Singer/songwriter Mike Viola names names on the third album by his nom de band, Candy Butchers, starting with the title, Hang On Mike. As usual, his autobiographical messages recur in his songs, the self-assuring title song echoed on the closing track, "Hunker Down." And why does Viola need to hang on and hunker down? Because, after two albums released by RPM (the imprint run by his manager, Danny Bennett, son of Tony) and manufactured and distributed by Sony, Hang On Mike, while still manufactured by the major label, is not being distributed or promoted by it, which means, essentially, that he has been reduced to indie label status. As a result, the album is a noticeably more modest production, its arrangements stripped down, its vocals and instruments close-miked in a dry sound that comes off more like a good demo recording than a professional album. But then, you might say that that sound is an appropriate one for Viola's songs, which are unusually personal even for him. Or, put it this way: in Candy Butchers' career-long Beatles obsession, which continues here, having aped the sound of British Invasion and psychedelic Sgt. Pepper's-style Beatles on earlier records, Viola is doing his version of the back-to-basics approach of The Beatles (aka "The White Album"). So, there is a warts-and-all approach, with count-ins and off-mike remarks, and no attempt has been made to clean up Viola's sometimes rough voice. All of that works to the benefit of songs in which he celebrates a successful relationship, starting with the leadoff track, "What to Do With Michael," to the extent of declaring "Let's Have a Baby." "Kiss Alive II" is a celebration of his friendship with longtime associate Todd Foulsham that even lists their presents of records to each other: "I gave you "'Bennie and the Jets'"/You gave me Kiss Alive II." But despite the love and friendship, Viola remains self-deprecating and clearly is encountering a career crisis. And that brings listeners back to hanging on and hunkering down, which it can only be hoped Viola will do, since his ongoing autobiography-in-music is just as touching, funny, and fascinating as ever.
© William Ruhlmann /TiVo