It’s a treat to be able to present reviews of musicians that I actually know once in a while. Cincinnati’s own Jeff Workman is quite a hard artist to pin to one specific genre. In the past he has played with both rock and country bands, his most recent being Ridge Runner, also from Cincinnati. For his solo material, Jeff does quite a bit of soul searching. His last EP, Love, Lust and Dancing had a lot of songs about awakenings. To many fans outside the bear community, they probably had no idea what was actually brewing beneath the surface. Just as life was on the up and up, Jeff lost his partner of many years to a harsh bout with cancer. In that time frame, Jeff finally outed himself to his friends, family and his band as a gay man. Why should this matter, you might ask? Because it was a burden lifted. As a friend, I could see the drastic difference this freedom had on his spirit. Even fans of Ridge Runner, a country band, seemed to be very supportive. That shocked me as an observer. Maybe I’m closed minded myself, or just have seen too many bad situations, but in general I wouldn’t think of country fans as accepting of a gay male vocalist. Maybe the world is changing a bit after all, if just in baby steps. Maybe people are actually *gasp* realizing that the music is what matters.
Dirty Water Revival. The imagery that the title calls to mind really says it all. Having your past washed away and a new rebirth – cleansed by means that are themselves unclear or imperfect. The lyrics are literally pages taken straight from Jeff’s everyday diary. In fact, he has posted many lyrics such as these on Facebook in the moment of creation. That’s quite a naked state of emotional sharing to cast your words out into a sea of people, with all the negative people that lurk in the shadows just waiting to say something mean-spirited. The lyric booklet even has the dates of when most of the lyrics were written, which give you a soft of timeline. These songs cover so much ground, from thoughts during the final days of his partner John, to the days of seeing the bigger picture, to wanting to be a better and more honest person. As I’ve said before, I’m not the biggest fan of country or southern rock in general, but there is something raw and daring that makes me want to listen, and there’s a soul-bearing quality that can’t be denied. Plus, as Jeff has said before – it’s not country, it’s “funktry”.
“Big Deep Breath” is a big gospel organ tinged rocker with this funky side to it. It seems to be about that moment of facing the inevitable with your head held high. “Strong” is a piano-based ballad more on the country side of things. The message of this one is pretty clear, “don’t hang on to that which doesn’t make you strong”. Great words of advice that always seem so hard to follow. “Disguise” has more of a swampy bluesy feel to it. This one is more about not giving in to people’s negativity and turning it inward. Definitely one of the standout tracks for me here from a band perspective.
Next is one of the centerpiece tracks of the album, “So Belissimo”. Bellissimo was not only his late partner John’s last name, but an an Italian word translating to “lovely”. The song is a really touching tribute, and in my opinion works even better in its second form at the end of the album, reprised in an acoustic version. The first version here is a rock ballad version. Then we come to the song that just shook me completely on first listen, “One Teardrop”. Sure it sounds cliche given the title, but this song actually made me teary eyed the first time I heard it. Everything about this song is just right – just the right about of organ, drums, guitar fills, soulful backing vocals… and most of all knowing the power of what went into these words – written in the thick of John’s treatment (if I have the timeline right). It so perfectly captures the feeling of “so what now?”. This isn’t just a song, it’s the sound of someone baring their soul completely.
We then move forward to “Break My Addiction”, with a more upbeat soulful shuffle to it, sort of lightening the mood a bit. This one is about the connections that keep us away from those sometimes self detrimental moments alone. Then we have “Ghost Dance”, an acoustic song with a beautiful mandolin accompanying it. This one is almost a hard one to listen to, as it is about wanting that last chance to see someone after losing them. This would be my second favorite right behind “One Teardrop”. The starkness, the beauty in its honesty – it leaves me taken aback. Then “I Don’t Mind” feels like a “part two”, or even better – the other side of the same coin – almost considering the idea that if the former song’s idea came true, then what? So how do you follow something so powerful? With a stark, beautifully rendered cover of “I Want You To Want Me”, made famous by Cheap Trick. Much in the way he took “You’re The One That I Want” previously and turned it on it’s ear making it a gorgeous ballad, he makes this song a completely different animal. Especially once you’ve heard the other songs here, this fits into context perfectly. The final song here aside from the “So Bellissimo” reprise is “Live Your Life”, an upbeat self-affirming rocker about shaking others’ shadows and believing in yourself, being proud of who you are. A great ending to quite a ride of an album.
I think sometimes it takes extreme situations to bring out the best in us. Jeff has really taken the rollercoaster of experiences over the span of a year or two and has drawn something very real from it. Whether it leaves you with the power to face personal hardships head on, or it helps you be proud of who you are without hiding it, or even if it just changes someone’s mind just a little bit about someone – this is the kind of music that adds positivity to the world, and that’s always a great thing.
Pick up your own copy of Dirty Water Revival at www.jeffworkmanmusic.com
You can hear it on Spotify also. But seriously, just buy the damn album! You’ll thank me later.