There's an old saying passed around by the old-timers that loosely translated becomes "Beware solo albums." The older village old-timers pass around an even older saying: "Beware solo albums by drummers." Fortunately, there's an even older saying quoted by old-timers on their death beds that when taken literally involves the ingesting of large amounts of guar gum, but the meaning behind this ancient wisdom is that if the music is really good, you can ignore the previous two sayings. While he calls the band Spock's Beard his home, Nick D'Virgilio, the man behind Karma, has beat the skins for bands ranging from Sheryl Crow to Tears For Fears to Genesis. On his debut solo release D'Virgilio presents himself as a talented multi-instrumentalist, playing just about every instrument, and singing, on an album full of songs that cover a wide spread of genres. Progressive rock, blues, fusion, pop, funk, country, alternative, jazz, and all kinds of things in between… they're all here and all done amazingly well. While many solo albums suffer from the "look at how technically proficient I am at all these instruments you never knew I played" syndrome (patent pending), NDV again keeps perfect time by presenting eleven exceedingly well-written songs packed with memorable hooks and melodies, all cloaked in such a broad array of styles that music lovers don't stand a chance of escaping Karma's seductive tendrils. As if this weren't enough to make any musician jealous, D'Virgilio is also an accomplished studio guru so the arrangements are top-notch and the production is crystal clear.
The treasures inside this jewel case are many. "The Game", co-written by deceased musical genius Kevin Gilbert, is a pure aural treat. Pianos and bongos explode into brilliant, melodic vocals with powerful drums in a genre halfway between a power ballad and pure rock. The title track consists only of layered vocals and percussion yet is so full and complete that you'll never miss the guitars, mostly because the chorus will haunt your every waking hour with it's chanting tribal rhythm and lyrics of "You can't hide when your karma follows you." The first three minutes of "The Waters Edge" contain overtones of Queen with solo piano and plaintive vocals but then the cello enters with powerful vocals and an amazing chorus that I would give my left buttock to have written, and you know you're a goner. Feel like a little jazz with your pop? "Dream In Red" fits the bill. For a soul fix try the ballad "Will It Be Me?" or "Come What May" for a classic piano ballad. Pure rock with heavy drums and a thick guitar riff so textured you can almost feel it on your tongue? That would be "Anything", third aisle on the left, right next to the gnarled mass of distortion marked "Forgiven." If progressive power-pop is what makes your life worth getting out of bed, there's "The River Is Wide" or the three-part "Paying The Price" which comes complete with attachments by Yes, Pink Floyd, Kansas and early King's X, all for one low price.
While it's not the greatest thing since pre-cooked pimento loaf, this album does so many things so well that it belongs in eight homes out of ten. Well-crafted, catchy songs backed with solid musicianship and flawless production… to put it simply, this is good stuff!
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, January 2002.