UNIVERSAL DICE TACKLES BIG THEMES
Long Island band Universal Dice's third release is a musically and lyrically ambitious collection of songs, titled "Out of Many, One," that will have you tapping your foot while pondering some of the most controversial issues of our times.
Universal Dice is the band led by ISS Newsletter founder Gerry Dantone, who writes most of the tunes, sings and plays guitar. His musical co-conspirators are keyboardist Tom Beckner, guitarist Bob Barcus, songwriter/bassist Sam Camino and bass player Ed Canova.
From corporate layoffs to the child-molestation scandal in the Catholic Church to the plight of Afghan women under a repressive regime, Universal Dice tackles some difficult themes without ever succumbing to preachy-ness. And while condemnation and indignation occasionally accentuate the message, for the most part the band succeeds in taking a sympathetic approach to the issue at hand.
Such is the case with "I am the Woman Who Has Awoken," a song inspired by a poem written by Afghan female activist Meena, who was assassinated in 1987 for speaking out against fundamentalists and the Soviet-controlled puppet regime then ruling the country.
Long Island band Universal Dice's third release is a musically and lyrically ambitious collection of songs that will have you tapping your foot while pondering some of the most controversial issues of our times.
Pop "Out of Many, One" in your player, and you'll quickly be singing along to the infectious chorus of "God Wants Me to Hate You," an uptempo number delivered with an intensity reminiscent of Elvis Costello's early music. The song offers an ironic take on the oft-repeated Bible-based justifications for homophobia. Or you might catch yourself swaying along the reggae rhythm of "Welcome to 1984," a track that deals with censorship.
Homophobia, censorship and gender repression in distant regimes may seem like a tall order to cover in one CD. But Universal Dice doesn't stop there. The band offers a rapid-fire litany of anti-right-wing themes that would make John Ashcroft weep.
For starters, "Out of Many, One" kicks off with "Master of Low Expectations," an ingenious satire on our current commander in chief that uses nothing but his own bumbling words to deliver its indictment. Gerry picked up such priceless presidential nuggets as "War is a dangerous place" and "I stand by all the misstatements that I've made" to write the song. And they are uncomfortably amusing.
But lest anyone walk away with the impression that "Out of Many, One," merely condemns, it's important to note that there is an undercurrent of hope that lifts the message into a positive plain. This is particularly the case with the songs "Still Alive in the USA," a percussion-heavy uptempo anthem and "Peace, Love," a Lennonesque ballad that asks, "Peace, love, is that all there is?" and goes on to conclude in a very understated way: "Peace, love, it comes down to this."
The band approaches each song with a visible sense of economy and lyrical sensibility. The music is as informed by the Beatles as by Costello and other late '70s/early '80s acts. "Out of Many, One" is mature rock for mature listeners who don't mind having to think when hearing music.
Good Times Magazine
November 13, 2000
Most music fans have probably never heard of Universal Dice. They have not yet played out at clubs, and they don't have dozens of press clippings to their credit from the local music papers. It will probably come as a surprise to people, then, that this, "Mostly True Stories," is one of the top CDs of the year 2000.
Universal Dice is fundamentally the child of the creative duo of Gerry Dantone and Sam Cimino. They wrote the music, they sing the vocals and they play most of the instruments. "mostly True Stories" is their follow-up to "My Name Is Thomas…," an ambitious rock opera released in 1997. The musical style can't be described in a word or two, primarily because there isn't just one style. Instead you've got your blues, you've got your alternative, you've got your straight-up rock, and you've even got your Middle Eastern meditative music. This might sound like a mish-mosh of styles, but actually the CD has a nice balance to it.
The soul of the CD can be found in the 4th track, a slow heart-wrenching number called "Vengeance." A song about the terrorist acts of zealots, and the emotional devastation left in their wake, it focuses on two separate but equally shocking acts of violence. The first is the murder of three young brothers killed by a firebomb in Northern Ireland; the second is the massacre of 30+ Muslims praying in a mosque in Israel. The song is all the more painful because both incidents really happened. ("Three young brothers, asleep in the night/Innocent children in Ulster's fight/In their garden/A man with a bomb/In their garden") This is definitely one intense song.
Other highlights of the CD include the trippy opening number, "Love Is"; the tragic love song "Bosko and Admira," ("He prayed to Jesus, she prayed to Allah/They loved each other, it was forever"); the lusty BQE ("She's not the kind of girl you take home to mom/Try to hold her hand, you might lose you arm"); and the lovely sad "Man and God." There are also some humorous numbers on the CD including Xena, an ode to TV's warrior princess, the rocky "Circling the Drain" and the armed-and-dangerous "Charlton Heston High School," ("Where guns and Jesus rule.")
Musically this is a very strong CD. The one thing that might detract some listeners from fully enjoying it is the preachiness of the lyrics. Like "My Name Is Thomas…" the CD explores issues of faith and religion. But whereas "Thomas…" told a single tale in story-form, "mostly True Stories" goes back to these themes again and again in individual vignettes. The effect can feel like being bludgeoned over and over again with a single message: religion = bad. In a weird kind of a way, although "Thomas…" sprang from the same Ethical Humanist belief system, it worked better from a lyrical point of view, because it focused on things Dantone and Cimino believe in (qualities such as love and respect for others) instead of their opposites (fanaticism, and terrible acts in the name of God).
Nevertheless, the richness of the music far outweighs any minor complaint about the words. This is a CD worth buying, and worth listening to again and again.
LONG ISLAND ENTERTAINMENT
A lot of people have been wondering where the next great rock opera is going to come from. In the beginning, there was Hair and Godspell and Tommy and Quadrophenia. Then there was Rocky Horror and The Lamb Lie Down On Broadway. Of course, the latest rage is Rent, but I don't think that counts since it's really a reworking of La Boheme. Here's a surprise for you, the next great rock opera might have emerged from, get this, Albertson, and is named "My Name Is Thomas…."
Universal Dice may be a new name to you though looking at the player's credits will expose some very familiar names, beginning with Island Songwriters big wig Gerry Dantone, right through other noted performers like Sam Cimino, Bob Barcus and Tom Beckner. What these fine musicians have put together as a team, is a 71 minute, 18 track opus that surrounds the life odyssey of a man named Thomas, whose brother was cast out by his family because of a premarital pregnancy and, through a tragic accident, never got the opportunity to reconcile.
The journey of the work centers on the loss of faith by a man of the cloth, and though religion is the central thread, the work never bogs down because of preachiness. This also is not a snappy "Bye Bye Birdie" affair; this has an edge with rock guitars, gritty melodies and lengthier songs. Phenomenally stimulating, the extensive lyric sheets not only keep you in tune with the story step by step, it helps you visualize a show in your head. What is really impressive, beyond all else, is that like all great rock operas, the songs stand by themselves and would still sound great played one at a time on the radio.
Universal Dice has only one minor problem… you have to wonder what they'll do for an encore. For the time being, run, don't walk, to get your copy of this intense, intelligent and introspective musical. Right out of Albertson hath come what may be the next great rock opera.