For every musician who has achieved stardom, there are thousands of anonymous ones grinding out a living by running from gig to gig. Julian Velard has given up his dreams of the former in favor of the latter on his fantastic new album, Fancy Words for Failure, which comes out June 16.
Working with longtime collaborator Grant Black on six songs, much of the material on the new record takes a cue from a track from its predecessor, “Jimmy Young,” where he saw a parallel between himself and a piano player his father used to see in Greenwich Village in the late ‘60s. The result is his most personal effort to date, and possibly his best.
The reason he’s made this switch in his life is simple: He got married shortly after the release of 2014’s If You Don’t Like It, You Can Leave, and he and his wife recently welcomed their first child into the world.
“I’m ready to take a real chance / Explore the mysteries of derivative finance / Face the fate unknown / Make monthly payments on a 10-year adjustable loan,” he sings on the second-to-last song, “Goodbye Hollywood, Hello Adulthood,” which could also have served as the title for the album. In finding domestic bliss, he’s discovered the joys of being able to just be himself with his wife (the lead single, “Sweatpants on the Living Room Floor”) and can project a time when they’re looking back on their life together (“Glad I Wasted All My Time With You,” the latest in a long line of excellent Velard ballads).
But he’s also negotiating the landmines involved with a lifetime commitment, whether stopping off at an all-night bodega to make amends for something he did (“24-Hour Flower Boy”) or living with the fear that all this happiness could come crashing down at any moment (“Something’s Gotta Be Wrong”).
Still, professional jealousy can’t help but creep in. “Trust Is a Four-Letter Word” acknowledges some friends who have shot past him and he remembers a real-life evening from his days in London where he gave a struggling young musician a place to crash with “The Night Ed Sheeran Slept on My Couch.” And he opens up the record by dismissing the hottest show to hit Broadway in years, “Don’t Ask Me About Hamilton (Anymore),” where he doesn’t see what everybody else does in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s creation (he’s wrong, of course).
Ironically, this comes at a time where his profile has never been higher. He plays regularly at popular New York karaoke bar Sid Gold’s Request Room, has a monthly slot writing songs for Howard Stern’s wrap-up show (one of which went viral) and occasionally provides musical accompaniment on NPR’s Ask Me Another.
For the second album in a row, Velard closes with a cover, this time of “The Rainbow Connection.” His reading of the lyric, complete with a darker musical arrangement, suggests a degree of cynicism in the lyrics that Kermit the Frog never found, particularly in the second verse.
And yet, the album never comes across as self-pity because there’s a genuine sense that he’s realized this is where he’s supposed to be. It helps that his back-up band is so strong to give him the support that he needs. For the first time in his career, he’s given up the piano stool (except on “Glad I Wasted All My Time With You”) to keyboardist Frank LoCrasto, who also served as arranger and co-producer. Ryan Bull (guitars), Adam Chilenski (bass) and Bill Campbell (drums) provide versatility and textures.
Although Fancy Words for Failure won’t be released until June 16, those who pre-order physical copies at PledgeMusic between now and then will be able to immediately download it.