Rvzoo a.k.a. Dave Arvizu is a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist hailing from Colorado. From the early 1990’s to 2005 he was the front man for the very popular band Big Back Yard, who opened for acts like Dick Dale, The Young Dubliners, The Saw Doctors and many others. They also received both local and national airplay for their music.
As a solo artist he has enjoyed international airplay for his album Sugar Spun Elephant, with the song Wish I Had featuring in an independent film and Even If, a hit in Taiwan. In his band, he is backed by a team of talented musicians, while he himself contributes lead vocals, guitar, keyboard and ukulele. This album, Guiding Star, consists of ten tracks of original material in the rock/pop genre.
Opening song When I Was Young is a fantastic start to the album. It’s a nostalgic look back to the fun and freedom of youth, starting with just lead vocals and ukulele. Dave is an aficionado of sixties and seventies songwriters, and this one brought to mind the jazzy sophistication of Randy Newman. His style is hugely melodic and you can tell he’s studied the greats like the Beatles and the Beach Boys in the way he crafts his music.
Mellotron lends a smoky Sixties vibe on the second section which features some nice call and response vocals and Dave singing about “hanging out with my friends up in my room, listening to records by The Who…”. It then breaks into a superb alto sax solo (courtesy of Bob Braidwood). A classic to start the album.
Vocally, he has a perfect voice for the material, halfway between The Beatles and Bob Dylan, with a touch of Mick Jagger for good measure. His tone also reminded me of Mike and the Mechanics’ Paul Carrack. With a versatile voice he is also able to sing more gentle songs, like second track Give Me More.
This one is a simple but very effective country rock ballad also featuring ukulele, as well as light percussion and an excellent vocal arrangement. It brought to mind the classic pop sound of New Zealand’s Crowded House, and Arvizu’s songwriting style has similarities with Neil Finn’s, though he has a broader musical range than Finn.
The country vibe continues with Which Way To Run, a duet with a fine female singer which also features some gorgeous steel guitar. This one is short but sweet at just over two minutes and acts as a nice musical bridge between the preceding and following tracks.
If I Was A Bird shows his Bob Dylan and John Lennon influences. It’s a very Sixties sound, with I Am The Walrus strings and a funky beat aiding a folky melody and chord progression than wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the White Album. The way the strings conjure up the imagery of bird’s flying freely is one of many fine musical touches across the album. Arvizu adopts a slightly Dylan-esque vocal tone, which suits to the music to a tee.
A Song For Joyce is a nice contrast, this one a sophisticated piano-led ballad with jazzy overtones in its chordal richness and complexity. Indeed, the voicings and melancholy mood made me think of Brian Wilson’s (of The Beach Boys) work, post-Pet Sounds, something like the song Surf’s Up from the initial Smile project. This song is a sweetly romantic tale about his father writing a song for his mother back in 1966, with a fine lead vocal performance.
Lonely Desert Wind opens with evocative and spacey Wurlitzer organ, and marks the start of a more expansive side to Dave’s oeuvre. In most of these second half songs, you can hear the more psychedelic influences of 70’s prog rock like Pink Floyd and the epic rock of The Who. This is the first of the album’s epics at five minutes, and special credit should go to Dan Nelson for a fine bassline on this one.
Next comes the title track, Guiding Star, and it maintains the same dreamy pace. It also maintains the folk/country vibe, with tasteful bursts of fiddle. It feels like the emotional centrepiece of the album and it’ss a very human, emotive song about hope and needing someone special to guide you through: “My heart leads me back to you…”. It’s the most powerful song on the album and more in keeping with the first half.
Thru This Space and Time, as the title suggests, takes us back into epic waters. It features some fabulous sounds; rich, warm rock organ and superb lead guitar played with a tone and feel that rivals Clapton on The Beatles While My Guitar Gently Weeps. All manner of production tricks and classy musical touches add to the magical soundscape, including backwards guitar and lead lines played in harmony. My personal favourite on the album.
The last epic on the album, Transmission Ends, brings us full circle on our musical and emotional journey. It’s the most avant garde and ambitious track here, with Arvizu’s vocal melody weaving through an unpredictable bassline, a melange of effects and slow building percussion.
It brought to mind Peter Gabriel at his most experimental and makes for an intriguing finish, feeling like you have drifted off into space. That’s not quite the end though, a short reprise of A Song For Joyce brings the listener back down to earth with some gorgeous noodling on sax and vamping on piano.
Overall, this is the kind of artistically ambitious album that we simply don’t hear in the mainstream anymore. Taking the finest aspects of 60’s and 70’s songwriting, Rvzoo and his Sugar Spun Elephant Band have created a pop rock masterpiece that rewards repeated listening, with a wealth of instrumental and lyrical detail. Highly recommended to all rock music connoisseurs and any fans of classic songwriting.
VERDICT: 9.2 out of 10