Jeremy Facknitz – Smilin’ At The Future: Album Review

There’s something for everyone on Smilin’ At The Future – the 6th album from Colorado Springs singer-songwriter Jeremy Facknitz

Release Date:  31st March 2023

Label: Self Release

Formats: CD, Streaming

I’ll be honest – I don’t think I’ve ever heard an album that so effortlessly merges so many different musical styles quite so fully and effectively.  It seems, however, that shape-shifting is a skill at which Colorado Springs singer-songwriter Jeremy Facknitz excels, and that skill is exploited to the full on his new album, Smilin’ At The Future.  Folk, pomp rock, pop, prog and jazz all take their turn, often in the same song and within seconds of each other on this amazing album, and the effect is… well… dazzling.

Jeremy has been with us for quite some years – in an “on and off” sort of way.  Back in 2001, his Detroit-based band, The Ottomans, pipped The White Stripes to the prestigious Detroit Music Award for Best New Alternative Band, but life hasn’t been altogether plain sailing for him since those heady days.  The Ottomans broke up in 2002 and, since then, Jeremy has been performing mainly as a solo act.  Despite that early tilt at success, the period between 2003 and 2017 was a frustrating time for Jeremy – his music wasn’t reaching a sympathetic audience and he was settling for a life based around bar-room and coffee house gigs, appearances at corporate events and the occasional shot at music teaching.  Those who have heard what he has to offer can be excused for thinking “What a waste.”  Ironically, it was a brush with mortality – he was diagnosed to be suffering from viral meningitis – back in the summer of 2017 that prompted him to rethink, regroup, and open up his talents to where they would be absorbed and appreciated.

Since then, he’s toured frequently – usually solo, but occasionally with the tight, accomplished six-piece band that features on Smilin’ At The Future, and his accomplishments include recognition in numerous songwriting competitions across the USA, concert appearances with the likes of Tim Reynolds, Pat Donahue and, perhaps most significantly, Burlington-based folk singer-songwriter Edie Carey, who lends her considerable talents in a guest appearance on this very album, Jeremy’s sixth.

And that band – imaginatively named The Jeremy Facknitz Band – is worthy of a special mention.  Along with Jeremy, who plays guitar and sings with a voice that covers all bases between intimate and anguished, the band feature Ricky Sweum, whose sax is an outstanding presence throughout the album, David Siegel, whose violin is no less dominant, Mike Kimlicko on bass, Brad Pleszz on drums and John Standish on keyboards.  And, together, they’ve got an amazing ability to turn Jeremy’s multi-genre imaginings into a solid, hair-raising reality.

Smilin’ At The Future is one of those ageless albums – a recording that could have been made at any time between 1975 and the present day and yet still sound fresh and relevant.  I’ve tried to convey the range of music on offer here, along with the sheer musicianship involved in its delivery, but the other outstanding feature of these songs is Jeremy’s lyricism.  These songs are packed to their very rafters with words and even the most diligent listener will continue to discover new passages, declarations and statements long after the first few plays.  There’s lots of humour as well, as Jeremy offers his commentary on our current-day confusion – our political dystopia and personal triumphs and failures, but that humour is not always immediately apparent – as Jeremy is keen to point out: “The album is not as cheery as the title indicates; the optimism is cautious at best, and where there’s none to be found, I lean into acceptance.”

To my own, highly Anglicized ear, there’s a notable English influence to Jeremy’s compositional style.  Strains of mid-seventies pomp rock and prog from the likes of Queen, Supertramp and 10cc are detectable and there’s a taste of Fairport Convention, particularly at the points at which David’s violin takes centre-stage and, when these elements are mixed with the 50s jazz that Jeremy so clearly enjoys, the resulting brew is a potent one indeed.

That blending of genres is evident right from the outset on opening track Destiny, a song that, with its mix of lo-fi psych-folk and heavy metal, sets a dependable template for the rest of the album.  The mixture is even more potent on As Of This Morning, the album’s first single and one of several truly outstanding tracks.  Pop, jazz, Queen-flavoured bombast and folk rock all sit comfortably together and David’s violin and Ricky’s sax are marvelous.

Michigan (Something in the Water), with its disconcerting lyrics regarding the poor state of the Michigan water supply and, by extension, the quality of life in that State is grand and baroque, before things are softened (just a little) for current single, There’s No Going Home Again.  A song with a sad-but-philosophical message about the constancy of change, it is, at heart, a folky number, given a soulful edge by the outstanding backing vocals from guest Serenity Holloway, a boost of power from the band’s barrages of power chords and a touch of sophistication by its jazzy coda – it’s another of the album’s true highlights.

It’s Edie Carey who provides the soulful touches in Broad Strokes; her harmony vocals are tender and reassuring on a track that is probably the gentlest and most introspective song on the album.  Then – we get into a Bossa Nova groove for the excellent title track, a song that, as much as any other, encapsulates the feel and purpose of the whole album.  At times it sounds like a Frank Sinatra number – that is, until the force of the band kicks in – and I love the throwaway “Where’s my human Alfred E Numan!”

My imagined influence of Queen & Co is particularly strong on the impassioned Ste. Geneveive – a slice of grand orchestral rock that features more of that wonderful sax/violin combination and what is, arguably, Jeremy’s most accomplished vocal performance on the album.  The band is on fire – tight, disciplined and thoroughly engaging – for the dreamy Lay it On Me, as they switch smartly between poppy psych-folk and jazzy madness before the pace is slowed for the bluesy Come Alive.

And then… a real surprise.  Jeremy is alone with his acoustic guitar for Unsung, the album’s closing and most poignant track.  It’s a lovely song; tuneful and crystal clear and Jeremy’s lyrics are intriguing as, in a detailed reference (perhaps) to his 2017 brush with the Grim Reaper, he dwells on the reality that: “I love my life as it passes away.”  Jeremy Facknitz is, indeed, a major talent.  Packed with tunes that manage to sound both familiar and refreshingly new, Smilin’ at the Future is an excellent album – and, I can guarantee, like nothing you’ll have ever heard before.

Watch the official video to There’s No Going Home Again – a track from the album and the current single – featuring guest vocalist Serenity Holloway – here:

Jeremy Facknitz online: Website / facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Spotify / YouTube

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