John Zipperer’s online bio is an interesting novelty lead all by itself. Zipperer was hit by a ten-wheel oil truck while changing a tire for a friend on a freeway in Atlanta, Georgia. He was told by the critical care doctor: “You should be dead!” His past employment as a stuntman an actor may have influenced him because this movie-like moment “seemed like a clear sign” to him “that life is, or could be, too short.” As quickly as he could he threw everything into his 1976 Chevy Camaro and headed out here to L.A. where he’s now following his dreams pursuing “a life in music.”
His new disc, Full Circle, is truly a reflection of not only his abilities as a singer-songwriter but perhaps more importantly of his personal life and those around him. He has that everyman “just-a-guy-with-a-guitar” element going for him that seems to work well for him especially live. His music is new but not foreign and has that coffeehouse feel without any overly-political leanings or pushy pretentiousness to it.
In case you’ve missed it, despite the cover pic this is not a country album. It’s more Americana or folk with the occasional vague tint of country-folk. The influences are obvious and often admitted: Brewer & Shipley, David Bromberg, Jimmy Buffet, Arlo Guthrie, Ricky Nelson and Seals and Crofts to name a few. On this album—which began as a solo project—Zipperer (guitar and vocals) is backed by other artists including David Sutton (bass), Dave Beyer (drums and percussion), Nick Kirgo (piano), Luke Halpin (fiddle and mandolin) and Tara Sitser (harmony vocals).
The album opener is “Sailing Away”. It references a time when he used to live near the water. It’s highlighted by Kirgo’s ukulele and Wurlitzer and features the addition of Doug Lacey on steel drums and Jime Van Booven on harmony vocals.
The second selection is the title track. This is an autobiographical piece that offers listeners a slice of life to which they’ve not previously been privy. It’s followed by the only cover cut on the entire album—Zipperer’s version of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl”. He turns the poppy classic into a melancholy, introspective flashback to a past love.
The next number is “Like Being With You” which also seems to recall the past. This one features Mark Browne on bass. He gets more personal with “Never Really There” which tunefully tells the torrid tale of adultery and betrayal in a musical message meant for a friend. Browne encores on bass on this track that is precariously perched on the edge of memorable and melodramatic.
“Going Downtown” follows. This reveals more of his past perhaps from more youthful days. It’s somehow oddly reminiscent of Lynyrd Skynyrd. It is highlighted by Mark “Pocket” Goldberg on acoustic bass and Debra Dobkin on drums.
“Not Love” is a very personal piece. It confused yours truly the first time and it still does. It works quite well despite questioning the meaning. It’s “Not Love” and yet the way it’s performed maybe it is. No clue. Doesn’t matter. It works.
“The Ballad Of Micah Mcowde” somehow makes your rockin’ reviewer think of Denny Laine singing “Richard Cory”. The two tracks have little in common but it’s a vibe. It sounds like it is decades old too even though it truly isn’t.
The ninth number is “Sing With Me”. Booven is back adding harmony vocals. This works even better live as they encourage audience participation. “Here By Me” is yet another example of what Zipperer can do as a songwriter especially if he's lonely.
It is followed by “Cool Breeze”. This is an early fan favorite and yet another track that lends itself to a live performance. It’s got the polish here but doesn’t really need it.
Also included here is “Know Who You Love”. This is just Zipperer and his guitar. It smack of Woody Guthrie’s Library of Congress recordings which just got down to the basics—a guy with a guitar singing a song he wrote and cares for.
The closing cut is “To The River”. It features Margaret Owens helping out on the “call & response” vocals. This is essentially Zipperer’s new take on an old idea and does fine as an album end-note.
The 13 tracks on this disc may lose a bit of that back porch, down-home feel but they gain the professional polish of the recording studio so it all works out in the end. Check out John Zipperer’s Full Circle and you just might find yourself “Sailing Away” on his songs.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.