This year, singer/songwriter/guitarist Bernie Chiaravalle marks his thirtieth anniversary playing with the Michael McDonald Band. It has been a remarkable career touring and recording with the five-time Grammy winner, as well as guesting and writing songs for other artists like Judy Collins, Amy Holland, David Pack, Pat Simmons, Larry Carlton and many others. Somehow, despite living such a busy life, he has also found the time to use his creative eye as a web designer for other artists and businesses.
Now, as the calendar gets closer to turning the page, Bernie Chiaravalle happily announces the arrival of Dreamer, his ninth solo album. His excellent body of solo work reveals him to be very much connected to the world around him and still dedicated to the enduring idea that love can save the world.
On Dreamer, he not only wrote all of the music, but also handled all vocals and the vast majority of the instrumentation. This is not easy task, wearing the hats of a recording engineer, producer and multi-instrumentalist. I asked him how he handles juggling such a busy tour schedule with his own solo projects. He says “I find it’s sometimes good to get away from a project, and playing with Mike is a perfect distraction.”
Dreamer begins with an ode to the kind of love that will stand the test of time, in “Your Love is Everything.” The way this exquisite melody floats gently over soft descending chords reassures and strengthens the message.
“Land of Dreamers” is a quasi-title track and is a rocker with terrific harmonies. Bill Gibson of Huey Lewis and the News makes an excellent guest appearance here on drums. It finds Bernie raising his voice in frustration where “Everything we know is falling under siege,” but he is careful to leaven it with a reminder of hope.
In the catchy mid-tempo “Don't Last That Long” and the rocker, “In This Together,” I'm reminded and impressed with how Chiaravalle's laser focus on a song never wavers. Though he has killer guitar chops, his solos are never self indulgent and his production choices are always made to serve the song. Melody, melody, melody. That takes experience and discipline. He knows just when to serve up the big emotional climax, and it's usually a glorious, enthralling musical moment.
Lordy, “Keep It Alive” is a beautiful song. This meditative theme melds elegantly with the most ethereal of melodies, afloat on gently picked guitar. In the background of the musical theme are haunting volume swells (synthesizer? Guitar?) that cast a magic spell. It really is a highlight.
“Leave My Heart Alone” kicks out the jams with some rocking guitar and kicking harmonies. “How Long Must I Wait” tells of a guy tormented by memories of a lost love, and this tune is fully radio-ready to my ears. There is a percussive element in the rhythm track (some sort of hand drum? Muted guitar?) that really adds a very cool feel. Saxophonist Mark Douthit (Lionel Ritchie, Don Henley, Toni Braxton, Elton John, Michael McDonald and many others) delivers some soaring sax work here that you hope never ends.
“Bad Feeling” takes us down a bleak road, “when all hope is gone and love will disappear.” Tremendous lead and harmony vocals here add to the urgency until, God bless him, a ray of hope appears: “We can turn it around.” As a natural optimist, I appreciate that.
I really loved “Back On You.” The protagonist is very discouraged; he's raging actually: “I can't stand to hear another goddamn lie. It's a matter of time before it comes back on you.” Any guesses on the subject matter? It's a really strong melody and Bernie takes it out with a ripping guitar solo. What's not to love?
“I Don't See Why” is a super catchy five minutes and forty-four second piece of ear candy. It's my favorite! I just love the story line: two former lovers find each other again and have a second chance at love. The reggae rhythm here is a spot-on perfect way to deliver the hopeful message. The key change on the chorus is irresistible. I can't stop singing this one. Will the girl say yes? I'm rooting for them.
I like the idea of a record ending with a ballad and “Find A Way” is a really nice one. The song's protagonist is saying if we just stay strong together, we can get through this current hardship...don't give up.
It's a theme that Bernie returns to again and again in his songs. It's no wonder he's lasted thirty years in the big time...a business that's as tough as any you can name. And after hearing this record, the meaning of its title, Dreamer, becomes crystal clear.
David Tillis - writer for Vinyl Times Magazine