(Itz Fitz Music, CD)
Vermont-based singer-songwriter Patrick Fitzsimmons is a familiar presence in the Green Mountain acoustic scene. A former member of major-label folk-rockers From Good Homes, Fitzsimmons has enjoyed a fair measure of success as a solo performer. His latest release, Live 2005: The Birthday Sessions, finds him on his former New Jersey stomping grounds backed by a full band.
Fitzsimmons trades in humble acoustic pop that's agreeable, if safe. With his honeyed voice and relaxed strumming, Fitzsimmons sounds custom-made for adult-contemporary radio.
Following a brief round of applause, the disc kicks off with "Come to Me," a breathy ballad saddled with romantic platitudes. Like an overenthusiastic paramour, the tune gets a bit cloying. I did enjoy Leena Gilbert's lovely violin work, however.
"Vermont Skies" follows a similar trajectory, with sensitive lyrics and tactful accompaniment. Percussionist Ned Stroh keeps things on a simmer, while upright bassist Rob Meehan provides surefooted low end. The instrumentation is pleasant, but the arrangement is fairly predictable.
Fitzsimmons is at his most convincing on minor-key numbers such as "Forgiving You." "You turn away from me now in disgrace / "To fight the war between your love and hate," he sings with just a hint of acerbity. Unfortunately, the song's mawkish chorus saps it of any real edge. "It's all right, it's OK / tomorrow brings another day for you and me," he continues. Things would likely be more interesting if Fitzsimmons was less sympathetic.
"Autumn" features chiming acoustic guitar and a brisk pop vocal. "Little hand held my thumb so tight / How could I know time would fly so fast with you," Fitzsimmons sings. It's all very soothing, but I couldn't stop thinking about diaper ads.
I was pleased to hear a cover of "That's the Way," from Led Zeppelin III. It's always been an overlooked song in the Zep canon, and Fitzsimmons turns in a respectable version.
"His Father's Son" is a look at familial bonds, underscored by luxurious strings and reflective piano. Subsequent track "Dance" has a lot more bounce. Backed by vigorous hand drumming, Fitzsimmons brays about beating his boogie-phobia.
The piano-led "Old Blue Heart" is about taking the time to notice life's beauty. At least I think it is. After so many wistful ballads, it's hard to stay focused.
Fitzsimmons is well cast in the role of grown-up crooner, as Live 2005 ably proves. In his case, however, a little immaturity might go a long way.