Cloud Eleven – Footnote (West Coast, 2019)
The minimalist front cover that houses Rick Gallego’s latest, meticulously crafted songs is bathed in a wash of lightened, sun-soaked grains of sand; at bottom right, water reaches a line on an ethereal beach. The new song’s titles are typeset within the upper half of the equally minimalist back cover; the small parade of players, all imaginary yet full of life, are listed below–cohorts in a dreamy song cycle (Gallego is the only actual living, breathing player).
The cover, an homage to the wrapper for Todd Rundgren’s 1976 album, Faithful, is no accidental nod; Gallego sends out “special gratitude to todd rundgren, who lighted the way to my own musical existence all those years ago” and sets the text in lowercase, just as Todd did.
Footnote is Gallego’s seventh go-round as Cloud Eleven’s chief cook and bottle washer. This new release is no mere footnote, however; it is, in fact, what the previous six releases have been traveling toward all along: a gorgeous song cycle about the ebb and flow of a life (a songwriter’s?) as one follows a path and discovers his or her essence along the way.
The songs on Footnote sound nothing like Todd Rundgren, even though the Hermit of Mink Hollow’s influence is in there; with each new release, Gallego paints a masterpiece colored as only a Cloud Eleven album can be.
Gallego’s songs and arrangements are crafted with a unique combination of hues, tints, tones and colors; one flick of his brush too many and his songs might tilt toward another form altogether. Here, as the songs on Footnote play, we get the feeling that Gallego is painting his soundscapes, touched by the spirit of ELO and the harmony-laden Beach Boys, while balanced on a tightrope of his own devising; what a gloriously creative and fulfilling place that must be to hang.
Footnote opens with a quartet of songs set in a melodically-charged dreamscape. The first song, “On Pismo Beach,” sets to sail with a ghostly strum of guitar that barrels into a rich blast of harmony before it draws a lyrical picture of a place where all is blissful and serene. “Aural Illusion” builds on that ideal, positing that in sound we prosper (“If you can believe that music is love / Then you’ll understand the meaning of / Aural Illusion”).
The second half of the first block of songs continues on the path set by the first. The lovely ballad “Solar Fields” suggests that, after allowing sound to enrich your existence, the warmth of the sun will help to complete you (“With the sun on your face / You will never fade away / In the bright glowing light / You won’t fail”). And, armed with the benefits realized from pleasing sounds and sunlight, you can trust in someone to lead you down a valid path of exploration (the Brian Wilson-ish “Bound to Follow”).
This emotional journey continues with the relaxed-sounding, Free Design-like “For Weal and Woe,” in which we discover that the days ahead bring a promise of discovery, so long as we are in tune with ourselves (“Our lives ebb and flow / For weal and for woe”). And then, we are transported to terra firma, where we learn even more about ourselves.
In “L.A. County,” we are entranced and inspired by a girl who gives us a reason to set down roots (“We will live our lives here”). “Skywriting” allows a songwriter to connect with the magical muse that surrounds him (“But I’ll try to do my best / Hope my muse will do the rest / It’s like magic when songs appear, I confess”).
Sometimes, though, it is hard–impossible, even–to connect. The subject of the grand, wistful ballad, “One Big Hideaway,” squirrels himself inside his home–inside his room–as the world turns around him. He misses his family, but can’t find a way to reach out to them. There will be no doubt in the listener’s mind as to who this song is about.
In the end, we are left to ponder the validity of our life’s journey. Do we learn from what we discover as we make stops along the way, or do we downplay what we have achieved and consider ourselves to be nothing more than a speck of dust because none of it will matter in the grand scheme of things? “Now I’m content to be / I won’t pretend I’m anything, but a / Footnote,” Gallego sings in the closing, title song.
Songs can teach us a lot about ourselves. Throughout our lives, we learn who we are by also learning who we aren’t. Rick Gallego’s illuminating song cycle won’t provide us with all of the answers we desire, but its beautifully rendered songs will at least provide us with some lovely, melodic hints.