Several musical wrinkles distinguish Tiers from Heyman’s previous work. This is a keyboard-dominated suite of songs, with guitar occupying a supporting role (when it’s discernible at all). There are relatively few outright rockers, as these melodic tunes unfold like chapters from a novel told in a thoughtful and deliberately unhurried way. A number of songs are given lithe orchestrations (redolent of Copland, Gershwin, and Bernstein) by a small ensemble of strings, brass, and woodwinds, adding even more colors to Heyman’s painterly palette. It is, in short, a baroque-pop affair that’s both sweeping in scope and sweetly understated.
“Hot on the Trail of Innocence” sets the tone with a gorgeous union of voice, electric piano, and light orchestration, escalating with the entrance of kettledrums. Imagine the subtle grandeur of the Left Banke at its finest. Heyman’s droll delivery on “Golden in This Town” reminds me of Steely Dan’s eternally ironic Donald Fagen. Then, for “Last Thought in My Mind,” Heyman projects youthful bravado as he heads west to conquer the L.A. music scene, leaving Leigh behind.
He’s “Good to Go,” as that song’s barroom-country music gets across. Indeed, he’s fairly galloping to the “Horizon,” drumming a rhythm on electric piano to simulate the movement of the train that carries him away. Then comes a foreshadowing lyric: “All I see are her eyes inside my head . . . .”
“Fire in the Country” features pizzicato strings, a pleasing melodic contour, and a touch of Floyd Cramer-style piano in Heyman’s solo. “Yellow and Blue” is an overdubbed one-man a cappella tour de force in which the itinerant musician takes comfort in the home fires that still burn “half a world away.” “Game Stays the Same” describes the musician’s less than lustrous lot in L.A. with antic music that has a gently self-mocking lilt. A spoken interlude, in which Heyman reads an actual letter he wrote to Leigh back then, fixes his tale with specifics — such as seeing ex-Byrd Gene Clark, a personal hero, outside a club. Inevitably, “The Real Deal” details the humble pie a scuffling musician must eat in the “land of the hot tub.”
Yet Heyman knows there’s “One Thing I Still Have,” and he celebrates it in a killer chorus and (rare for this album) guitar solo. How did he come to restore his perspective and realize his priorities? By bottoming out “On Gallery Row,” where his vulnerable falsetto and tinkling keyboards suggest the aftermath of a “trial by fire” that has left him “nowhere to go . . . but home.” The song ends with an infectious vocal coda that intimates better days ahead.
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