Universal Dice Takes us Through ‘birth, love, hate, death’

Gerry Dantone, and his band Universal Dice are in some senses, men out of time. It is the music listening public’s immense misfortune that songwriters and bands confine themselves to such a narrow range of possibilities in our modern age, but in an increasingly imploding and transforming musical scene, observers certainly can’t blame those seeking to sustain their lifestyles on the profits from their music alone for pandering to audience’s desires and forsaking their own inner voice. Some have no inner voice to forsake and are content to be entertainers. There’s no crime in that.


However, Gerry Dantone’s aspirations remind us of an earlier time in our history, not far removed from today, when musicians and composers working in popular music looked to stretch the form to accommodate the wide breadth of their dreams and express the seemingly inexpressible. The fourth studio release from Dantone’s band Universal Dice birth, love, hate, death is one of those albums and carries listeners on an amazing, bracing journey over sixteen songs.


“Welcome to the World” welcomes listeners to birth, love, hate, death’s musical world with a dyed in the wool rock and roll vamp introduction soon transforming into a brisk, but never careening guitar driven groove. There’s a leathery, weather-worn quality to Dantone’s voice that will seem familiar to listeners since it has so many natural antecedents, but it has its own distinct character and he never seems like an imitator.



He shows flexibility for adapting that voice with the song “I Wish I Could Tell You This” without losing any of its hard-worn emotional gravitas and the accompanying music for the song is on target as well. Particularly the guitar. “The Prophet” is a hard-hitting and physical workout for both Dantone and his accompanying musicians thanks to its intensely rhythmic thrust and the omnipresence of an effective drum track pushing everything along. Judged on the fact it’s the longest album track, “Take Me Home” strikes me as one of the album’s most pivotal tunes, at least for fleshing out the story, and it provides another of Dantone’s more affecting vocal performances.


Universal Dice finds dichotomy in their music


“I Love It When They Hate It” and “I Know What I’m Doin’” are a particularly effective tandem of tracks with a clear debt to Dantone’s influences while still bringing a very modern feel to bear. This isn’t coming out on a major label with a big budget, so it’s doubly impressive and indicative of their commitment the way Universal Dice’s fourth album comes off as a polished professional effort. The latter of those two songs are particularly strong, but both maintain the same high standard characterizing the album from the first.


“Better Man” has a harder rock edge than many of the other songs on birth, love, hate, death, but it’s handled with the same artful touch we hear in the surrounding cuts. “Man Enough” has a lot of that same rock fire, albeit burning in a different way and the aching “I’m No Good For You” flies the same flag without ever sounding like some knock off of the two aforementioned songs. The album’s rock trappings fall away with the final songs “One Day at a Time” and “Forever”. There’s fall much more squarely in the camp the band’s avowed Beatles influence without ever sounding like a Fab Four imitator. It’s amazing how Dantone and Universal Dice recall the past without ever being beholden to it and prove, conclusively, that you can make new uses out of these long standing forms.  


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    -review by Laura Dodero

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