St. Catharine’s Paul Federici used to be a social worker struggling with his own mental health issues. Now, he’s a musician who’s just released his second album. Federici rediscovered music after a seven-year hiatus—during which he got a Master’s and a so-called dream job—but his own anxiety kept him from getting satisfaction out of any of it. It was only when he picked up his guitar again that things finally started to feel good.
His first album got him noticed on campus radio charts, in Exclaim, and even on the CBC. He won the Niagara Music Award for Adult Contemporary Artist of the Year. Critics started comparing him to another Denis Morris graduate, Dallas Green (City and Colour). With his sophomore release, Now and Then, Federici looks back on the year he’s had since turning to music. He’s given up his career as a social worker, and kicked his anxiety.
“Sail On” makes it clear why Federici has been compared to City and Colour—the vocals are very similar, but there’s something folksy to Federici that differentiates him from Green. “Strange Disease” opens with a violin, adding variety to what initially seems like it’s going to be a guitar/vocal mix. Lyrically, Federici focuses on the Then, discussing his own “strange disease” and alluding to his even stranger cure.
“Lonely Heart” takes it slow as Federici croons into the mic. Again, there are folk touches in the way he tells the story and the guitar notes. There’s also a lot of nostalgia packed into the song, expressed eloquently by Federici without ever becoming plaintive.
While “Far From Home” starts out in a similarly slow vein, it moves away from his Green-esque vocals and explores a more unique-sounding terrain. As the drums start up, the song turns into yet another road trip melody, evoking the artist’s journey.
“Please Don’t Break” pairs up the acoustic guitar with a piano gently accentuating the lyrics. “Last Regret” changes pace from “Please Don’t Break” quite suddenly, adding some electric guitar to an album that has otherwise stayed safely on one side of mellow.
Penultimate “Last One Found” strips things down again, its catchy chorus relying on the melody Federici creates with his vocals. The album ends with the optimistic “One Day You’ll Be Right,” and a return to a more City and Colour sound.
Obviously, if you’re into Dallas Green you’ll appreciate Now and Then, but limiting this album by positioning it as a sound-alike doesn’t do Federici any justice. Federici moves between nostalgia and looking forward seamlessly—capturing the anxiety of both and ultimately aiming to reassure. Lyrically, vocally, and instrumentally, the album shows off Federici’s perfectionist tendencies, and also makes me wish he hadn’t spent seven years doing something else.
Top Tracks: “Strange Disease”; “One Day You’ll Be Right”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)