REVIEW: Tom Sless’ “California Dream” is Tight Musicianship


There’s a challenge to any new collection with both good qualities & borderline material. Tom Sless’ vocals have an attractive quality; the instrumentation is proficient & the music well-written. It’s the lyrics that are a bit pedestrian. The former NJ resident & now LA-based Tom Sless debuts his California Dream (Marina Vista Records-drops March 27) & tries to capture his love of LA, his struggles to embrace the past & push forward.

There are memorable tunes among novelty & some sleepers. Is it worthy? Certainly.

Produced by Sless & John Bottrell the 8-tracks were recorded live in the studio. I didn’t hear any Steve Earle bite & aggression, or wit of John Prine but Tom at least has his head & shoulders above mediocrity.

“Astronaut,” too novelty-oriented for this collection — but can be forgiven. There’s a wealth of good musical touches. Tom’s vocals aren’t powerful but he has style & a commercial charm that’s not too sweet. “Why Oh Why,” is sung with heavy-handed effects. The music is well-played & Darius Christian’s trombone punctuates along with James Casey’s sax, & Enrique Sanchez trumpet. Drop the effects.

While the lyrics are the weakest link many tunes aren’t so much weighed down by cliché as just lines used many times before. “I’m so glad you’re coming home…” “I had never seen an angel…” …my hands are stiff & tired…” Sless needs more creative lines to match the quality of his music. Especially since his enthusiasm is there, the musicianship is tight & his effort sincere.

The best track & what should’ve been the lead-off track is the superb rollicking: “Gimme the Breeze.” Worth the price of the CD. This is where Sless needs to be. Andrew Leigh joins Tom on lead guitar/slide, 12-string guitars & they cook. This is Tom’s finest vocal. Energetic, & rocking. “My body’s aching from hitting the pavement, been driving a two-ton cage…” — good line.

The best tunes are toward the end. “Too Much on My Mind,” follows in a country-flavor with Barry Sless (no relation) on pedal steel. Eva Friedman’s drums — steady & sharp but on the finale of this track sweet & dynamic. David Gavrishov adds engaging piano. “My candle’s slowly burning, & the wick feels like a fuse…” – “If only crystal balls could take possession of my eyes.” Excellent lyrical imagery. LP bassist Justin Sinclair adds a nice bottom throughout with backing vocalists: Monica Aben, Keturah Church & Drew Frey adding color.

“California Dream,” the lead-off track as mentioned is one tune with pedestrian lyrics: “I was breathing in the burning fossil fuels in the downtown Los Angeles heat…but the air tasted clean and the mountain views were sweeping me off my feet…”

Am I missing something here? Is this sarcasm? Burning fossil fuels…but the air tasted clean?

Time for revision. Dylan does it all the time.

The 32-minute CD is available on Tom’s website:

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