The Brian Shapiro Band is an East Coast based trio whose debut effort All We Can See rates as one of the most interesting releases in 2021. It’s a heartening development that, despite the pandemic-induced disarray of the past year plus, musical units such as the Brian Shapiro Band are as creative as ever. The nine track first studio album has a bevy of recognizable sounds, but early on it is clear Shapiro and his musical partners are intent on emblazoning their own distinctive path.
Many will find Shapiro’s singing style a take it or leave it proposition. I believe the most interesting aspect, however, of his singing is the way he couples generally straight-ahead messaging and reflections with such pronounced theatricality. You would think it wouldn’t work, it would sound too self-conscious, but Shapiro’s songwriting and performing style has surprising naturalness. “Three Things” begins the release that way with a steady bead on its musical character but a willingness to shake things up for listeners. Shapiro’s voice brays over the arrangement careening from one height to another.
I am quite taken with the second cut “We’ll Take Them All”. The light jangle of the band’s guitar work is more effective here than elsewhere and counterpoints his voice well. His vocal melody compliments the writing as well. You can’t draw direct musical or lyrical connections between Shapiro’s songs and other artists, but they share common reference points. He has a distinctive point of view that marks him different from many contemporaries and peers. “What’s Real” is a fascinating moment during the release. It develops, at first, like a reflective near ballad with a female guest singer before erupting during the second half. The transformation is total and has no antecedent on All We Can See.
“Thin Skin” is another of the album’s best tracks. There is a danger Shapiro can become too reliant on his wide-eyed theatrical technique; it potentially locks listeners into a set of expectations capable of compromising future releases. This track, however, illustrates how Shapiro finding surprising turns within already individualistic arrangements. It is key that he retains enough recognizable form and sound for listeners to follow along. The penultimate track, “Gourmet Mind”, will be divisive. It ventures further away from typical songcraft than any other cut on the album, but Shapiro’s admirers will appreciate his daring.
“Le Chien” is another break with the expected. Ending your debut album with a song delivered in French serves notice like nothing else that Shapiro and his band are intent on doing things their way. You don’t need any mastery of the language of love to enjoy this track. It’s another enjoyable musical experience returning listeners to more familiar aural ground yet closes All We Can See with assurance and individuality. It isn’t consciously crafted as such but the roving creativity defining this songwriting will remain, in my mind, one of the strongest rebukes to business as usual I’ve recently heard. Let’s hope Shapiro and his cohorts hit the road soon.