The third solo album from Diane Gentile and her band The Gentle Men, The Bad and the Beautiful, follows on the heels of 2020’s The White Sea. Gentile continues drawing from an impressive array of influences for her art, including David Bowie and Lucinda Williams, but the end result is resolutely her own. Co-produced by Gentile and Merle Chornuk, the ten-song effort solidifies her claim as being one of the best indie songwriters working today and a force to continue reckoning with for years to come.
“Lace Up Your Sneakers” tells us, the listener, to get to work, in no uncertain terms. A substantial part of the songwriting here devotes itself to the proposition that facing life on life’s terms is essential and unavoidable. She never comes right out and says this, so your interpretations may and should vary, but she surrounds her lyrics with a first-class musical vehicle for communicating any message. The shimmering bounce of this song belies its weighty subject matter, but the energy level helps make it an infectious moment.
“Walk with Me” has her duetting with Austin Songwriter Hall of Fame inductee Alejandro Escovedo. It’s a sparkling union of fully realized talents as they trade off verses and few, if any listeners, will judge their talents to be ill-meshed. Escovedo’s assertive, even declamatory, vocal presence makes for a stark contrast to Gentile’s sensitive timbre. “Fade Away Author” is a patient and slowly evolving track built around acoustic guitar; it isn’t difficult to imagine that the song began life with nothing but Gentile and her trusty six-string. An elegiac mood presides over the song without it ever slipping into a funereal-like dirge.
“Far Away Down the River” is another successful track. There’s a light but jolly bounce present throughout the song and its unexpected nods to Americana tropes help set it apart from the other songs. It’s a fresh turn in an album full of such moments; Gentile and her bandmates never content themselves with predictability. Another such moment arrives with “Sugarcane”. Gentile steeps this track in a Southern Gothic sound, with abundant echo, reverb, and colorful keyboards abound. Her vocal, however, burns bright in the song’s core. She sounds like a reverent spirit inhabiting this performance.
She pushes her rock credentials in our faces with a rowdy blazer entitled “The Hookup”. It is a chaotic tune, never altogether out of sorts, but rather riding a knife’s edge of fury from beginning to end. She does orchestrate the arrangement slightly for effect, it saves the song from being an one-dimensional tussle, but the song’s memorable firepower leaves a mark. Diane Gentile & the Gentle Men reconvene for arguably Gentile’s finest solo album yet. The Bad and the Beautiful comes at you from multiple angles and stands, without a doubt, as the New York City native’s most diverse song collection yet. She sounds as engaged as ever and the lyrics read like a record of personal experience that virtually any listener can connect with. There is something here for everyone.