Beast To Bone
a surprise!, an album of songs sounding highly inventive and bursting with
colours, embodying a studied accessibility that once upon a time I would have
called "commercial". Songs which are greatly enhanced by a very
musical recorded sound, something that - while always highly laudable - is
especially noteworthy when it comes to an album that's self-released. And it's
the sound of this album that's my starting point.
being the time of "portable music" and "personal stereos",
talking about the sound of an album could appear as the idle occupation of
somebody in love with terribly expensive hi-fi equipment. But I have to confess
that in the last few years there have been quite a few albums that in the end I
managed to like in spite of their recorded sound, a sound that appeared to work
against the music, obliterating what the music wanted to say, forcing the
listener to ignore its excessive compression and squashed dynamics.
happy I can say that Beast To Bone is the kind of album where music is free to
"breath", where a rich, varied instrumentation which always sounds
"natural" and dynamic - acoustic and electric guitars, strings,
vocals, piano, effects, drums - invites listeners to turn the volume knob to
#2, the music to this album of songs was composed by one of my favourite
musicians in today's panorama: Peggy Lee, who's also featured on cello and
piano. I'm sure readers remember her work as the leader of the
"chamber-jazz" (best I can do) ensemble bearing her name, also her
work as a featured player in many fine line-ups - here I'll just mention Wayne
Horvitz's Gravitas Quartet.
goal being to make the best album she could - this being an album that's
timbrally quite complex - Peggy Lee invited some very fine musicians active in
the Vancouver area, and since it's songs I'm talking about I'll have to
immediately mention Julie McGeer, who sang the songs and wrote the lyrics.
have to admit that listening to this album brought a smile to my face. Why?
Well, when I first listened to the fine album of songs by Alicia Hansen titled
Fractography (2011) I noticed that Peggy Lee was a featured player and so I
wondered whether an album of songs could be in her future. But after the
release of Invitation (2012), the album that I consider to be the best one
released by The Peggy Lee Band, I completely forgot about the whole matter.
was recorded by Eric Mosher at Warehouse Studios, Vancouver, this choice being
wisely confirmed on Beast To Bone. Additional recording and editing at
Afterlife Studios by Erik Nielsen. The album was mixed and mastered by Jesse
Zubot at the Britannia Beach Bunker. And it's Zubot - who produced the album,
besides playing the violin here and there - who in a way appears to me as the
real co-author of the music that's featured on Beast To Bone: immersed in quite
convincing scenarios, enhanced by ingenious spatial placements, rich when it
comes to its instrumental timbres.
easy to enjoy, this music is not just as easy to categorize. I could say that
this album could be appreciated by those who regard the music of Joni Mitchell
and Neil Young as an apex of modern music, but also by those who prefer to
listen to "modern, melodic indie rock" with strings. Anyway, this is
not "abrasive" music, even though the timbral pairings and the songs'
structures - which are not as linear as McGeer's quite natural-sounding vocal
delivery could lead one to believe - incorporate a peculiar kind of asperity.
Those familiar with those albums released by The Peggy Lee Band will have no
trouble finding here those instrumental touches - the guitar pairings, the
lyrical-sounding trumpet, a predilection for certain tone colours, the
"hidden complexity" - which are part of the leader's palette.
full line-up: besides Peggy Lee and Julie McGeer, the album also features Paul
Rigby on electric and acoustic guitars, Cole Schmidt on electric guitar, Darren
Parris on electric bass, Barry Mirochnik on drums and background vocals, J.P.
Carter on trumpet (often played through effects), Jeremy Berkman on trombone,
Jesse Zubot on violin, Debra-Jean Creelman on background vocals.
songs, the total running at 39' - the perfect LP length.
have a closer look at the songs.
More is the album opener: guitars playing chords, vocals, trumpet with mute.
Rhythm section, mid-range vocals, piano in the background, in a way this is a
"jazz ballad" working as the album's intro-invitation. Fine female
background vocals. The song ends with the chorus, and a fine trumpet
performance. I have to say that to me this is the least interesting song of the
album, its opening position maybe being justified by its
"accessibility". But, as they say, beauty is in the eye of the
starts with violin "squeaks", cello, acoustic guitar, vocals on a
carpet of strings, a fractured melody; second time, the piano, great cymbals,
male background vocals. Then it's time for a quite beautiful "B"
section, which at first sounds like a chorus or a bridge, with fine vocal
counterpoint, great piano backing, the whole in a way quite cyclical. Cut, and
we're back to the first melody, this time with strings, piano, and drums.
sounds like a kind of jig, a kind of "folk dance". Drums, electric
and acoustic guitars. Then piano, fine vocal counterpoint, then it's time for
an electric guitar solo, another electric guitar in the background - a typical
move for Peggy Lee, arranger, on her albums.
Is Gone has a fine vocal opening. It sounds like a melodic ballad, with piano,
rhythm section, snare drum, the delivery getting progressively more tense.
Different tempo, piano, acoustic guitar playing arpeggio, electric guitar.
There's a long, fine instrumental coda, with guitar, strings, and cymbals.
The Drift is an "emphatic" ballad: piano, rhythm section, trumpet
with mute. There's a very fine piano part played high on the keyboard under the
trumpet solo. Fine electric background. In closing, a fine trumpet solo.
has a "jerky" tempo, trumpet with effects, piano, and a great
sounding bass drum-snare combination. There's a kind of chorus performed by
three vocals, very good, and a fine trumpet solo.
Guy is the John Lennon song. Here it starts with a beautiful, slow melodic
motif, a trumpet-piano unison à la Bacharach, cymbals in the background. Piano,
vocals, the song sounding like a kind of "jazz ballad". Drums with
snare played brushes, fine cymbals, fine trumpet solo with mute. At first I was
a bit puzzled by the inclusion of this song, then I came to appreciate its
function as "a change of pace".
On starts with trumpet and trombone, tutti, drums, piano. There's a fine
melodic turn in the chorus. Fine wind performance. Only thing I didn't like on
the album, to me the snare drum sounds a bit too "fat" to properly
sit with the track.
has a great start, with a fine rhythmic figure from the drums, with a very
beautiful wood sound. Fine melodic vocals, almost sounding like a slow bossa.
Piano, acoustic guitar, vocals, a fine melodic air in the chorus. Fine winds,
and - like elsewhere on the album - a "subterranean" cello.
Of Tangles starts with spoken vocals, with strings and winds in the background.
Cut, and a very beautiful melody played on the piano, and vocals with a quite
"abstract"-sounding background. Here the whole reminded me of Peggy
Lee's instrumental pieces, with a fine cello.
© Beppe Colli 2014
| Nov. 1, 2014