The release of this record in 2007 found Joe in a transitional period in his career. He was no longer with Atlantic Records and had only released a couple of independent EP’s since. He had acquired the position as full time band leader on the Carson Daly show and was touring during the summers. Being band leader on the show afforded him the opportunity of being exposed to many different artists and musicians that would be a part of his changing sound. DrAma would be his 5th release, his first full length release since War Of Women, and sound different than anything that he had released prior. There was a noticeable shift from the piano based songs he had become known for to a more guitar driven sound. The disc starts out with “TV Show” a mid tempo tune with an autobiographical commentary that leads the listener into believing that the gig isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. It also starts a theme that is revisited time and time again on this record of disjointed musical interludes. The 2nd track is “Amateurs Ball”. The songs starts out with Joe strumming an acoustic guitar and singing a very catchy lyric that melds into a nice refrain. Then boom a minute and a half into the song it suddenly changes into a completely different tune. Then again at 2 and a half minutes the song changes into a 3rd tune that rambles into a disjointed outro. As odd as all that sounds…it works, and “Amateurs Ball” is one of the stronger tracks on the release. Track 3 is much more reminiscent of the earlier Firstman. “Charlotte” is an electric piano driven song that focuses on Joe’s lyrical ability. The song is subtly great. I appreciate this song more now than when this album was initially released as it is hidden in the middle of Joe’s attempt to heavy his shit up a little…and there sits this gem. The fourth cut on the album “Company Man” is 2:39 seconds of drug fueled confusion that has to be chalked up to Joe’s musical growing pains and an effort to add testosterone for the sake of sounding harder. “Cut Your Losses” is another one of my favorite songs on the record. After a 32 second intro of Joe smoking a joint and having a conversation the song kicks in with classic Joe on piano. The only problem is the song sounds incomplete. This is followed by the oddly catchy “…At The Phoenix Hotel” . The song’s intro is so 1970’s sounding that you half expect it to be Harry Nillson singing when the song kicks in. Clocking in at 5:40 it is one of the few songs in this collection that sounds complete. The next track, “Byhalia”, is a track that sounds like it should have remained a demo. The potential is certainly there for this tune. But the vocals are buried in the mix and come off sounding muddy. The haunting organ sound would have been better suited being a more toned down sounding piano. “Drunk,Beat,Burned Baby” is another strong track that sounds straight out of the early ’70’s. The first part of the song finds Joe again leaning on the acoustic guitar sound accompanied by a haunting reverb guitar. Then, like so many cuts on Drama, he takes a 180 degree turn in another musical direction. This time the musical change is announced with a Captain Beefheart sounding horn straight out of Trout Mask Replica (look that one up kiddies). Again, like on “Amateurs Ball” earlier, the band pulls off the loose, disjointed musical change and it works. “Please Jane” is a song that Joe had been playing live prior to the release of this record. Those live renditions with just Joe and the piano were a better representation of this song than the one that was recorded here. While this song originally was a slow piano ballad, it has been slowed down even more and turn into more of an acoustic sounding Tom Waits song. The song features strong lyrics by Joe which save it some and perhaps if I was not aware or have live recorded versions of this song prior to Drama’s release I might feel differently. The song “December” closes out this set. Looking back from where Joe is now, this song was almost a precursor to the next musical metamorphosis he would take. To me this record has an unfinished demo feel to it and really started the trend of Joe clocking in songs at an acoustic punk rate of under 3 minutes.That being said, this is album you need to have if you are a true fan of Joe Firstman and the one I refer to as his ” ’70’s album”.
other Joe Firstman on this blog: