Many masterpieces have resulted from a theme; just take a listen to “Sgt. Pepper” or “Dark Side of the Moon.” Following a concept doesn’t always work though, and more often than not, artists who do produce lackluster material.
The Meldavians’ attempt at an album inspired by a story, “Farewell Arigemon,” doesn’t quite fit in the first category, but it’s nowhere close to being in the second.
Three of North Carolina’s virtuoso musicians, jazz pianist Dave Fox and blues guitarist Scott Sawyer, both of the Piedmont, and vocalist, guitarist and Boone rock ’n’ roll diva Melissa Reaves comprise The Meldavians. The group was recently formed to bring life to a project written, created and composed by Fox. “Farewell Arigemon” was released on Jan. 1.
Fox conceived “Farewell Arigemon” for Reaves, who he has performed with occasionally over the last 15 years. In addition to the 10 tracks prepared for her, Reaves brought two of her own originals to the album. Joined by Sawyer and a several supporting musicians, The Meldavians began their existence in 2011.
The Meldavians, the name and the music, could easily be interpreted as combination of Melissa and Dave, but it’s also a representation something of Fox’s imagination. According to him, Meldavia is a country founded by a race of people forced to leave their homeland of Arigemon. Both of these places are located on Teronus, a planet in a distant galaxy.
The information Fox gives about the Meldavian people is vague and insufficient for understanding what exactly is going on with them on “Farewell Arigemon.” His book, “The Illustrated Tales of Meldavia, Vol I: The Summer of Isnon,” available separately from “Farewell Arigemon,” may provide some enlightenment. With it, perhaps, listeners may be able to connect the story and the music.
Honestly, knowing the specifics isn’t important. Whatever happened to the Meldavians, when generalized, is a story of emotion (love, in particular), nostalgia and change; it’s a human tale. The background information provided by Fox’s imagination elicited a brilliant product, whether it’s interpreted as a concept or not.
“Farewell Arigemon,” for the most part, is a jazz-blues-rock album, but is certainly not limited to that description. The styles intersect, run parallel, converge and are often infused with experimental and progressive elements, as well as funk and gospel and others. All the songs have a distinct formula, yet when combined, make a coherent whole.
The songwriting is exceptional, as Fox wrote well for Reaves. It’s as if he knew exactly what lyrics and music would best showcase her amazing ability to convert emotion into song. Reaves asserts “You Better Never Mess Around” over Sawyer’s sexy blues guitar. She takes the tell-it-like-it-is route when she asks for a little more lovin’ and “A Lot Less Philosophy,” a song channeling New Orleans’ Dr. John. “I Remember You” is soaked in sentiment, and the questioning “Have You Ever Made a Movie” fully engages the listener with its provocative lyrics.
Reaves is a vocal powerhouse throughout “Farewell Arigemon,” and the best moment comes in her own “Turn Back the Hands of Time.” Reaves has often been compared to Janis Joplin in the past, and this song most certainly elevates her to this position, if not higher. As with the rest of the album, she receives expert backing from Fox and Sawyer, who fuse blues and jazz flawlessly.
If Fox’s outlandish story about people from another planet can bring about an album as full and intelligent as “Farewell Arigemon,” then the guy should definitely write more stories. Either that, or musicians as immensely talented and creative as Fox, Reaves and Sawyer should hang out more often.
For more information on The Meldavians, visit http://www.meldavians.com.