By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio
To Charles Dickens and Back (2018)
The way you get there begins here: a crash of glass and a high-pitched whistle and an orchestra tuning up and the audience settling in; the comforting strum of an acoustic guitar atop singular bass notes; water waving; a high-pitched voice, the swell of a cymbal and orchestration atop it all.
Plus: A harmonica, mellow and echoing the sound of music; a classical, wordless interpretation of the Free Design’s vocal style; and horns. It’s an underture of sorts, titled “To Charles Dickens…”, that sets the stage for this glorious album. Welcome to the miraculous work of Matei-Florin Tibacu-Blendea, collected here as an eight-song salute to seemingly every melodic sound ever captured on tape and otherwise from artists as diverse as the Beach Boys (in their mid-period), Simon and Garfunkel, the Hep Stars, Pete Townshend, a parcel of beat groups, the Walker Brothers, and Todd Rundgren. Among others.
The way you get into this miraculous collection, To Charles Dickens and Back, painted with short and long brushstrokes depending on the mood at hand in each song, is “To Charles Dickens…”, the 10-minute left-end bookend that appropriates half of this album’s title and is about as amazing and immersive a creation as can be expected to be heard in this day and age (the right-end buddy, titled “…and Back,” closes out this 45-minute survey of gentle, genius sounds).
These eight songs weave their influences in and out and back in again as they survey what has come before and how it all has settled in Tibacu-Blendea’s consciousness; these songs are as much a representation of what has come before as they are of what populates this experience.
This experience, fluid and mesmerizing, comes in many forms: upbeat two-step, varied tempo, folkpark romps (“For Anyone to Claim” and “Romania is for Sale”), soulful, horn-infused beat sounds (“Stop and Dedicate Some Time to the Sun”), soulful balladry (“Cellophane Nirvana”), and tips of the hat to two classic songs from yesteryear: the Beach Boys’ “Girls on the Beach,” which, in Tibacu-Blendea’s hands, becomes a ghostly-sounding beat number, and Flamin’ Groovies’ 1976 anthem, “Shake Some Action,” here sounding more-than-vaguely ELO-ish and veering off into a dramatic, ominous stage set-piece at the end.
The right-end bookend instrumental that caps off these proceedings, “…and Back,” continues in the many-hued vein of the opener, “To Charles Dickens…”. Twelve mesmerizing minutes later, this album comes to a close with a faint, acoustic piano and acoustic guitar duet that dissolves into a crash of glass. And there you are, just as you were at the start of this journey, ready to set out on these varied paths once again.
To Charles Dickens and Back captures our imagination with great skill and creativity. It is the work of a clever magician–a spectacular feat of musical legerdemain. Matei-Florin Tibacu-Blendea, who mixed, mastered, and produced these songs and plays most of the instruments (Stephen Kalinich is a notable guest), knows how to drive this train across a landscape decorated with the sounds we loved and wind up with a here-and-now creation paying sincere homage. It is a lovely, deeply-felt journey, indeed.
Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the premiere website covering the melodic pop scene with in-depth reviews of new and reissued recordings, and a wide variety of features. We’ve been around since the first weekly Pure Pop Radio shows, which began broadcasting in 1995, and the 24-hour Pure Pop Radio station, which ended last August. Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.