monoblogue music: “Diamonds & Demons” by Paul Maged

Out of all the music I’ve reviewed in the several months I’ve been regularly reviewing albums, this is perhaps the best example of straight-ahead rock and roll I’ve come across. There aren’t a lot of studio tricks, thumping bass and drums, or any of the other fluff which seems to define rock these days. “Diamonds & Demons” is pretty much simple and no-frills for most of its 16 songs, a number which clocks the collection in at about an hour.

Based out of the New York area, at certain times Maged’s vocals and the fact he plays piano and keyboard throughout the album can elicit thoughts of another New York-based piano man named Billy Joel. But this compilation is much more guitar-based, with keyboards playing a secondary role.

To use an example of this, here is the leadoff song and first single, Look At Me. The video has Maged simply as singer, with a slightly different backup band than the group credited on the album. Featured in the video is Maged’s touring band, if you will, called The Strangers.

Overall, the song has a great hook, witty vocals, and plenty of appeal. It could be on your local rock station tomorrow and many would want more. Images, Last Days, and the title track also share many of those same characteristics, with overdubbed background vocals adding a different touch on Images and I’m Okay, while Paul gets a little more political on the third track, Cause & Effect. So where is peace anyway? (It’s on the 45-second outro, which I believe was added at the end of the last track.)

The first six songs are a sextet of hook-heavy rockers throughout but track seven, Blind Faith, starts in a different direction as the keyboards take over on the intro, returning in different form on the bridge and resuming for the closing bars. It’s just enough variety to make the listener perk up, and smooths the transition so that Annastasia, with its added accordion, isn’t as jarring. After all, life is what you do with it, as Paul sings.

Maged gets a little bit of an attitude on Human Warfare, one of the hardest rockers on the album. It’s tempered a little with some slower sections but as a whole it’s quite heavy, just like the next song Love & Loss In The Western World. The latter slows down briefly in the middle, but cranks back up in time.

Toward the end we get more of a musical grab bag. Lyrically My Dear Love is quite well-constructed, but may have worked better in the acoustic manner in which it began. It would be interesting to hear an unplugged version to match up with the lyrics better, much as the piano-based Somber Song was done. I’m Gone is the one which comes closest to the sound exhibited on the album’s opening half-dozen songs.

One thing I gleaned from reading up on Maged’s band is that there were originally going to be 14 songs on the CD, but last summer “a new punk rocker has been born” which I’m guessing was Not Complicated. The sixteenth song, properly described by Maged as a “bittersweet ballad,” turned out to be the closing track 64th & 1st.

With 16 songs, there’s always at least one which doesn’t work that well. Going for the tropical vibe on Paradise Island makes it the weakest link as the parrothead trend is somewhat played out. But Maged limits the damage to just that one song, making the collection one worth having.

It’s getting to the time of year where annual Top 10 lists begin to be created. Since I don’t have monoblogue music every week (and only started in March) ten may be a little much, but certainly a top five is in order. And unless something comes and blows me away in the last two months, I would put this album squarely in that top five. Despite a couple weaknesses, this is the type of album which could push Maged and his band from being a local New York City act to at least a good regional status. All they need is the wherewithal to make a tour of it and hit some clubs along the East Coast, and the music can do the rest.

While I had access to a private review copy, those who want to check out a few sample tracks can go to Maged’s website and listen to four songs. That way you don’t quite have to just take my word for it; instead you can listen for yourself.