A mixture of metallic and jazzy in “I Am 2,” viciously overdriven in “Empty” or uncompromisingly bluesy in “No End In Sight,” the string play isn’t always the most virtuosic in Passionate Presence, but it’s always the most defining element in this fascinating new album from Anthony Rufo. Virtuosity comes more in the form of compositional complexities, sonic texture and organic tonality in Rufo’s new LP, and in terms of efficiency, his formula is one of the smarter I’ve come across lately. Passionate Presence is pretty much everything its title would it imply it is, and among diehard audiophiles, it’s a great acquisition this May.

The vocal harmonies in “We Can’t Connect,” the fast and furious “Lady of Light” and anthemic “Eagles Fly” come off surprisingly strong considering how instrumentally-focused they are. Tonally speaking, Rufo’s singing is often as expressive as any given lyric he’s actually conveying to us could be, and in situations like those presented to him in “E.G.A.H.I.M.P.,” it’s the essence of his voice that shapes the narrative even more than the verses do. His is a multifaceted approach to songcraft, and if you can appreciate dexterous composing in general, it makes this record a tough one to put down once it’s been picked up for the first time.

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I didn’t the impression that lyrics were the color to the foundation of beats and string-born melodies in “Leaving It Up To You” or the supersized “Belly of the Beast;” in fact, quite the contrary. In more ways than one, Rufo’s words frame the instrumentation in this pair of songs, and in instrumental numbers like the title track and acoustic-driven “Advent,” he doesn’t need any poetry to give us a thoroughly stimulating and communicative performance. Passionate Presence was designed for guitar-lovers more than anyone else, and it couldn’t be arriving at a better time this year.

There are a lot of influences in play throughout this new album by Anthony Rufo. Traces of old school rock n’ roll find their way into the mix of “Time Stands Still,” while “Eyes of Compassion” flirts with a more surreal brand of the genre, “Leaving It Up To You” owes its soul to the blues and “Empty” feels like the dirty cousin of Seattle grunge we never knew survived the nineties. The only consistency here, outside of the high quality play from Rufo himself, is full-circle songwriting. There are no fragmented sonic enigmas in this LP; this is all muscle, no fat.

As far away from puritanical pop as it gets (yet somehow devoid of the murky anti-melodicism common among experimental efforts nowadays), Anthony Rufo’s Passionate Presence is an eclectic rock buff’s dream come true. This artist is, essentially, everything a musician’s musician should be in 2020, and while he’s not changing the world as we know it with his new LP, he’s definitely making the year’s soundtrack a heck of a lot more interesting. He’s made a fan out of me, and if given the chance, I think he’ll do the same for you as well.

Sebastian Cole