released August 17th, 2010

from the album - The One That Makes You Happy

from all music

A singer, songwriter, and late-night bandleader, Joe Firstman has worn many hats during his career. In the '90s, the Charlotte, NC native became a staple of the local college music scene with his band Firstman (originally Isabel Sol). After spending years supporting national acts that rolled through town, Firstman (the man, not the band) decided to roll the dice on stardom with a move to Hollywood in 2001. After arriving on the west coast, Firstman assembled another eponymous band and set to work building a name for himself by playing shows and working to introduce himself to industry insiders. In 2003, the gamble paid off and Firstman landed a major-label deal, signing with Atlantic Records. That same year, the singer/songwriter’s debut full-length, The War of Women, was released. After touring nationally in support of major acts like Sheryl Crow, Jason Mraz, and Willie Nelson, Firstman decided it was time for another change. In 2005 he left Atlantic to become the bandleader for NBC’s late-night program, Last Call with Carson Daly. His new gig didn’t prevent him from continuing to write music, and in 2006 he released the EP Live at the Sandbox. He would continue to self-release records throughout his tenure on the show, releasing DrAMA! in 2007 and Fell Swoops in 2008. In 2009, NBC decided to go in another direction with Last Call, leaving him out of a job. Relocating from Hollywood to the surf community of El Porto, Firstman once again refocused his efforts on songwriting. The result would be his 2010 album, El Porto, which he released on his own imprint, Firstman Music.

album review

Given the title of Joe Firstman's second album to be released in 2010, Live at the Treehouse, it should be pointed out up-front that this is not a live album in the traditional sense of a concert recording; "the Treehouse" is the name of Firstman's recording studio, and when he says "live," he means only that the recordings were made without overdubs. On the other hand, the album does share a major characteristic with most "live" albums in that it consists largely of re-recordings of songs the artist had recorded previously, rather than new material. These new versions reflect Firstman's change of musical approach. After making his major-label debut with the AOR rock sound of The War of Women in 2003, he spent four years as bandleader on Last Call with Carson Daly. But as of 2009, he has been hitting the road for as many as 200 shows a year, just him and his acoustic guitar, and Live at the Treehouse should prepare potential listeners at those shows for what they're going to hear, as Firstman takes some of his old songs and strips the rock arrangements off. Sometimes he rocks out anyway, notably on "Fight Song" (given its first studio recording here), which has the knockabout country-blues feel of a track on Bob Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home. But more often, he has slowed the tempos and emphasized the lyrics while pairing with such fellow performers as Brian Wright, Tim Jones, Walker Young, Jamie Drake, Mike Vizcarra (who doubles as co-producer), and Jay Buchanan (who actually sings lead on the previously unheard "Middle Ground"). The result is an album on which Firstman reinvents himself, making a virtue of necessity. (The digital version of the album available on iTunes adds two tracks: "Speak Your Mind" and "Crowded Town.")

Track Listing

1 The One That Makes You Happy 3:06
2 Phoenix Hotel 2:25
3 Fight Song 2:33
4 Pretty Things 2:51
5 Marlene and Her Sisters 2:23
6 Everything Is a Crime 2:48
7 Middle Ground 3:04
8 Mrs. Rosenthal 3:08
9 Speak Your Mind
10 Crowded Town