Monte Pittman has built a reputation in the industry by working at the edges. Like many studio musicians and hired guns, he's popped up in a number of surprising places: as Madonna's touring guitarist, playing bass with industrial rockers, Prong, and adding some heavier touches to Adam Lambert's shows. Pittman released his first album, the acoustic centered The Deepest Dark, in 2009. Pain, Love, and Destiny follows that up with a meatier rock sound. Between the two extremes, Pittman is poised to garner more mainstream audience attention.
Pittman demonstrates his guitar chops throughout the album, but his emphasis is on the songs. Whether it's a hard rock ballad or an arena rock anthem, his song arrangements are centered on nailing the right rhythm and leading with vocals. Pittman's touring experience shines as he sings with showy conviction. His opener, About You, has a soft start, but it quickly builds into hard rock. The dynamic flow is impressive: he sells the power with layers of hard rocking guitar, but the electric guitar sometimes drops out to reveal the underlying acoustic backing. The pacing feels theatrical. Just listening to the sudden stop ending, I can see the stage lights cut to black.
The best track is (I Am) The Black Rabbit. Like a chameleon, the intro phases from acoustic to metal to progressive rock. The synth shimmer at the edges brings out the prog focus on the verses. The chorused vocals bring in a '70s art rock element, but the doom laden vibe is much more modern. Metal guitar touches pile up, building to a shred style metal solo backed by rhythm crunch. The build is great, but then Pittman drops the dynamic down to transition the mood to a more retro feel again. The spare, angular acoustic guitar that signals the return of the chorus reminds me of Greg Lake (Emerson, Lake, and Palmer). While the music is great, the strength of the track is how Pittman builds a story with a mix of threatening tension and revelation.
The weakest song, Burn Down the Garden, also shifts around but the effect is unfocused. It starts out like Chicago minus the horns, then jumps around in style. A touch of Brian May fill, a longer section like Santana's Evil Ways, then the tune drifts from shred to AC/DC grind and Red Rider openness (Lunatic Fringe) before decaying into chaos. There's plenty to enjoy along the way, but it doesn't hold together as well as the rest of the album.
While tracks like Keep Shining and Definitely are more typical of Pain, Love, and Destiny, the final track proves most memorable. Predetermined Destiny acts as an after-dinner mint for the album. Recapping one of the album's themes:
Destiny, just let it beThe song aims for John Lennon (Across the Universe), but the vocal sound evokes ELO's channeling of the Beatles. Regardless, the simplicity is a refreshing closer.
Nothing's certain, predetermined...
Listen to Pain, Love, and Destiny at Pittman's site.