This is a rather pleasant surprise, never having heard of Patrick Coman. Yet, when the producer credits denoted guitarist Peter Parcek and drummer Marco Giovino, Coman’s Tree of Life certainly seemed worthy of a listen. It’s an eclectic mix of roots and blues material that did not disappoint. Parcek also plays lead guitar and Giovino, who has produced for Robert Plant and Buddy Miller, plays drums, percussion and organ behind Coman’s rocking, oft quirky songs.Of note, “Beehive Queen” Christine Ohlman guests on “Don’t Reach.”
Coman was a long-time Boston musician and radio personality before recently relocating to Charlottesville, VA. Coman comes across so confidently, you’d swear he’s been making records for years. That confidence was mostly born from a decade behind the scenes of some of this generation’s best songwriters as a booking agent, sound engineer, and DJ/producer for Americana station WUMB-FM in Boston. He was very familiar with Parcek and Giovino and worked with them over the past few years.
Coman’s musical foundation, however, traces to his upbringing in Oklahoma where, like every musical Okie, he was influenced by Woody Guthrie; and later by Leon Russell and J.J. Cale. His vocals certainly resemble more of an Oklahoma quality than a New Englander. Speaking of Guthrie, Coman says, “Today it is eerie to see how his Dust Bowl-era themes are just as relevant as ever. Although my sound is different, I like to think that Woody would appreciate songs like ‘Trouble #2’ and ‘The Judge.’ He was the master of boiling down an injustice to the point where anyone could understand it and while it doesn’t get mentioned as much, his combination of folk, blues, and hillbilly music paved the way for those of us who work in the cracks between genres.” “Chelsea Street,” for one, has that Tulsa shuffle popularized by J.J. Cale.
Coman says this about the record, “Even though a lot of the songs are pretty heavy we had so much fun during the recording process. Marco has this great studio out in rural Massachusetts that feels like a little clubhouse or what you’d imagine The Band had in mind with Big Pink. It was a place where we felt comfortable letting our imaginations run wild and really creating a sonic landscape for each song. No idea was too crazy for us to try and I think that type of freedom gave us the ambition to strive for something great.”
The different sonic landscapes are perhaps best typified by the contrast of the opening bleak, spooky “Heartbeat” offset against the vibrant vaudeville-like “Dirty Old Bed Bug Blues” accented by multi-instrumentalist Neal Pawley’s tuba and trombone. It’s also hard to deny the catchy appeal of “Rock When I Roll” with its chorus line – “Why do you rock baby when I want to roll?”
Most of the material was written in the month leading up to and immediately following the birth of Coman’s first child. Songs were constructed late at night or early in the morning when dreams blur with reality. That bridge between day and night informs both the album’s title and its sequence, which ranges from eerie and haunting to raucous and rollicking. Those times allowed for plenty of reflection as Coman tried his best to deal with his inner demons. It forced him to be honest and his doubt and fears are best shared in “Heartbeat,” ‘Keep My Soul,” and “Tree of Life.” Coman’s honesty is paired with a bit of wit and wide ranging musical palette that’s instantly credible.