There are highly accomplished debut albums. And then there is Opia, the recently released, thrilling inaugural musical statement from Nature Boy, a.k.a. Toronto-based singer/songwriter Vincent Bertucci, a musician so fully formed that no single genre, let alone single instrument, can capture his boundless creativity.
Opia is the album Bertucci has been striving towards his entire life. And he’s got the extraordinary backstory to prove it. Featuring 10 dazzling original songs – all written or co-written by Bertucci on guitar and piano alongside a marquee group of long-time collaborators — Opia explores life, death, and love (and raising the odd glass) via jazz-informed pop and soft-rock that is far more vivid than that modest description suggests.
Consider Opia’s head-spinning instrumental roster which includes glockenspiel, Hammond B-3 and Rhodes organ, various synths, drums, percussion, guitars and… wait for it… manmade “whale sounds” and Tibetan singing bowls, correctly listed in the liner notes as being “wicked.”
Opia’s songs soar… even the candlelit ones. Witness the iridescent, keyboard-guided slow burn of “10 Past 9.” The album’s fearlessly knock-kneed first single juxtaposes an urgent message of desire against a languid vocal delivery. The track gets extra oomph from a kooky (also bitingly sad/funny) accompanying video chronicling the exploits of a furry blue mascot trying to snag his costumed crush’s attention. “That song and video is essentially about how, no matter who you are, there is someone out there for you,” Bertucci offers with a chuckle. “Even if you are a basketball-playing furry and the object of your affection is a giant yellow mouse. Or whatever she is. It’s just a matter of finding the right person. I think the dark humour of the video really brings that home.”
Elsewhere, songs like the blistering, rocking “Natural Selection” — its massively hooky chorus
ricocheting off an itchy melody — underscore Bertucci’s musical prowess and absolute ease across the stylistic spectrum. And then there’s “Westward,” an alluring duet with fast-rising star Michelle Willis which casts the pair as doomed real-life lovers, a narrative weirdly but pleasingly at odds with the song’s gently rollicking vibe.
Binding the album’s disparate moods together is Bertucci’s warm and wildly expressive voice, an instrument he’s been cultivating since childhood through various means including enrolment at Toronto’s acclaimed St. Michael’s Choir School, where he rose to baritone soloist in the choir,
graduating in 1997. While Bertucci will grudgingly cop to a similarity with Michael Bublé for the purposes of convenient comparison, he is quick to point out that the left coast star’s crooner aesthetic is completely opposite his own.
Indeed, if Bublé had been influenced by Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel, studied music at university, interned under jazz greats like Lorne Lofsky and Richard Whiteman and spent years working as a celebrated and in-demand professional musician, he might kinda sorta be like Bertucci. But only a fool would take that wager.
“This record has always been lingering in the back of my mind. It’s a project I wasn’t willing to take on until I was fully ready,” says Bertucci, who has also been a featured soloist on stages across Eastern Canada and Italy. “These things can get expensive, so I wanted to wait until I could afford to do it right. And it took a while to meet the right musicians. “This isn’t my first kick at the can, but it is my best. And having met these people through Symmetry Studios, I was able to foster meaningful kinships. And now here we are.”
For the benefit of those who haven’t attended any spectacular Toronto-area weddings, soirées or corporate events highlighted by a jaw-droppingly awesome band, Symmetry Studios is Bertucci’s other baby and day job, the agency he founded in 2007 to provide ace professional players for select functions. And while some musicians might try and downplay that aspect of their career, Bertucci revels in it. “From the start, my mandate has been to make a living from playing music. It beats being a bartender or a barista, no offence to those jobs, but that kind of work doesn’t enhance the craft of making music. I have some wonderful memories, and I’ve fostered some great relationships with brilliant players, many featured on the new album.”
What’s more, the Symmetry gig has given Bertucci a portfolio of outrageous stories to share. If you’re lucky enough to be seated next to him on a train ride, be sure to ask about that New Year’s Eve booking at the yacht club where he watched a well-lubricated septuagenarian go ass-over- teakettle into a Christmas tree. While wearing a kilt. But we digress.
Interestingly, Bertucci says that with the exception of the chiming and staccato “No Day in The Life” — “a challenge to find the right sound and the exact right lyric”— most of the songs on Opia coalesced “quickly and based on intuition.
“Tyler Emond really helped shape the record sonically, coming up with things I wouldn’t necessarily have come up with,” Bertucci says of Opia’s producer and arranger. Emond also added bass, guitar, and the beforementioned glockenspiel and has jobbed extensively with Bertucci, cementing their rich collaborative rapport. “Tyler is a brilliant musician and was the George Martin of the project.”
Lest you be wondering why Bertucci’s album bears the name Nature Boy, our man explains, further illuminating what makes him (and his impossibly soulful music) tick.
“It comes from the title of a jazz standard by eden ahbez (and popularized by Nat King Cole), a song I’ve sung many times. The song’s final lyric — ‘The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return’ — is what I’ve tried to focus on both in how I live my life and the music I make. The ability to give and receive love should be what drives us all, and if practiced more often, would make for a better world. That said, I think we’re on the right track.”
Bertucci continues: “The dream of any musician is to perform their own music. Sales would be nice and of course, radio would be nice. The key thing is connecting with audiences. If that’s in the cards for Nature Boy and Opia, well, I’ll be over the moon.”