“I’ll never take the easy way out / I’ll never take the easy way out / I might have to hurt in a world full of doubt / but I’ll never take the easy way out.” — “Easy Way Out”
Sometimes an album is released at just the right time for you… The lyrics sound as if the singer is singing to you or about you and the music reminds you that you are not alone; others are in the exact same place. Sometimes it’s an area we don’t like talking about like depression, but thankfully Bruce Tunkel goes there on his latest release, sixtyandthensome - a brilliant masterpiece from one of Jersey’s best songwriters.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t planning on writing about this album today. But after finally getting the time to listen to it straight through, I felt I needed to. This has been an incredibly difficult year for me from health scares to business issues, post surgery recovery and dark thoughts. I’ve been to a place that was new and scary. As strange as it sounds, it’s nice to know others are going through that pain, too. Even when we think we know someone, chances are there are things happening we do not know about. Depression is one such demon many face alone. Tunkel faces that demon throughout this record. In the process, he creates some of the best songs of his career.
sixtyandthensome kicks off with “The Everything Boy”, a rocker that includes great guitar work by P.K. Lavengood and bass by Rob Tanico (a mini Jersey supergroup, imo). It sets up the album with a theme of reflection. This is followed by “All I Gotta Do” which also has PK and Rob and adds Mark Nuzzi, Tunkel’s bandmate from The Susan Rumors, on vocals. It’s an upbeat pop tune that reminds me of The Monkees for some reason. Whether the song is about a relationship, an addiction, or Tunkel’s past in the music business… it works.
“Maybe things would have played out better / if only I didn’t second guess / Maybe I could have been someone / if I only played the part / But I could never pretend / well enough for you / And I couldn’t fit into any other shoes / All I gotta do / is stay away from you / All I’ve got to do / is follow my heart” — “All I Gotta Do”
There are few artists that can sing so mournfully beautiful on a ballad like Tunkel and that ability shines in “Wishing Well Wishes”. To me, the song is about a friend trying to help another out through a bad time, letting go, and moving forward. Things that are easier said than done.
“Come take my hand / we’ll walk in the sand / where footprints fade away / So you look ahead to good things / instead of the hurt of a different day / Wishing well… well wishes” - “Wishing Well Wishes”
In one of many the album’s great sequencing moves, Tunkel follows with “Katherine From Heaven” - a fun rock track with a great beat about getting the courage to talk to a girl. Following a few powerful message songs, it’s a nice change of pace. A relief if you will. It works the way the best dramas use moments of comedy to soften the blows.
And then the album begins to hit HARD. I mean it doesn’t get much better than the next four songs for me - each is seemingly better than the other. The album is set up the way a good playwright creates a great play - the first act leaves you seemingly unprepared for how the story will unfold. The album’s second half begins with “Easy Way Out”, a track about realizing that as bad as things seem, you need to fight. It will likely be a fight you face every day of your life, but one you are ready to face.
Of all the songs I’ve heard this year, “Easy Way Out” is the one that makes me miss The Saint in Asbury Park more than any other. I can just imagine seeing Tunkel on stage singing this with a room full of musicians and fans from the years holding their beers as they sing along. It’s sad and it’s beautiful. It’s the perfect drinking song.
“Walking today I felt like I had enough / Thinking about how life is so tough / I just wanted to lay down and die / A great getaway without saying goodbye / But I’ll never take the easy way out” — “Easy Way Out”
Next up is “I’m Slowing Down” which is the one that started to break me. This is an incredibly powerful tune that everybody probably relates to at some age. It’s when you look around at your life and think about the people who are no longer in it - whether it’s the old friends who moved away and you’ve lost touch with or the ones you watched get buried. This is pure reflection. The hard, cold reflection that keeps you up at night.
It begins with “There’s a parade of pain marching down Main Street in my mind / the walls are closing in around me / and I can’t seem to find a way out of this haze where it’s cold and I’m alone” and soon reaches the point of “I guess this is my home / I’m paying the price for getting old / you become invisible once your story’s been told.”
Tunkel sings of learning to live with the life he has now. He laments, “there was no way to prepare for crossing over the line / lines that mark the path I’ve traveled / and lines that mark my face / and I’m stuck here but I really don’t want to be / in this place.” This is a song for those of us who never gave up. We carry the battle scars, but we never gave up even as the war keeps raging.
And then comes “Hotel Sandalwood” which might be my favorite of the four. It’s Tunkel at his classic rock best. This is the adult version of the Red House singer who I used to sneak into clubs to see. He’s looking back at his life… sometimes it’s just hard not to look back.
“Too many bags to unpack / Too many things that I can’t take back / Too many times I lost track of all I needed to do / Time is the enemy / Time is everywhere but can’t be seen / Yeah, time can set you free / but then you’re gone / then you’re gone / In the Hotel Sandalwood / I think about these things / I close my eyes and drown / in the flood of memories” - “Hotel Sandalwood”
The album closes with “Thompson’s Pond” - a song about a place he would go to as a kid. Years later, he wants to be back there. It’s a sad song to wrap up a sad album, but the right way to go. A cheery song here just wouldn’t do. Tunkel has taken us to a place where finding the happiness we once had is the only way to go. We all had our Thompson Pond and many of us wish we could go back.
“Now the world has done its best to take his dreams away / It’s hard to tame the rage inside / it’s hard, hard hiding from the shame / the future’s black / it’s black as a moonless sky / and all these memories crash together taking one last ride / to Thompson’s Pond he rode / where he could be anyone he chose to be / trying hard to believe / he could still feel that way when he had to leave” - “Thompson’s Pond”
I get a hundred new releases each week. I’ve never enjoyed doing reviews, but my hope is to one day create a column where I point out my favorites from the mailbag each week. Until then, it’ll be reviews like this one when an album literally breaks my heart and puts it back in two; music so good I want to let people know about it immediately. This is an album that makes me grateful we aren’t still in the days of cassettes and Walkmans because I would certainly play this one until it couldn’t be played any more - especially in a year like this one.
sixtyandthensome is available on streaming services like bandcamp.