Bill Ricchini deserves some credit; he has shown considerable courage in giving his first major recording a name that opens itself to unfavorable cliches. But unfortunately for Ricchini, his music generally does little to discourage such cliches.
“Ordinary Time,” the debut album for Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter Ricchini, is an acoustically-driven work that attempts to rise above the coffeehouse-singer-with-an-acoustic-guitar stereotype by incorporating a diverse array of instruments and arrangements. But the commonality and subdued songs inevitably cause Ricchini’s debut to fall short of such ambitious standards.
Musically, “Ordinary Time” offers tantalizing glimpses of melody and innovative arrangements, but the music’s one-dimensionality is its principle drawback. To be fair, Ricchini recorded the album on a Dell PC computer and not at a recording studio, but the finished products often sound too much like glorified demos. The album’s 18 tracks offer little sonic variety and are too often hindered by uninspired guitar work. “Ordinary Time” relies heavily on droning acoustic rhythm guitar and stiffly played electric guitar passages that fall short of innovation. Many of the record’s songs also end abruptly or with disjointed musical codas, thus makings the songs seem more like unfinished products than well-presented musical statements.
But the music does get a lift with the addition of guest musicians, most notably Benji Bakshi and Nate Slabaugh. Bakshi’s passionate cello single-handedly carries tunes like “Slow Introduction,” while Slabaugh’s tastefully subdued trumpet adds rich textures to the upbeat “Rain Parade.” At times, “Ordinary Time” also delivers sonorous psychedelic styles and atmospherics, but Ricchini typically does not break beyond the conventions of his unobtrusive style.
Ricchini also fails to establish a distinctive voice on “Ordinary Time.” While he sings competently and with occasional tenderness, Ricchini offers little vocally in terms of range or variety. As with much of his music, Ricchini tends to meander lyrically, further compounding the one-dimensionality of songs such as “The Beginning of the End” and “Ballad in 2-D.” As a whole, the album lacks the emotional cadence or stylistic charm necessary for a singer-songwriter to succeed in today’s music industry.
Despite his record’s musical shortcomings, Ricchini does have songwriting talent, and occasionally the strength of his songs overcomes the record’s limitations. The haunting “Candy Hearts” successfully evokes Brian Wilson’s songwriting on the Beach Boys’ classic “Pet Sounds” through its deliberate electric guitar motif and its mystical instrumental arrangement. The rhythmic chord pattern and airy chorus vocals of “A Mountain, A Peak” allow the piece to stand as one of the album’s strongest and moodiest musical moments.
But the album’s most evocative piece is the beautiful “Like Falling Asleep.” Ricchini avoids the cliches inherent in the song’s title and uses gentle lullaby vocals and lyrical imagery to paint an elegant visual landscape. The song’s tranquil mood is reflected in lines like “You’re staring at the sky/ watching the colors change/ the stars are in your eyes/ but they’re so far away.”
Ricchini should be commended for trying to go beyond the narrow scope of today’s music industry, and on “Ordinary Time” he is occasionally able to achieve that goal. But the record’s sameness eventually fails to separate him from the rest of the open mic and subway station singer-songwriter crowd. While the often solid songwriting on “Ordinary Time” has earned him a chance to stick around, Ricchini offers too much of the ordinary and too little of the extraordinary this time around.