I recently learned about Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter Rick Sabatini when he reached out to me on Facebook about his album There Goes the Van Man. Released on New Year’s Day, the album features nine wonderful tracks with lighthearted relatable lyrics addressing the emotional minefields of romantic entanglements and responsibilities of young adulthood. It’s his second album, marking an eight-year span since the his first release Album 1 Demos back in November 2013. A delightful collection of lo-fi acoustic songs, Album 1 Demos is available for free download on his Bandcamp account.
Rick, who’s also been a member of The Band Sheep for the past several years, told me he composed most of the the songs for There Goes the Van Man five or six years ago on his iPad, but didn’t have the money to properly record it in a studio at the time. So, he started his own business doing painting and carpentry to earn money to fund the record, as well as earn a living, since he’d gotten married and had a child along the way. He finally recorded the album in a studio with the help of session musicians, and the result is a really enjoyable and well-crafted work.
Rick’s pleasing, highly accessible music can generally be described as indie pop with elements of folk, rock and jazz, and characterized by catchy melodies, lots of great guitar work and his endearing laid back vocals. The album opens with “At Your Service“, a sweet song about finding romance while working at a shoe store: “Just another day at the shoe store, the meet and greet, the fit your feet and send you out the door. Some of them I know by first name, and last name too. / If there’s anything that I can do for you baby, I’m at your service like a god at your church while you’re preachin’.”
Next up is “Van Man“, a terrific auto-biographical song about Rick that also serves at the de-facto title track, given its refrain “There goes the van man.” He croons about his workday routine “I was the van man today, I took the van real far away. I did stuff and got paid. I brought something that I made. I blasted sports radio. That’s just the way that I go when I’m driving down the open road.” The song is fantastic, with a wonderful, breezy melody and lots of cool instruments like organ, banjo and exuberant sax, adding nice Americana and jazz elements, as well as incredible texture to the overall sound. If all that’s not enough, there’s also a great guitar solo in the bridge too.
“The Office” is a fun Americana song with a lively piano-driven melody and more of that great banjo. The cheeky lyrics speak to the drudgery of working at a dead-end office job: “I don’t like to drive when it’s dangerous. Roads are pretty treacherous, but the boss man, he doesn’t give a shit. He says ‘I want you in’, well if I crash would you pay for it? I’m desperate, strapped for cash, and I can’t afford another accident. It’s a lot to risk, just to waste my day away in the office.“
On the bouncy “Tax Return“, Rick sings of the joys of finally being able to treat his girl to a nice evening out, now that he’s gotten his tax refund: “Baby relax I got my tax return. Girl let’s go out, I got some cash to burn. We’re gonna find somewhere nice to eat. The government paid me real good this week.” The musical highlights of the track are the great bassline, guitars, organ and piano keys, and I love the vocal harmonies.
One of my favorite tracks is “Talk to Me“, with its smooth and sophisticated jazzy vibe. I love the intricate, funky guitars, cool keyboards and subtle snare drums, but for me the biggest highlight are Rick’s lovely soothing vocals, backed by gorgeous Beach Boys-esque harmonies. This song really showcases his strong songwriting, musicianship and vocal abilities. “Colleen” is another great song, opening with a gospel-like organ riff and Rick’s voiceover speaking as an airline pilot to a plane full of passengers. That wonderful organ riff continues throughout the song, serving as its driving force and overlain with guitar, strings, sax and crisp percussion. Rick sings to a woman named Colleen of his desires for her affection: “Colleen, I might not be your man right now, but someday I will.“
“Devils” is a fascinating track, and much darker than the other songs on the album. Musically, it has a languid trip hop beat, with spooky synths, somber piano keys and skittering drumbeats, and in the background can be heard a man’s voiceover, speaking about LSD. It all serves to create an unsettling vibe. Rick’s vocals, which remind me of Mark Foster of Foster the People on this track, have a sense of sad resignation as he laments about trying to overcome drug addiction, or possibly a relationship that’s falling apart because of a partner who’s either addicted to drugs or cheating on him: “I’m trying to quit the devil, but he’s got his grip so tight on me it’s hard not be deceived and made of fool of. Well I’m wrestling with the devil. It’s not something that I’m proud of, but do you have to be so loud in the restaurant? I’m just trying to get back to normal. Well I caught you with the devil. You smelled like his cologne. All those moments you were alone, his smoky breath, the telephone. I thought we were getting back to normal.“
On the upbeat “Principal Problems“, Rick sings from the perspective a high school kid frustrated with his principal, who’s trying to make him quit his aggressive behavior that’s earned him a reputation as a tough guy on campus: “I’m gonna punch my principal in the face, if he tries to stop my fight with Tony Robinson./ You’ve got an occupation, I’ve got a reputation to hold up.” And on the delightful album closer “Tel Aviv Blues“, he sings of a woman he loves and how her ambivalence is making him crazy: “At night I’m wonderin’, about what you’re doing. You’re my baby, but only in my dreams. Only kissing me when I fall asleep. I told my best friend, a real good Christian, he said ‘You don’t need her love, you need the Lord’. But the Lord ain’t never kissed me good before. I’m back to drinkin’, I’m tryin’ hard to rid you from my mind.” The song has a lively Southern rock feel, with a colorful mix of twangy guitars and banjo, accompanied by swirling organ, sax and a great toe-tapping rhythm.
There Goes the Van Man is a marvelous album, and I’m so glad Rick reached out to me about it. He’s a talented guy who knows his way around a song, and here he delivers nine superb tracks. Each one is different from the next, a testament to his eclectic sound and the quality of his songwriting. This album needs to be heard by as many people as possible, and I hope some of my readers will enjoy it as much as I do.