REVIEW: The Impresario (Valerian Ruminski) — 80’s Caravan (LP)
It is perhaps inevitable that the year plus long global pandemic and its associated lockdowns and general upheaval inspired countless music works. The reach of the pandemic’s effects reach far beyond the music world, naturally, but its effect on songwriters has perhaps been much more immediate. It’s arguable if opera singer Valerian Ruminski would have adopted the Impresario moniker and started traveling down his road if not for the COVID-19 pandemic. The music world of the last two years would have been a poorer place for it as Impresario’s latest album, 80’s Caravan, stands as Ruminski’s fourth full-length work in two years.
Ruminski has an assortment of vocal tones he can bring to bear. In some of 80’s Caravan songs, Impresario sounds like a mid-period Elton John, confident and commanding. It’s certainly true of the album opener “When I Asked the World for Love”. Imrpesario is working with the same sort of lyrical material as well, intelligent, literal above poetic, but nonetheless poignant. There are ample backing vocals scattered throughout the album; Impresario’s voice is more than enough to carry the day, but they never mar the performance.
There’s something almost Grateful Dead-ish about the title song. It isn’t the steady percolating quality of the song but, instead, the practically vocal quality of the song’s guitar. The instrument doesn’t exert much of an influence over the album’s direction, but its impact is felt at crucial moments. This is one.
The lyrics are notable for several reasons. The storytelling aspect of Impresario’s writing, however, helps it stand out from other songs on the release. It’s grounded in specific details that help invoke the time more strongly for listeners. “Behind the Cloud” is a somewhat foreboding instrumental with the track riding on the black piano keys particularly hard and its deliberate pacing providing a plodding and ominous quality. Breaking the string of vocal tracks with an instrumental further testifies to Ruminski’s willingness to subvert listener expectations.
Listeners will be impressed by how consistently he strikes a proper balance of musical values. “Here We Go Again”, for instance, answers the synthesized pulse of its opening with Impresario’s robust vocals as well as his supporting singers. The songs make frequent use of the electric piano as a melodic underpinning, particularly for brisker cuts such as this, and the confluence of these various elements mixes with memorable results. He makes a couple of forays into rockier terrain and the most rugged of those excursions arrives with “King of the Juice”. The song’s fiery lead guitar doesn’t lapse into self-indulgence, though it may skirt tantalizingly close for some. Others, however, will hear it placing an emphatic exclamation point on the song.
“I Wanted to Love You” is, easily, the album’s most affecting moment. A number of factors are in play as to the reason why, but one undoubtedly is the live texture of the song. He eschews the synthesizer and pre-programmed thrust of the earlier tracks in favor of a more traditional attack. It closes the album on a surprising note, perhaps, but it’s well in keeping with the overall aesthetic governing Impresario’s work. It helps lodge this already fine album a little deeper into listeners’ memories.