The project I am going to discuss is the product of an artist’s true love and devotion for the music that means more to him than money could ever define. I am here to talk about the first CD by Dom Cimei, called “What’s Up Is What’s Down,” now available through Ampcast.com. Although I was involved with the production of this CD, my reasons for participation have little to do with my long-time friendship with Dom.
I was not propelled to embark on this project for any personal gain, or to simply help my friend. And, at the end of the day, it is not the production of this CD that allows it to be a substantial and entertaining work. Those qualities are reserved for the songs themselves, which stand up as intelligent pieces outside of any technical process. They are literate presentations of lyric and melody, something I am attracted to and always care to use my writing talents to share with anyone who can read. As well, it is something I feel is lacking considerably in the presentations of independent artists.
Dom was originally a drummer, though his penchant for the guitar overlapped early on and won out in the end. Though he dabbled in songwriting on guitar while still a drummer, once he left the skins behind he became a serious student of the instrument and began to write songs seriously, too. And from the beginning of his songwriting resurgence, in the mid-‘90s, his pieces were strong personal statements with tastes of powerful influences, many of which predated his own era, while retaining their own unique foundation. Also, being a professional copywriter injected a shot of literacy that lifted his lyrics well above cliché.
The songs on his first CD span a good number of years and encompass a good number of topics. But the “voice” is steady and convicted and the guitar playing is as crafted as guitar playing comes. Although Dom can improvise and jam with the best of them, he is particular and calculating when it comes to his guitar parts. In fact, using a producer such as myself is the antithesis of how Dom works. I am his polar opposite when it comes to matters of preparation. Though neither behavior is wrong or right, Dom’s meticulous methods tend to be more productive and, certainly, are more valuable in approaching the kinds of musical pieces he creates.
Thus, regardless of my epiphanies, which didn’t always translate, Dom’s devotion to his work shone in every take and delivered the exact expression he pondered and practiced to create. So, in songs like “Ghost Town” and “The Dark Place,” specifically, yours truly was merely a traffic cop, making sure the levels and effects were not disrupting the performance. Sound aside, Dom produced all of the tunes, since the songs themselves and his performances transcend any and all technical aspects.
Thematically, Dom covers a wide span of expressions while remaining loyal to his nature. His love for the blues (he calls it “the only real music”) shines in “Gone,” an outstanding acoustic number that dares confront the weakness of the human condition. “Under Siege” addresses the absurdity of authority for its own sake and the contempt we all have for powers-that-be. The aforementioned “Ghost Town” is a prosaic look at the death of our pasts and the bittersweet taste of the phantoms that provide secure memories.
The title tune is a commentary on our cultural hunger for sensationalism and the shameful side of celebrity. To present this as a jump-blues-swing number (Dom’s intention, not the producer’s) only strengthens the circus of its intentional critique. “The Dark Place” is testimony to the prowess of personal demons and how they shade our moods and blemish our spirits. “Brethren,” on the other hand, celebrates camaraderie and hope, using the journey of the New Testament’s Timothy to emphasize every person’s trial to maintain faith.
Paying homage to his early rock heroes, Dom delivers “All I Can Do Is Cry” not as a personal message but as a personal tribute. He weaves melody and lyric in the spirit of rock pioneers who have blazed the trails of popular music while adding his own touch to the dedication. “Make Believe Blues” is a cheeky romp into his own feelings, which are bewildered by an affinity to a style of music, as George Carlin puts it, no white man has the right to perform.
“I’m Starstuck” captures the blue-collar mentality that we all share, in a way, which pumps us full of envy and admiration and also fuels the desire for that which the title tune criticizes. And, “We’ll Be Together” is a look into how relationships are ruptured and then recaptured by the passing of time, experience and maturity.
It was a greater joy to have participated in this body of work than it was to have received any credit for being a part of it. Indeed, Cimei’s respect for the craft of songwriting, his devotion to the art and science of guitar playing and his allegiance to his own opinions and devices are talents deserving of applause, bows and testimony to the pleasure of listening to pop music.