Diane Gentile’s ten-song collection The Bad and the Beautiful builds on a solo career beginning with 2015’s debut Caught in a Wave and shows her creative life with backing band the Gentle Men is in fine fettle. The New York City-based singer/songwriter has shared stages with a wide assortment of songwriting and performing talents ranging from Robert Gordon, Television’s Richard Loyd, Steve Wynn from Dream Syndicate, and The Replacement’s Tommy Stinson, among others. The Bad and the Beautiful’s songs continue drawing from a bevy of influences as diverse as The Rolling Stones, NYC punk rock, and Henrik Ibsen. Gentile’s work is one of the rare examples of songwriting capable of meaning all things to all listeners.
“Lace Up Your Sneakers” does an excellent job fulfilling that mandate. Gentile’s songwriting places us, the listener, in a familiar place, the everyday, and fills the lyrics with numerous concrete details that help bring the song to life. The bright guitar-driven sound of the track underlines the energy generated by the rhythm section attack and the chorus, in particular, brings that song’s enthusiasm to a satisfying peak. “Dance ‘till Dawn” has a much more restrained gait than its predecessor. Acoustic guitar accentuates the near-folkie singer/songwriter vibe of the song and there’s a pleading quality in Gentile’s vocals that helps it stick in the listener’s memories.
Her duet with Alejandro Escovedo on “Walk with Me” is an unquestionable highlight of the album. The striding arrangement gives the two singers an energetic musical sweep that they expertly ride through to the song’s conclusion. The lyrics are as robust as ever and work as an incisive character study in miniature. It’s one of the album’s most compelling tracks. The languid pacing of “Fade Away Author” represents an appealing shift in gears following the physically strident qualities of “Walk with Me”. It builds to impressively dramatic heights by a cumulative process rather than showing all its cards simultaneously. The reflective poetic veneer of this song is another high point of the listening experience.
“Sugarcane” is one of The Bad and the Beautiful’s highest peaks. The molasses-drenched dramatics of this tune recall the instrumentation and production of Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind, but it isn’t imitative. Gentile drops several piano fills throughout the track that have a leavening effect on the performance and other instrumental touches, such as reverb-laced guitars, contribute mightily to the finished product as well. She follows it up with the raging rock of “The Hookup”, but it isn’t a solely one-note enterprise. She deftly switches approaches at a critical point in the song without sacrificing its energy and ends it with the same verve that begins the track.
The album’s “Kiss the Sky” finale leans heavily on piano in a quasi-ballad form that scales dizzying heights before its conclusion. Her vocals maintain the same level of excellence distinguishing the prior nine cuts. It’s a grand closer for The Bad and the Beautiful, a substantial album that opens the door to even greater tomorrows for this songwriter.