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CD Reviews - Brian Vander Ark
Brian Vander Ark: Angel, Put Your Face On
December 2006
By: Matt Boltz
album cover of Brian Vander Ark's Angel, Put Your Face On

Brian Vander Ark, best known as the lead singer and principal songwriter for The Verve Pipe, is back with his second solo release, Angel, Put Your Face On. Vander Ark, who has honed his already remarkable songwriting skills in the five years since The Verve Pipe's last album, Underneath, continues to develop his craft on his latest solo release. Angel, Put Your Face On is a nod to his songwriting roots and influences that is in some places a fairly vast departure from his previous work, yet it always sounds completely natural for Vander Ark. The album, which was recorded in Nashville, emphasizes songwriting and sees Vander Ark sprinkle in more of a country flavor than was present on his first solo release

The songs are definitely the priority on Angel, with an absence of excessive instrumentation. These are songs that could be performed with a full band or just one man with a guitar and voice; while Vander Ark makes use of a host of musicians on the album and uses them well to enhance the songs, the songs would be just as viable with a totally stripped down approach. One of the album's shining points, as with Vander Ark's previous work, is his voice. Because of the acoustic-based nature of the songs on Resurrection (Vander Ark's solo debut) and Angel, Vander Ark is able to make his voice a primary instrument and enhance the intimate story telling aspect of his songs. The lyrics demonstrate Vander Ark's experience and maturity as a songwriter as he tells stories that appear to have personal roots, while telling them in a way that is accessible to the listener and skips the obscure imagery and randomness that many less experienced songwriters feel compelled to use.

Songs like Belong and Another Good Man pick up where Resurrection left off; Too Good for This World has a very catchy vocal melody that might beg to be sung along with from the first listen; the rollicking tone of Survival is unlike much of Vander Ark's previous work, yet he pulls it off with ease while singing about surviving life's bumps and bruises; and History shows incredible restraint as Vander Ark resists the urge to construct a climactic wall of sound that less experienced songwriters would have rushed to build. The songs on Angel employ a variety of instruments, some of which seem to make their first appearance in Vander Ark's work. One of the impressive things is that the instrumentation and arrangements always work extremely well for the songs, as does the production. The production is solid and done well, enhancing the songs while letting them remain at the forefront. No doubt Vander Ark is familiar with overproduction from having been involved with a major label for several years, and it's nice to see that with his solo work and the freedom that comes along with it, he is letting the songs dictate the production. There is no overproduction on Angel, just enough production to help the songs stand out individually.

Brian Vander Ark has undoubtedly learned a lot from his years in the music business. From his beginnings playing solo shows to his major label success with The Verve Pipe, and back to his latest foray into the solo singer/songwriter world, he has seemed to focus first and foremost on the songs. This love of songwriting serves Vander Ark very well on his second solo album, Angel, Put Your Face On. If you're looking for a rock album, you'll be out of luck with this record; but if you're looking for a solid, well-written album that blends elements of acoustic, electric, country, pop, rock, orchestration, and songwriting, look no further.