The White Tornado
The White Tornado is keyboardist Bill Peterson, who’s been playing shows around Iowa City for some time. Seek Shelter, his debut record, showcases his facility with the piano and organ, not to mention his puckish sense of humor. Stylistically he’s not stuck in any one genre for long, but two styles dominate the CD — more funk-tinged on tracks like “Cop Show,” featuring his horn section The Horns of The Apocalypse, and talky, rolling pop songs. I’d compare him to Ben Folds if I was qualified to do so, but I’ve avoided listening to Ben Folds this long, why start now?
A more apt comparison might be to Billy Joel, in that his piano dominates the arrangements, and he’s got a knack for writing songs whose accessibility belies their underlying rhythmic and harmonic complexity. But he stays away from the bathos and irritating cheesiness that mars Joel’s worst (and naturally, most popular) songs. “Lost Planet” stands out for me, a Space Operetta in waltz time about a marooned astronaut. From its intricate, wistful melody to the bombastic chorus, it keeps enough whimsy in the mix to save it from going over the top. Or rather, it goes over the top and makes you like it.
What with the fluid, appealing keyboard skill and first rate horn arrangements, the weak leg of the tripod is Peterson’s singing. Mostly he sounds fine, but from time to time he seems to struggle to stay on top of difficult melodic turns. But that’s something he can get past with practice, and tuning his songwriting to the peculiarities of his voice. At least he’s musically ambitious — I’d rather hear musicians try something risky and wipe out than play it safe.