Heart of the Black Dirt marks Brian Fitzpatrick’s seventh studio album, and third as leader of Brian Fitzpatrick and the Band of Brothers. Both self-produced and engineered, it’s also the first album to be recorded at “The Office,” Fitzpatrick’s in-house studio. Joining Fitzpatrick on the disc are lifelong collaborator, Ed Fritz (keyboards/accordion), Fred Machetto (bass guitar), Scott Minafri (drums), Johnny Powers (percussion), Steve Jacobus (mandolin and fiddle), and Joe Brensinger (lead guitar). Together they’ve honed a unique sound that mixes Celtic instrumentation with folk sensibilities, laced throughout with the influence of classic rock.
“Songs are an amplification of your personality,” Fitzpatrick has observed. He’s also said, “A record’s called a record for a reason. It’s a record of that point in time.” The nine song collection that comprises Heart of the Black Dirt aurally illustrates these two statements by juxtaposing an Irish storyteller’s knack for spinning yarns with challenging real-life events for which songwriting has served as an integral component in the journey toward acceptance. And, for those not personally acquainted with the artist, Fitzpatrick’s skill at the former will keep listeners guessing as to which of these songs, that all cut to the heart of truth, represents fact or fiction.
Fitzpatrick’s songwriting experience began upon learning guitar at age 11, and was augmented by a post-high-school career touring with various prominent bands. This early immersion in music, along with a compassionate interest in people, and sharp insights into character -- plus an inherently artistic spirit, served Fitzpatrick well in creating the seasoned work evidenced on even his fledgling solo efforts, and continues to do so as he deals with the broader themes and struggles encountered as one moves deeper into maturity.
This new album draws its name from a road sign bearing the title words – which prompted the unexpected comment “Onions” from an audience member at a live show. Learning the sign references the place this crop is grown spawned a running joke within the band that “the album’s about onions.” Ironically, this bit of humor unwittingly provides a largely accurate description. By serving as narrator on “Jenny Lynn,” a very Irish-flavored composition, complete with rousing background exclamations, Fitzpatrick and the band kick the disc off from a seemingly safe distance, before deceptively peeling away another layer in “One Sweet Love,” and delving into the raw, emotional center with the first person experience of a broken relationship in CODA -- augmented by mournful guitars and stark sobering lyrics sure to rival the strongest onion in their ability to produce tears. As the tracks progress, we’re gradually brought to the other side as we revel in the dark humor and infectious melody of “Lonesome Alibi,” share memories of a friend (former Band of Brothers fiddle player, Gene Quintin) who passed too soon, and make it “Through the Night.” The final track, a melodic piano driven tribute to Fitzpatrick’s mother, provides a perfect denouement, bringing us to a place of appreciation that’s deep, though not quite peaceful, yet sure to make all who listen eager to revisit the Heart of the Black Dirt “one more time” – again and again.
Heart of the Black Dirt is available digitally via iTunes, and in hard copy form at CD Baby, Amazon.com and other music sellers.