On this release Faeber turns the instrumental duties over to seasoned Southern California session musicians including well-known artists like guitarist/producer Peter Sprague and the great jazz bassist Bob Magnuson. The result, from the sole standpoint of instrumental accompaniment, is a backup band that plays extremely tight and searing. Robbyn Kirmsse’s backing vocals are outstanding - check out her multi-track work on Play On and So Slow, drummer Duncan Moore’s set playing is hip and steady throughout and John Depatie’s guitar work is exquisite. His perfect solos and background work on Travel By Stars, Play On and Little T-Bird Ragtop show his ability to perfectly capture an emotion and run with it.
There are, however, problems. For the most part the musicians have to little to work with. Faeber’s compositions are basically simple and not exceedingly intricate or complex. They don’t lend themselves to a lot of group elaboration and the result is a backup band of hot players that sound great, but because the charts don’t go anywhere there’s not a lot they can do to take the music to the next level. For example, saxophonist Tripp Sprague, who has worked with Kenny Loggins and Todd Rundgren among others, turns in a good passable performance but isn’t able to bring his work up to his usual performance standards, and keyboardist Barnaby Finch is mostly washed out in the mix and given little to do.
This isn’t to say one won’t find delights here. Faeber’s voice has a country-twang in it which works extraordinarily well and to great effect on Nashvilleish tunes like Forty Days and A Good Day. His Lyle Lovett style of delivery has just enough hic-up in it to make songs like these truly hip and rollicking.
The sound and production of the album is first rate. Peter Sprague’s producing and arranging results in an exceptionally clean and slick sound. Unfortunately this production style is too smooth and polished for the material. For example, Magnuson’s jazz bass solo on The Worst Thing is great, it just doesn’t fit. For these songs to work they really need to have more of a gut-wrenching from the pit-of-the-stomach let-the-voice-crack-all-it-can feel reminiscent of vocalist Don Potter’s late 1970s and early 1980s bar-room work. Given a raw, scaled down and personally emotional feel Travel By Stars would have had a much greater emotional impact. Here’s hoping Faeber’s next recording follows Springsteen’s treatment of material as showcased on Nebraska.