Singer-songwriter/musician Richard Ings has been performing and recording since the early ‘90s. He established his latest solo project, A Sea With 3 Stars, in 2006, and has finally made his way back into the studio to create the debut release, For Nothing. Despite A Sea With 3 Stars being a solo act, Ings does collaborate with a number of regular musicians on the album, chiefly John Bocelli who plays lead guitar and co-writes a majority of the music. The one consistent thing about For Nothing is how Ings always manages to craft a lyric that is insightful and thoughtful, and though his vocal prowess is rather limited, he still delivers his creations in an effective manner a majority of the time. Musically, Ings takes some risks every now and then which regrettably don’t pay off, whereas the more conventional songs are quite good. The end result of this is an album that could be better, but could also be much worse.
Four of the album’s songs, to state it plainly, don’t work very effectively at all; the title track, “Breathe,” “Getting Better,” and a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run.” The former three all suffer from the same problems in that the combination of their stripped down arrangements and the subdued nature of Ings’ voice make the songs feel devoid of energy and emotion. As an example, “For Nothing” could’ve been a great song; the acoustic guitar riff is strong and well suited to building off of, but nothing is constructed upon it. Instead, the song repetitively goes through its motions in a listless fashion.
Though the other songs mentioned are not much better, there’s at least something interesting going on in the arrangement of “Born To Run,” which has been turned into an acoustic number with guitar, piano, and violin. But Springsteen’s original was an anthemic tribute to the power of personal freedom and being released from the chains that shackle people within their own lives. Ings’ interpretation doesn’t carry those or any emotions with it, creating a similar situation to that which is heard on the other weaker tracks.
Despite all the criticisms about those four pieces, the other two thirds of the album are dynamic, interesting, and incredibly well-performed. The album’s opener, “Hello, Goodbye” is a surprisingly complex song given that it’s written in 5/8 time and features Ings playing guitar, maracas, the triangle, and the Hammond organ. Dan Warren’s drumming is intricate and technical in keeping with the odd time signature, while Paolo Minervini’s bass work acts as the glue that holds most of the song together. Bocelli’s guitar playing shines, and as later tracks reveal; he’s capable of playing in different styles and tones.
“On Our Way” and “The Girl Who Was Just Out of Reach” both showcase Bocelli playing with a chiming, resonant tone. The atmosphere this sets is quite pleasant and works well with the lyrics that Ings writes. The latter of these two songs is especially well crafted as in two and a half minutes; it creates a story that can serve as a metaphor for various aspects of a person’s life, with or without women being involved.
A Sea With 3 Stars reveals more of a rock side to its music on “Hit Me Harder.” Here, Ings rattles off a lyric that crams more rhymes into a verse than your average Bob Dylan lyric. The quick pace is mirrored by Warren’s drumming and Ings’ acoustic strumming. Bocelli’s lead functions a bit differently; filling in the gap between verses initially, but then laying down some fantastically played licks over the second and third verses. There’s even some Stylophone playing thrown in at the end for good measure.
Near the end of For Nothing comes another of the stronger songs, “All That She Wants.” With an opening lyric of, “She’ll always find someone to **** her,” that’s about as attention-grabbing as you can get. From there, the story that unfolds depicts a girl’s emotional and physical struggle to find love. The ¾ time signature and soft drumming accentuate the lyric quite nicely, and Minerverni again shows how stellar of a bass player he is.A Sea With 3 Stars may be the brainchild of Richard Ings, but the successes of the album, For Nothing are based largely on the collaborations between Ings and his fellow musicians. Ings displays considerable talent as a lyricist and more often than not, is able to bring his lyric to life through his music and voice. It may not be a coincidence however that the songs that don’t work so well were written solely by him. Regardless, two-thirds of For Nothing is considerably strong, and it’s this part of the album that brings listeners a unique voice with a unique style.
Review by Heath Andrews
Rating: 3.5 Stars (out of 5)