If Rock and Roll was created for and by the young, when is someone too old to pull up that guitar strap and shake their ass to a crowd of screaming lunatics? Al Engelman attempts to answer that question, with the release of his debut album One Million Memories. Al is a middle-aged family man, who’s grounded enough to know he’ll never sell out stadiums, but also brave enough to know that he can still make music worthy of being heard. I’m 25 years old, and I constantly feel the pressure to give up such artistic “nonsense,” so I have a tremendous amount of respect for the man and his uplifting music.
Be that as it may, does Al (what I will be calling him, from here on out) actually possess any talent? Or is he just another one of those “Golden Oldie” acts, who are doomed to sing “Sweet Caroline,” night after night, in a shitty, run-down pub, until they need a walker? Personally, I like Al. I find him charming and vocally similar to Tom Petty and Stephen Page from The Barenaked Ladies, despite having less of a nasal delivery, and actually being from Chicago. Will his songs change the world? Probably not, but I would gladly blast this in a car on a joyful road trip through the Canadian prairies. The album practically reeks of small town hospitality. Oh and yes, he does have talent; he has a fine set of pipes, and clearly knows how to write a song.
Al’s best material is laid-back, catchy, and just a little bit bluesy. If he hadn’t gotten a nine-to-five job as an engineer, he probably could have cut out a fine niche as a good-old Country music star. It’s apparent that “If I Could Fly Away” and “Pass It On” are sure to be fan favorites, but I think “That Thing I Did” gets to the root of why Al is so darn likeable. This playful rocker comes off as a sheepish apology to a lover, even though he is not exactly sure what got him in the doghouse in the first place. It is so human, you just know that Al is writing from a familiar place.
The carefree nature of Al’s music, unfortunately, gets him into trouble from time to time. For one, most of these songs are so middle-of-the-road that they are sometimes in danger of being run off the road completely. When Al strays from his usual path on ballads “One Million Memories” and “Always With Her,” the results are nothing short of saccharine – the musical equivalent of too much maple syrup on a pancake. The latter is the biggest offender, because the lyrics show so much potential. They tell the poignant tale of an older woman who is forced to deal with her own mortality, and questions her place in the world. Al seems typically empathetic, but he sounds too chipper to truly understand her plight, which is concerning, since he created her.
This album is really just a lot of fun, and most successful when it’s just trying to put a smile on your face. This is sure to piss off most asshole hipsters, who are often repulsed by such optimism. I have had a great time listening to it, and I am someone you could occasionally accuse of such cynical behavior. Al has a lot to be proud of, and I hope he continues to pursue his dream. He’s proved that you’re never too old to rock. I mean, Mick Jagger is still shaking his thang, isn’t he?
Written by Shawn Thicke
*edited by Kate Erickson