Joe separated from his record company after releasing just one full length album and an EP, both in 2003. Since that time he has existed in the world of independent music while also serving a stint as the band leader for the Carson Daly show and being a huge cog in the vibrant Los Angeles singer/songwriter scene. In 2005 he released an EP of all new material on his own (starting his trend of being the king of the extended play recording) before offering up this effort the following year. Live At The Sandbox is a 6 song EP which contains 3 new songs and 3 rearranged songs from previous records. The use of the word live in the title is a bit of a misnomer. This was not recorded at a Firstman show, it instead refers to the style on which the album was recorded and the Sandbox was the name of the studio where it was recorded. The disc starts out with the 3 reworked songs. These 3 songs come as close as anything Joe has recorded to capturing the feel of a live Firstman performance interpretation of his songs. Which of course means it is just short of brilliant. The first song is “Can’t Stop Loving You”, originally released on The War Of Women. You can hear Joe talking at the beginning of the cut and it clues you in immediately that these songs were recorded in a “live” fashion.
Although it resembles the orignal, some of the lyrics have been changed and horn accompaniment has been added. The second 2 cuts were originally released on JF. The first is “Sunshine”. It has been slowed and is more soulful than the original. This is a beautiful song that never grows old on my ears. The third song of the disc is the highpoint. I cannot call “Pretty Things” my favorite Joe Firstman song, because it is like trying to say one of your children is your favorite. That being said, this is one of my favorite Joe songs. It is a song he co-wrote with Tony Lucca, who has received notoriety recently for being on the TV show The Voice. Beautifully sad, lyrically exquisite ( I’ve been reading all the letters that you wrote me, all the fairy tales you sold me & all the pretty things you said….cant stop thinking about the way that you control me, now you wish you’d never known me, oh how I wish you’d come and hold me) and conveying a longing and loneliness that is palpable. Pretty Things captures all the things about Joe’s music that I hold most dear. The commander of the keys making the rumble box sound prettier than spring, the mature well written lyrics that I find at times to be frighteningly identifiable. Joe’s music just always sounds better when it is written & performed on a piano and when his songs remind you of a heartbroken troubadour. The disc takes a turn when the new songs come along. Memphis Maybe sounds like a Simon & Garfunkel song….without Simon. Walt’s Waltz sounds like Capt. Beefheart on a whiskey bender. Neither of these songs strike a chord with me and almost never make their way to my ears. But the last song of the EP saves the day. The rave up “Fight Song” brings an energy that the disc has not had up to this point. From the beginning’s quick drum beat and disjointed horn to the harmonica at the end, this song is just fun and meant to be played live. Live At The Sandbox is just another affirmation that he is unappreciated talent that deserves to be heard. While originally only a mail order or at show purchase album it is now available on Itunes…do yourself a favor and get it.
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