Tom Carleno
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Tom Carleno


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"Perfect Imperfection by Tom Carleno"

“It is our very search for perfection outside ourselves that causes our suffering.” ~ The Buddha

These words of wisdom are part of the reason behind the title of Tom Carleno’s brand new solo album, Perfect Imperfection – but more on that later. Let me first say a few words of introduction about this talented artist. Hailing from my old stomping grounds of Denver, Colorado, Tom is an award-winning composer and musician who performs solo as well as with the acoustic jazz group Perpetual Motion, which has been performing and recording for over 20 years. Interestingly, Tom formed the group with violinist Josie Quick, who were at first band-mates and friends, and eventually husband and wife. In his quarter of a century career, Tom has played at numerous venues and festivals in the Rocky Mountain area, as well as being a session player on several projects, most notably with Danny Seraphine of the band Chicago. From 1982 to 1990, Tom studied with a stellar guitarist named Steve Mesple’ from the group Wind Machine, who broadened his horizons to include the fingerstyle guitar and alternate tunings which can be heard on Perfect Imperfection.

Although he has recorded numerous times with his group, this is Tom’s first release as a solo artist, and in the words of Crosby Stills and Nash: “It’s been a long time coming.” The process began in 2009, and took until 2013 to reach completion. With something in the works for that length of time, one could assume that it was due to the artist being a perfectionist. And that is where the title of the album comes in. According to Tom: “I used to think perfection was when you performed a task perfectly from start to finish and were left with absolutely no doubts about what you accomplished. I did not think that I was a perfectionist. But then it occurred to me that maybe a perfectionist was a person who strives so hard for perfection that they think they never quite attain it no matter how close they might come. Nature is perfect only in it’s imperfection. That’s when I came up with the perfect title for my CD: Perfect Imperfection.”

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” - Salvador Dali

From the opening notes of the first track, “In Search Of,” it is obvious that Tom is an accomplished guitar instrumentalist. His intricate fingering is precise, yet fluid as it moves from one passage to another. I couldn’t help but notice, not only in this composition, but characteristic of his playing in general, are the unusual chord changes and progressions he comes up with. I liked the occasional unpredictability of it and enjoyed not knowing where it might lead next. In fact, it sounds like Tom, himself, wasn’t sure where it was going while he was creating it. As he describes: “This song seemed to trying to find its own way as I was writing it. Many times I thought I knew where it was going only to find it had taken me somewhere else. I discovered that sometimes it’s best to just go along for the ride” – and a wonderful ride it is. While most of the 11 songs on the album are originals, Tom does offer his take on a few cover tunes. The first is an intriguing version of Al Stewart’s “On The Border.” The original arrangement is an epic composition with vocals and full orchestration, so I was interested to hear how Tom would play it on solo guitar. Actually, I think Tom wondered himself, when he said: “This song’s Spanish flavor inspired me to arrange it for guitar and it proved quite a challenge to combine all the instruments into one.“ But he did an admirable job, and I enjoyed hearing this familiar melody in a more elemental form. As I mentioned, Tom uses a lot of alternate tunings, and this is one of only two songs on the album that are in “standard” tuning.

And speaking of alternate tunings, a track called “Welcome To the Milky Way,” was actually written by Tom as an entry into a guitar magazine “alternate tunings contest” in 1998. While the acoustic guitar is somewhat of an earthy sounding instrument, Tom’s playing on this piece is out of this world. The second cover song, “Working Up An Appetite,” was originally by Tim Finn of the colorful and offbeat, 80’s new wave band from New Zealand called Split Enz. I’d heard of the band, but wasn’t familiar with this tune, like I was with “On The Border,” so I can’t compare it to the original. But I liked how it evoked a different aspect of Tom’s playing. This song features him using the body of the guitar as a percussion instrument in parts, tapping out a rhythm on its resonant hollow body. The fact that he was able to do this while simultaneously playing the guitar strings was impressive. I also liked the jazzy fretboard octaves that Tom incorporated in his arrangement.

A song called “Timberline Tree” was one Tom composed for his mother, and was inspired by her painting of a tree twisted and gnarled by the wind at timberline, which graces the back cover of the CD. Both the tune and the painting are quite lovely. A - Music and Media Focus

"Tom Carleno - Perfect Imperfection"

Tom Carleno is an award winning composer with over five albums to his credit. He has been involved in the music industry for over twenty five years. Now after working with his partner and wife, Josie Quick, Carleno has released his first solo album, Perfect Imperfection. When asked about his reasoning, he cited Josie’s philosophy that everyone is imperfect and that is the perfection of it all. I could not agree more.

This album begins with “In Search Of,” a wandering song that circles around with some intricate acoustic guitar riffs and melodies, inspiring the listener to deeper investigation of Carleno’s talent as a musician.

“Meet Me in Maui” is a tribute to Carleno’s mother. Thirteen years after her passing, he and Josie stood on the beach and he could feel her presence. The mellow acoustic waves of sound remind me of the ocean lapping peacefully on white sandy beaches. Everything feels more a part of the larger picture of the universe when you stare out into the vast expanses of the sea and realize you are but a speck of dust in a larger plan. You can find meaning from life’s experiences whether they are painful or beautiful. Sometimes they can be both.

“Rhapsody in Blood” is Carleno’s tribute to the horror movie genre. Starting with scratchy acoustic strains that sound remarkably like a violin, howling wolves, acoustic guitar and the creaking of rusty hinges, the track evolves into an audible journey of sorts. The piece centers on the scary films of the nineteen thirties and forties. Using a mix of sound effects and musical environs, Carleno crafts a tale of terror in his own way, complete with screams that almost knocked me off my chair. Giggling, I got back up and played the song again. There is a blend of artful acoustic picking that lulls you into a tranquil setting, and then slams you into a wall with an artfully placed scream or two. Bela Lugosi would be proud indeed.

“What a Difference a Day Makes” is the last song on the album. Melodious guitar picking melts over me as this song gets started, much like the fresh feeling you get after a good night’s sleep. Fresh morning dew, crisp morning air and a deep sigh of a well-rested soul all reflect in this pleasant and highly reflective piece. I enjoyed this song the most. Sometimes you just need that soothing balm on the psyche to have a fresh perspective.

Tom Carleno’s Perfect Imperfection is an exercise in the humanity that makes us a work in progress. Perfect in our individuality, nuances and idiosyncrasies, this album was constructed a little at a time over several years. It is a testament to an artist’s growth and vision and along with his partner and wife Josie Quick (spoons on Child’s Play); Carleno takes us on a journey through grief, acceptance, horror movies, soul searches and even a cover for “Imagine.” This was a relaxing album, save for the screaming in “Rhapsody in Blood” and I enjoyed it immensely.

Key Tracks- In Search Of, Rhapsody in Blood, Meet Me in Maui, What a Difference a Day Makes


1. In Search Of
2. Meet Me In Maui
3. On the Border
4. Welcome to the Milky Way
5. Working Up An Appetite
6. Timberline Tree
7. Child's Play
8. Rhapsody In Blood
9. Imagine
10. Brief Encounter
11. What A Difference A Day Makes

"Tom Carleno - Perfect Imperfection"

Perfect Imperfection is the debut solo album by guitarist/composer Tom Carleno, but this is hardly the beginning of his music career. Carleno has been performing with his acoustic jazz ensemble, Perpetual Motion, for more than twenty-five years and has recorded five albums with them. Perfect Imperfection is a real showcase for Carleno’s varied and passionate style of acoustic guitar playing and composing. A retrospective of eleven songs composed over the past twenty-five years and recorded over a four-year period, the pieces range from the serene “Meet Me in Maui” to covers of Al Stewart’s “On the Border” and John Lennon’s “Imagine” to “Child’s Play,” a spirited duet for guitar and spoons, and “Rhapsody in Blood,” Carleno’s homage to the horror films of the 1930’s and ’40’s - complete with sound effects! A master of his instrument, Carleno tells stories without words and paints vivid pictures without a canvas, sharing experiences and having fun in the process.
The album begins with “In Search Of,” a piece that Carleno says seemed to be trying to find its own way as he was writing it, sometimes going in different directions than he expected. Easy-going and relaxed, it’s a great opening. “Meet Me in Maui” is in memory of Carleno’s mother, who also loved to vacation in Maui. Very tranquil and calming, it feels like a warm breeze blowing over a peaceful ocean. Beautiful! “On the Border” is one of Al Stewart’s classic signature pieces. Originally released in 1976, Carleno’s cover version is a great tribute to the British rocker! The graceful “Timberline Tree” was inspired by a painting by Carleno’s mother, Joan Hagen Carleno. The piece is gorgeous, and a copy of the painting graces the back of the CD cover. I love “Child’s Play,” a playful and lighthearted duet for guitar and spoons (performed by Carleno’s wife, Josie Quick). “Rhapsody in Blood” is a trip! Inspired by the “spooky soundtracks” for early horror films, this 6 1/2-minute tour de force includes some great sound effects, many (all???) of which were created on the guitar - creaking doors, howling wolves, bone-chilling screams, thunder, and other sounds of dark foreboding. From there, we go to the gentle simplicity of Lennon’s classic “Imagine” - an exceptionally nice arrangement! “Brief Encounter” was Carleno’s first finger-style composition, written in 1985, and “What a Difference a Day Makes” is a lovely new piece composed specifically for this album.
Perfect Imperfection is a wonderful album that is excellent for focused listening as well as in the background. Well, “Rhapsody in Blood” isn’t too good as background music, but the rest of the tunes are! It will be available from, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Great stuff!
Kathy Parsons
10/19/13 -


Perfect Imperfection




As the opening line from that late '50s-early '60s police TV show stated "There are eight million stories in the Naked City." The same could be said about how people uncover their dreams of becoming musicians. Sometimes it comes via a dramatic epiphany, e.g. seeing a memorable performer or hearing a monumental recording, while for others it may be due to immersion in music itself, perhaps through musician parents. Now and then, a happenstance so quirky, so out of the blue, occurs that it's as if the spheres just aligned to make it so. Such is Tom Carleno's story.

The setting: a family get-together. Young Tom is watching his cousin, Paul Musso, pulling off an impressive José Feliciano impression (sunglasses and all) and playing the guitar. That was all it took. Tom decided there and then that he wanted to become an entertainer and playing guitar would be his vehicle to reach that goal. That he didn't know how to play the instrument served as no deterrent. He persuaded his cousin to teach him to play guitar (a buck a lesson on Friday nights after school).

Tom spent his teen years learning guitar, joining bands (many of which never made it past the rehearsal stage), four of which reached semi-solid status–two rock bands and two jazz/rock ensembles. For a job, he worked alongside his father in the family's wholesale drapery fabric shop, although he couldn't get his dreams of entertaining people with music out of his head. "I could never see myself having a regular 9 to 5 type of job. There was nothing that interested me enough to want to make a living doing it as much as music did. Early on…I didn't know how to go about making a living as a musician, so I just spent time learning my instrument and hoped I would figure that part out later."

A huge turning point occurred when he began studying guitar and composition with Steve Mesplé, a core member of the ground-breaking '80s and '90s ensemble, Wind Machine. For eight years he studied with Mesplé, learning about alternate tunings and developing his own. "I had dabbled a bit with fingerstyle guitar before, but Steve really taught me the proper technique…I found I could write songs easily using different tunings. They sparked my creative side."

Toward the end of his time with Mesplé, Carleno came to the realization that rather than continuing to either find a band or start one (which had proved futile up to that point), he instead went looking for a single accompanist who fit into his vision of what he wanted to play. Around this time (the late '80s), he met violinist Josie Quick and discovered that both she and her instrument might be a great fit. "I had been playing and writing acoustic music in open tunings for a couple of years and it occurred to me that a violin would sound great with acoustic guitar." The two developed a solid chemistry together, leading to the formation of their band, Perpetual Motion, an acoustic jazz ensemble. Tom and Josie also became best friends and, in 1992, got married. The couple and the band have been making music for over 20 years.

While Carleno had wanted to record a solo guitar album for years, it wasn't until 2008 that it became something of importance. He had been writing solo music for quite a while and it was now time to record it. The resultant album is titled Perfect Imperfection, the origins of which came about partly through wife Josie's observation that "…nothing is perfect." Carleno began mulling that idea over in his head, coming to the realization "That is what makes life so perfect–that everything is imperfect…perfection to one person is not the same as to another, so nothing can be perfect if everyone is different."

With a long history of performing live throughout Colorado (25+ years) Denver residents Tom and Josie are fully occupied with their assorted musical careers. The couple keeps busy with Perpetual Motion, while Josie also plays in another group (Coyote Poets of the Universe). Tom can sometimes be found performing with another guitarist, each one doing a solo set as well as duets. In addition, both Tom and Josie add plenty of session work to their already busy schedules. Tom views all the assorted gigs the couple has as being practical (the extra money is helpful in these tough times) as well as from a musical standpoint. "…on the artistic side, I believe it helps us grow as musicians."

Has Tom finally achieved fame? Maybe he hasn't rocked out in front of sold-out stadiums, but the former one-dollar-a- lesson aspiring guitarist has had a long, successful professional music career in and has won acclaim with several songwriting awards. Tom's music can also be heard on cable TV channels Animal Planet and The Learning Channel. All in all, none too shabby for someone who might have ended up advising you on drapery fabrics instead!