If real musical talent – quality songwriting, musicianship, charisma – were still rewarded with popularity and financial success in the way they were back in the ‘70s, Mike Viola would be as revered as Elton John and sell out bigger concert tours than Lady Gaga. But we all know that we don’t live in that kind of world anymore, and that’s just a shame. I first fell in love with Viola’s amazing songcraft on The Candy Butcher’s 1999 release, Falling Into Place, which is as cherished by me as any Beatles album. Seriously, “Hills of LA” is what “Hotel California” might have sounded like if Lennon & McCartney had written it. What a fucking fantastic album. I think it sold a few hundred copies. There’s no accounting for taste, as the saying goes.
It’s heartening at least to know that Viola makes a good living writing, recording and producing songs for films (That Thing You Do, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Get Him to the Greek) and continuing to record original music for his core group of diehard fans, because a world without new Mike Viola music would be much less interesting to live in. Just released this past July, Viola’s latest, Acousto De Perfecto is a companion piece to 2011’s critically acclaimed Electro De Perfecto (three tracks from Electro are reworked for this collection). As the title suggests, these are acoustic arrangements that showcase Viola’s collaboration with L.A.-based violists (get it?) Eric Summer and Kate Reddish. Mike Viola proved he can rock out on many previous efforts, but these eleven songs fall into the Elvis Costello or Paul Simon School of Performing Songwriter, and I don’t think there is much higher praise than that. What makes Mike Viola such a gifted songwriter is the simple fact that, like all the greats, he writes about what he knows, yet manages to make his deeply personal lyrics universally accessible.
The album’s lead track, the lullaby “Secret Radio” is a direct love song to fans (“it’s people like you/I’ve been singing to all along”) and the upbeat, darkly humorous “Happy & Normal” reveals Viola’s predilection for thinly veiled autobiography, though all of his songs are distinctly personal. “Date Night” speaks of the enduring bond between him and his wife after many years of marriage, hinting that the spark and the commitment go hand in hand, while “Primary Care Giver” is a surprisingly laser-focused self-reflection on his approach to parenthood.
Despite the sparse instrumentation, the record sounds lush and pristine. Viola’s acoustic guitar playing is in top form here, both complimenting and anchoring the accompanying strings. The instrumental track, “Thing In C” mixes a classical feel with the essence of the string arrangements from “As Tears Go By” with compelling results. Curiously, one of the more lyrically direct tracks on the album “Closet Cutter,” (“I know just what to do with exacto blades”) also features one of the most easily extrapolated choruses (“Don’t blame your parents/ Blame the Beatles and the Rolling Stones”). Mike Viola obviously loves to surprise his audience by never doing the same thing twice, but Acousto De Perfecto continues to offer what fans have come to expect: thoughtful lyrical stories and beautiful music. Acousto De Perfecto is a must own for fans/completist collectors and also highly recommended for fans of any of the artists mentioned in this review.