rather than detract from them. Both are highly personal songs, narratives of individual emotion and experience. Those lyrics could stand alone, but combined with melodies that keep his imagery afloat, Fulmer has masterfully written music that is timeless.
The album is a rich representation of Fulmer’s growth over the six months of performing the pieces live, and while he expressed that he’s already changed since their recordings, I would posit that any listener will also be altered by the album’s metamorphic energy.
Listen to “Live at Just the Right Time” and try not to change – to meld with the music, shift with the genres, smile at the lyrics. If you are brave, give it a deeper listen two, three, or four times to evolve with an ever-cognitively flexible and yet constantly beautiful performance.