Jim Keller “Spark and Flame”

Continental Song City, 2022

Great musicianship with eighties influences.

Album Cover for Jim Keller "Spark and Flame"Jim Keller was the guitarist and chief songwriter for the San Francisco group, Tommy Tutone, who had a couple of power-pop hits in the eighties, the most famous being ‘867-5309/ Jenny’. He moved to New York in the nineties, and left music to run a publishing company, among other things. In 2005, he started playing and writing again, telling a friend that he was doing it “to save my life”.

This is his fifth record since returning to music and is a departure from recent solo albums which had a stripped-back feel. Keller worked with multi-instrumentalist Adam Minkoff to produce a very full sound with horns, keyboards and vocal harmonies skillfully added on top of vocals, guitars and drums. Great care has been taken with the arrangements, which make the album good to listen to musically.

The Americana influence is seen in a Byrds jangly guitar at the start of the very good, melodic single ‘Spark and Flame’ where the singer is asking his partner to try to get back to the happy days early in the relationship:

Where is the sweetness I once knew?/ The smile that lit the sky”

There are also gravelly Tom Waits-style vocals in a couple of slower songs, particularly the final sobering track ‘Even Angels Have to Fall’ where the words deal with the failings of the writer:

“We had a little girl/ She grew up bright and strong/One day she said: Daddy, where did it all go wrong?”

In addition, there is a chugging Cars beat in ‘Learning to Crawl’, where you can sense the power-pop influences from Tommy Tutone.

There is a slight feel of eighties UK pop. You can imagine a number of these tracks being hits sung by bands on Top of The Pops, although the music is more serious than pop music and is on the boundary of rock and pop. ‘Tower of Love’ has an eighties synth sound and ‘Fight The Fight’ has a chorus reminiscent of later Depeche Mode. Keller’s deep vocals make some songs; for example ‘The Bells of Notre Dame’ sound a bit like David Bowie.

Listening to the album, you can see why Keller came back to music to save his life. It sounds like an album recorded by an enthusiastic and talented musician with a great love for music.

7/10
7/10

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