John leon stanekIV, a new hope. There's passion here all right – but some of it could have been directed better.

Label: Forklift Records
Time: 9 Tracks / 32minutes

"I believe that something good is going to happen... you know his love is always right on time," sings Stanek on the appropriately-named opening track "Take the Lead". It brews up a head of steam and chugs away like a train. The passion continues on "Love!" as he gets excited about God's love motivating him. The band shares his enthusiasm as it blasts blues-rock rhythms under some searing lead guitar from Tony Williams.

Unfortunately, some of the keenness should have been directed at the pitching, which distracts by wavering a lot in the quieter tracks (such as "Something Beautiful" and "Smile"). Some could also have been spent in honing the lyrics. "You turn it all around / without making a sound" seems to me like someone not knowing how to finish a line and so sticking in anything that rhymes. "There is love," he sings. Where is it from? Yes, you guessed it, "Up above". There are several examples of this.

These distractions aside, there are some strong moments here. Overall, there is plenty of authentic, raw rootsiness, but some finer details catch the spotlight. The simple piano arpeggio in "Should I ever Wake?" not only works beautifully, but you start to relish the anticipation of it in future listens.

Stanek seems equally happy, whether expressing love in tender acoustic ballads or getting gritty in rockers, so this set avoids any sameyness. Happily, he also knows how to sing about faith without resorting to clichés.
"I believe that we all have a father/
I believe that He loves us so/
And it don't matter if we all get adopted/
We're all one family with one big home."

This set is short and, had he put more effort into pitching and words, it could have been sweet. Here's the best bit:

Derek Walker