The new live album from Vinnie Caruana is a career-spanning set of 15 songs that covers material from his great new solo release Aging Frontman, as well as material from his other projects such as The Movielife and I Am The Avalanche. The album was recorded live in the UK at The Black Heart on December 15th, 2019, and the record is a full sounding listening experience to it, making it seem as if Vinnie is performing these songs just for you. Caruana had a nice remark regarding this album by saying, “It was the last show of a life-affirming tour. We took in many a Christmas market, and we drank around 100 Guinness each. Being able to travel around a foreign country, only to see friends, some of whom I met nearly two decades ago, will never be something I take for granted. Every show was special in its own way, and this one was just the cherry on top. The crowd didn’t know we were recording, and the result is a real and organic experience. I fucked up a few songs, but, as you know, that is par for the course. Long live the UK. Long live the connection we share together. Somebody in New York loves you (it’s me). Please enjoy.” The album is streaming now on Bandcamp for a “Pay What You Want” price that directly benefits the artist, or you can pre-order the vinyl here.
The record opens with “Symphony” and Caruana’s acoustic guitar is able to break up the chatter from the audience as he begins his set. It’s a cautious opener, and it gradually picks up momentum as Caruana carefully sways from a whisper to a scream at a moment’s notice. His voice sounds as strong and clear as ever, which is impressive given the fact that this was the last show on his tour. Caruana is in tune with his audience as he wraps up the song with some stage banter and jokes to keep the mood feeling light. The way he interacts with the crowd and casually breaks into “This One’s On Me” is a trait from a road veteran who has spent the greater part of his life on stage.
An early album standout, “Tex ‘The Rock’ Johnson” is a tender moment on the record that showcases the depth of Caruana’s accomplished songwriting chops. He dedicates the track to his “one true love” and it’s an authentic moment of clarity as he breaks into the acoustic-driven track. As much as I love the recording on Aging Frontman, Caruana takes the song to an even more personal level as he intersperses tidbits about his personal life while he strums along.
“Hey” is my favorite The Movielife “slow jam” of all time, and it makes a prominent appearance on the solo record in the early stages of the sequencing. Caruana steps aside from the microphone at times to let the audience sing along and belt out the more memorable hooks on the song. It’s clear that he is in tune with what the crowd wants at just the right moments, and happily delivers.
Other early standouts such as the emotional “177” and “Pour Two Glasses” each hit their high points in different ways. Whereas “177” is sung at a near-shouted pitch, Caruana’s voice never strays, and he proves he is an underrated vocalist. “Pour Two Glasses” hits all the right notes in a unique way by showcasing the raw emotion of The Movielife track as he makes the audience believe every word that comes out of his mouth.
“Better” is another song that just is meant to be played in front of a packed and adoring crowd, and this recording of the Aging Frontman lead single feels as powerful as the first time I heard the track. Caruana’s screams on the chorus are perfectly in pitch and only improve as the song unfolds. Other popular tracks such as “Hand Grenade” opens with Caruana stumbling over the album title the song comes from, but he recovers like a professional as he delivers the song the audience is dying to hear with incredible poise and passion.
Two tracks feature some backing vocals and guitar courtesy of Mike Ireland on “Holy Fuck” and “Brooklyn Dodgers,” which both feel like the crowd is directly on stage with Caruana as he belts out each word with his adoring fans. The set ends with “Ship To Shore,” as Caruana delivers all over on The Movielife classic and simultaneously leaves the crowd with a great feeling to end the night even with a rare mistake on the beginning of the second verse. Caruana laughs off the error and finishes out the set on a high note.
Overall, Vinnie Caruana’s career-spanning set only further displays how talented a vocalist and songwriter he is. His down to earth approach to singing along with his fans feels as authentic as it can get in today’s business, and he never takes his crowd for granted during the show. It’s hard not to come away feeling a warm sense of ownership to these songs that I grew up with over the years, and Caruana plays each of them with the same emotion that I’ll always remember feeling when hearing them. It’s not a perfect recording by any means, but the rawness and realness take center stage in making this a worthwhile listening experience.