San Francisco Bay Area singer-songwriter Patrick Ames released his new album, The Virtualistics, a few days ago, an eight-track collection of songs written during the pandemic.
The title of the album – The Virtualistics – perfectly defines the way the album was put together.
Ames explains, “’The Virtualistics.’ The band that never met. Remote collaboration is common, but we never met during a difficult pandemic year. The four of us never practiced together. We didn’t sing together nor did we pre-plan the final sound. We were virtual entities, duly recording our tracks on various home devices and sending them in for assembly. Those famous photographs of ‘The Virtualistics,’ studious musicians playing on stage, hard-working in the studio, those tired looks of a fifth take, none of that happened. We never sang or played together.”
Growing up near Detroit as part of a music-loving family, Ames listened to Motown and classical – his mother sang opera – and began writing his own songs at age 14. When his older brothers left for college, he inherited a guitar and a catalog of albums. Later, while at college, Ames continued writing music and performed, followed by trying to make it on the music circuit.
Eventually, he went into book publishing and set aside pursuing music seriously. Then, 25 years later, the slumbering music bug bit him hard.
According to Ames, “I bought my son a cheap Fender and amp. He didn’t like it. I loved it. I cranked it up and played with abandon. And then it all came back, in spades.”
Produced by Jon Ireson, who adds bass, guitar, and keyboards, and backed up by Chana and Mikaela Matthews, the album delivers delicious flavors of junkyard blues.
The first track, “Help People Up,” rolls out on a funky, bluesy melody topped by gospel-flavored soul vocals. Skiffing guitars, a popping bassline, dashes of sax, and cool vocals harmonies give the song lush, smoldering energy.
Entry points include “Second Wave,” featuring dark tones accented by shimmering colors as Ames’ rasping, evocative voice narrates the onset and effects of the virus on society. I love the soft gleaming textures on the chorus.
“Great Bunch of Molecules” travels on low-slung harmonics, oozing and drifting on undulating textures, while Ames gives the lyrics bluesy country nuances. “Songwriter’s Block” blends tints of surf rock with yummy blues savors atop a rumbling beat. Smooth vocals, a bit dreamy and creamy, infuse the lyrics with persuasive tonality.
“You Make Me Scream” recalls ‘60s funked-out soul laced with simmering washes of addictive blues. Stellar howling vocals give the lyrics glowing viscosity and sinuous surfaces. While the last track, “Reawakened 2020” dishes out potent layers of growling blues and marvelous filaments of dripping, swanky vocal harmonies.
The Virtualistics displays the gift of Patrick Ames for swaggering junkyard blues, at once grungy and oh so lusciously wrought.