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Jim Balcerek | Playing Life by Ear

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Crosby, Stills & Nash Squeeze The Beatles

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United States - Pennsylvania

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Rock: Folk Rock Rock: Progressive Rock Moods: Mood: Intellectual
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Playing Life by Ear

by Jim Balcerek

Songs of empathy, encouragement, frustration, uncertainty, and hope, conveyed by guitars loud and soft, intricate harmonies, and the occasional odd time signature.
Genre: Rock: Folk Rock
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Playing Life by Ear (Part 1)
3:01 $0.79
2. And Life Goes On
4:03 $0.79
3. Distant Echo
4:17 $0.79
4. Cozumel
3:15 $0.79
5. A World I've Known
4:33 $0.79
6. 5:58
2:34 $0.79
7. Just a Dream
5:15 $0.79
8. So Familiar
5:38 $0.79
9. Invisible Man
4:45 $0.79
10. The Agent
4:47 $0.79
11. Pedestal
4:42 $0.79
12. Too Familiar
1:39 $0.59
13. Playing Life by Ear (Part 2)
1:33 $0.59
14. That Day to Come
9:42 $0.79
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Although Jim’s musical style may best fall into the “singer-songwriter” folk rock genre, there are distinct overtones of pop and progressive rock. Songs vary from catchy melodies that invite you to sing along to complex time-changing musical rhythms that show off Jim’s instrumental prowess. Everything comes together in an eclectic mix that pleases the ear as the thoughtful lyrics are sure to please the mind.

Jim has been exposed to and influenced by music throughout his life, with his parents introducing him to such artists as the Beatles, the Grateful Dead, and Eric Clapton, among others. He was taking guitar lessons by the time he was a teenager, starting with his dad’s Martin D35 and then quickly switching to electric. This led to his involvement in his school’s jazz band, where he soon found himself buried in the rhythm section. When another student left, Jim got the opportunity to switch to bass, which he taught himself how to play. Soon after, he started singing and playing guitar in bands formed with his classmates. Around this time he started writing original material, sometimes with friend Keith Stetson. The duo recorded their original songs, which gave Jim experience in self-production.

While attending Lehigh University, Jim focused more on acoustic guitar and live performance, playing his first solo gig at an open mic night during his freshman year. Over the years, he would play on occasion with Wes Tahsir, which gave them a chance to hone their dual guitar arrangements and vocal harmonies, particularly in their covers of Beatles songs.

In 1999-2000 Jim recorded his first album, Afterimages. The album includes some of his best songs from his early songwriting days with Keith, along with a handful of newer compositions that were not previously recorded. For this very low budget production, Jim arranged MIDI backing tracks and recorded them onto a four-track, to which he added guitar and vocal overdubs. While never commercially released, it was distributed to family, friends, and whoever else was interested. Several of the tracks, including “World Around,” “Wishing Well,” and “Falling,” have become mainstays of Jim’s live performances.

Over the next six years, Jim continued to write new songs, expanding his lyrical sensibilities by drawing more on personal experiences. Musically, his influences broadened to such groups as Squeeze; Steely Dan; Pink Floyd; and Crosby, Stills, and Nash. He also began dabbling in playing piano and fretless bass. Jim continued to record, now armed with his own digital multitrack recording studio, but he opted to play almost every instrument himself. While the songs were still guitar-oriented, he experimented with the inclusion of plenty of vocal harmonies and keyboard textures to flesh out the arrangements.

After several attempts, Jim finally got close to the sound and feel he was after, which led to the completion of a new album, Playing Life by Ear, in 2007. Aside from the improved production, the songs on the album take on a much more introspective and personal tone compared to his previous work. This can be heard in such tracks as “And Life Goes On,” “Distant Echo,” and “Just a Dream.” The second half of the album follows a loose narrative progression, focusing on a main character trying to break away from a life of isolation and find someone with whom to connect, and features the tracks “Invisible Man” and “Pedestal” along the way.

In the months leading up to the release of the new album, Jim began to play solo acoustic gigs more frequently, and the new songs were featured in a stripped down, “unplugged” format. He played his first paying gigs at Grape Street Philadelphia in Manayunk. In August, Jim opened for the folk/bluegrass trio DRBE, and he enlisted their help as his backup group for truly unique renditions of his songs “Invisible Man” and “Wishing Well.” He continues to make appearances at open mic nights and other venues in the Philadelphia area.

Another musical opportunity came when Jim was asked by friend Glen Eric Reed to compose an original soundtrack for a community theatre production of Sam Shepard’s True West. In keeping with the themes and locations of the play, Jim opted for a sound and style that could perhaps be described as “the Beach Boys meets early Eagles.” True West ran in April-May 2007 at Barley Sheaf Playhouse in Lionville, PA, and the mostly instrumental soundtrack was used before the show and during scene changes. The curtain call featured the song “True to Me,” co-written with Glen. Months later, Jim collectively released the soundtrack as True to Me.

Afterimages (2000) – available for free download at jimbalcerek.com.
Playing Life by Ear (2007) – CDs available through CD Baby and at shows; album available for download at jimbalcerek.com, myspace.com/jimbalcerek, and iTunes, among others. Details at jimbalcerek.com.
True to Me (2007) – CDs available at shows; select tracks available for download at jimbalcerek.com and myspace.com/jimbalcerek.



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Don Harding

Playing Life by Ear Review
I've been listening to the CD for a little while now and really enjoy it. The music and guitar work stand out.