Joey Verskotzi is the epitome of the “rising star” in pop rock music. He’s a singer. He’s a songwriter. And he’s the man. Some of his earlier work reminded me a little of a young John Mayer, but on his latest Lemon Heart, it’s clear that Verskotzi has come into his own. His vocals and songwriting style have emerged with a more aggressive, college radio sound, less metro apartment feel. It’s a good change.
From the first jam chords of “Luck,” Joey V. comes out hitting harder on this album than his debut. The layered vocals are solid and the overall sound is one that will get toes tapping. In fact its far less the singer songwriter sound we’ve come to expect from acts like this and more of a driving indie rock flavor. Well played. “Brain Rack” has a similar college rock sound to it. The guitars layering over a percussion-heavy sound makes for an awesome, full sound. The song itself is about obsession, something that seems all too common in the late adolescent mind.
“Heartless Songs” gives a healthy indictment on the general malaise within the music industry. “Distract me from the world… hey the light is green… let’s move along… slippin’ away to heartless songs… I’m getting off on heartless songs.” It’s a great theme that’s extremely well executed. Verskotzi’s vocals are good, balancing a storytelling ethos and a transcendent emotional power. He can’t just sing about heartbreak as if it’s no big deal. He’s clearly singing out of a feeling of heartbreak and disgust. The yelling on the bridge (which is tastefully placed) reminds me a bit of Pink Floyd. It may not be what he was going for, but it makes the rest of the song come together nicely.
“Burnt Yuppies” is a completely different kind of song. Not only is it musically simpler, but it also has a dark and minor sonic structure. It doesn’t fit the rest of the album, but its counter-cultural tone is intentional. It’s a nice break and appropriately placed in the album. Joey V. shifts his gears with “Honey,” which has some elements of 60s rock to it, namely in the guitars and vocal chords, so it pairs nicely with the previous track. This song is some of the best vocals on the entire album. “This ain’t workin’ honey… you’re like poison honey to me.” This is just a good rock song; its about angst and a broken relationship, all with great melodic structure and a toe tapping beat. Awesome.
“The Flying Piano” is an upbeat rock anthem. Its got flavors from grunge, a solidly alternative bent, and a persuasion that seems fairly far afield from what we usually cover around here. But the vocal blending and major chord resolve make the song really work. “I can only reach so high. I can only sink so low.” The song seems to address a variety of issues like life cycles and existential questions, in particular.
The slow, introspective “Abandoned Love” carries with it a deeply emotional quality. The lyric “I filled this empty space in my chest…” introduces a combination of brokenheartedness and loneliness that cuts deep. Fans of alternative rock that reflects on deep personal themes will enjoy this one. Ending the album on a slightly more optimistic tone, “Diamond Ring” is no less emotional. Listeners are reminded of Joey V.’s true artistry, “my friends are on the town, but I’d rather write this song.” It’s the kind of song, sold out for love, devoted to art, that will surely resonate from many fans of the singer songwriter style.
All told the album is a nice step of maturation for Verskotzi’s songwriting. The production quality is impressive and the range of song styles is surprising. Some are stylistically more of the simple alt rock variety that is more plausible for the popular radio outlets, but what they all have is a transcendent artistic quality. What I mean is that it’s evident that this album was not written for marketing purposes. This album is an expression of Joey Verskotzi’s artistic vision. That’s a commendable achievement and a rare one indeed in today’s musical landscape. Fans of college and alt rock should give Joey a spin. Fans of the White Stripes in particular should give this an album a listen.