Like a lot of white suburban teens, I spent a good portion of the early ’90s in a state of wild-eyed musical confusion, huddling in the corner with my Van Halen and Billy Joel CDs while scary, pissed-off dudes like Kurt Cobain and Ice Cube yelled at me over a chorus of screeching Corgans. Those were dark, troubled times — years when I’m fairly certain I must have wondered on at least one occasion why more acts couldn’t sound like Toad the Wet Sprocket.
That was a long time ago, and I have long since ceased to pray for a plague of sensitive dudes with guitars to descend like Gap-attired locusts upon the airwaves. Apparently, however, prayers take a few years to reach the Big Guy, because since the late ’90s, we’ve witnessed an incredible proliferation of singer/songwriters, the likes of which haven’t been seen since James Taylor had a mustache. Even for someone who was raised on this stuff, and who has a higher-than-average level of appreciation for good old-fashioned songcraft, it’s gotten out of hand — I’m running out of different ways to say an album is competently written and tastefully performed, but not all that different from Dude With Guitar X, Y, or Z.
Which brings us to Tony Lucca, and what is apparently his sixth album, the recently released Come Around Again.
Lucca was a member of the next-gen Mickey Mouse Club known simply as MMC, where he performed alongside Britney and Justin, but his music is rooted in rock and Wonder Bread soul, not sugar-frosted R&B; if you can make your way past the album cover, which makes it look like Chad from the IT department had a few too many Spider Monkey Margaritas at the office holiday party, you’ll find that Lucca’s a rather talented guitarist and vocalist. His songs, meanwhile, are a bit of a mixed bag.
Lucca’s press kit claims his work has run the gamut from Aja-period Steely Dan to early Jackson Browne, but if Come Around Again is any indication, his strongest influence is John Mayer — like Mayer, he’s got a gift for the six-string, a soft-edged, moderately soulful voice, and a weakness for favoring vibe over hooks. On the plus side of the equation, Lucca doesn’t pander to the ladies the way Mayer does, and he draws from a wider lyrical palette — although, as evidenced by the ham-fisted “Close Enough,” he’s just as out of his league when it comes to making insightful social commentary.
Whatever his limitations, Lucca’s work is intermittently promising; here, the strolling “Time and Time Again” and the title track (download) are among the choicest cuts, and I’ve got nothing but admiration for the level of chutzpah it took for Lucca to cover Chris Whitley’s “Wild Country,” even if the results are unacceptably square. If he wasn’t part of such a crowded pack, I’d be more excited about listening to Come Around Again. Maybe it’s just that my ears have gone numb from listening to all these dudes with guitars, but after playing this album half a dozen times, all it boils down to is that it’s competently written and tastefully performed…but not all that different from much of what’s on offer at the Awarestore. Whether that’s an endorsement or a warning is entirely up to you.