Universal Dice - birth, love, hate, death
Written and produced by Gerry Dantone, Universal Dice is an ambitious rock project and their latest release birth, love, hate, death is being billed as a flat out rock opera that throws back to the great work of everyone from Queen to The Who. With 16 songs and none of them sounding very much alike, even though certain muscular musical ideas and serious lyrical themes that tackle life, death, love, loss, triumph and failure tie the entirety of this record into a cohesive whole. Simply put, these songs belong with one another and anybody that’s got a hankering for some forward thinking yet oddly classic, blues-nuanced rock n’ roll is going to go buck wild for this release.
Songwriter/singer/bandleader Dantone is joined by a host of rock-solid musicians including lead guitarist Bob Barcus, bassist Eddie Canova and keyboardists Walt Sargent and Vincent Crici that make for a very full, very powerful sound with a big, bold backbone that hits hard more than it goes for the soft stuff (although the band is adept at ANY mood). The album wanders between full on rock n’ roll bangers to slithering blues guitar deviations to poppy-inflected numbers that even bring home a few honest to goodness ballads along the way.
The album starts off with pure abandon as the full-on rocker, “Welcome to the World’s” road ready, hard rock riffs go for broke only to simmer down to a slow boil for “I Wish I Could Tell You This” late 70s, knife-edge power blues complete with wah-soaked guitar licks and baroque organ playing. It’s a sonic one-two, opening punch that kicks and sticks to the memory and practically cements the record as an instant classic. Of course they still need to maintain momentum beyond the intro couplet but these guys know their stuff and maintain momentum they do. There are some hints of Seger and other crunchy singer/songwriter legends on the crawly “Your Son” which furthers those big, brutish blues-inflections, the overcast lifting once again to provide some no-frills, riff-ready hard yet pop-leaned rock on “The Prophet’s” mix of KISS and The Who. “My Hands Are Tied” follows a similar strutting attack pattern but goes for broke on the chorus harmony vocals, where a cosmic melody really twists the tune into a slick sing-a-long number. I think Dantone himself does all of the percussion programming for his group, but only if you listen on close can you tell that the drumming is electronic and not manually performed and it too enhances the record in this quirky, cool way that perfectly works for the album’s epic intentions.
“Take Me Home” is a real crunchy, crisp-riffed composition with some of the guitar-fury and rhythmic heft lifting on the heavily piano enhanced, positively gorgeous vocal musing and melodies of “Danielle.” Again, these cats have far more sides and moods than the duo of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde… It seems that the record never loses its peak moments and continually keeps cresting as it goes from strength to strength. Whether pulling off some keyboard/vocal tenderness with “Honestly” and soulful closer “Forever,” or coming straight from the rock n’ roll gut on “I Love It When They Hate It” and “Better Man,” Universal Dice can do absolutely nothing wrong on this record. If you long for the days when musical giants walked and ruled the Earth, then birth, love, death, hate will be exactly the kind of sonic reminder you’ve been hoping to hear for ages. What an album, what a band; highly recommended!David Shouse