Brian Woodbury And His Popular Music Group
funny to notice - after finding a copy of this CD in my mailbox - that the last
time I wrote about Brian Woodbury and his music was in 2004, at the time of the
release of his excellent album under the moniker Variety Orchestra. An
interview I conducted after my review appeared gave me the chance to discover
the enormous - also enormously varied - body of work composed and arranged -
and let's not forget his song lyrics - by Woodbury, a man for whom I'm sure the
word "versatile" was invented.
immediately clarify that - though I suspect I missed a few chapters of his most
recent history - when it comes to Woodbury the fact of having no new releases
doesn't mean there's no activity going on, as easily proved by his work in the
field of musical theater and his collaboration with many TV programs, both as a
composer and an arranger. An occupation that's also a source for the great
variety of music featured on this album, something that's definitely not common
not mistaken, Pay Attention is the second album released with the line-up - but
it's better to think about an "attitude" when it comes to
"genres", than an actual group - called "His Popular Music
Group", their first album being the only work I'd listened to, and greatly
appreciated, at the time the Variety Orchestra album was released.
on their first album, the music featured on Pay Attention plays with various
genres, marrying them to lyrics that can be funny or serious - also, seriously
funny. A very fine singer - it's only his being a "natural" when it
comes to dealing with many diverse styles that could make listeners
underestimate his bravura - Woodbury is also a gifted arranger, ably assisted
by a score of musicians who can navigate the perilous waters of any
singing, here Woodbury plays guitars, bass, and keyboards; he also deals with
programming and mixing. The nucleus of the line-up features Andy Sanesi, on
drums and percussion; Dan Lutz, on double bass and electric bass; David Witham,
on piano. I'll also mention some musicians that, though they appear on just a
few tracks, are an integral part of the charm of this album (this list is not
exhaustive): Marc Muller, on guitars, pedal steel, and various stringed
instruments; Nick Ariondo, on accordion; Ben Powell, on violin; Glen Berger, on
woodwinds, including the flute; Chris Tedesco, on multiple trumpets; Dan
Levine, on trombone, tuba, and euphonium.
criticism I have when it comes to Pay Attention - besides a kind of
"philosophical" point I'll talk about at length at the end of this
review - it that it's a bit too long, something that in my opinion in the end
dilutes its impact. While a few tracks appear to outstay their welcome - with
the exception of The Only Song, one of the high points on this album, all
tracks whose duration starts with the number "4" would definitely
benefit from some trimming - I would have removed the three tracks that close
the album, which in my opinion has a more "natural" ending in
those singles released in the 60s, all tracks on the album sound
"complete" when listened to on their own, something that readers are
invited to do.
have a look at those tracks.
Attention is a fine album opener, funny, sporting acoustic guitar, agile winds,
and a fine bridge (there are quite a few good ones on this album, the bridge
sadly being something like an endangered species nowadays).
World has acoustic and electric guitars, it reminded me of...? The lyrics talk
about " false beliefs widely believed to be true". Here the
instrumentation highlights violin, piano, and vocals.
Me is a funny country track, a bit too long.
Ring is a joyous ballad, with acoustic guitars, drums, piano, and a winning
Wind has a very fine melody - it reminded me of Van Dyke Parks - with acoustic
guitar, mandolin, and a great accordion.
Lousy Band has a fine "funky" groove starring bass and drums, not
sure the target is worth of so much attention, though.
Bed is a melodic ballad starring acoustic guitar and piano.
an elegant, ever-changing, melodic development, and trumpets galore.
York's Gone is a jazzy track - it reminded me of The Microscopic Septet -
starring piano, double bass, and muted trumpets, it sounds like a theme song
from a musical.
The Man's Turn is funny, country, with violin and dobro to the fore. Fine
vocals, and acoustic guitar.
Himself Off sounded quite ordinary to me.
Song is one of the high points of the album: complex, harmonically varied, very
fine vocals (Tulasi Rain on second vocals), and orchestration starring flutes,
trombone, and euphonium. I don't know whether Woodbury will agree, but at times
it reminded me of James Taylor.
If I Had
A Nickel - about musicians' remuneration when it comes to the Web - has a fine
groove, a great piano, bass and drums, "fake" winds, and a real
talks about Courtney & Kurt. Funny but serious. Great bridge.
Plates is fast!, it reminded me a bit of Ben Folds. Great trumpets.
God? sounded dull to me.
the "strange" track here: electronics, vocoder, rap.
sounded a bit meh.
Talking about my "philosophical" criticism now.
Listening to Pay Attention immediately reveals that the "popular
music" played by the "Popular Music Group" is music that
was "popular" once upon a time (it has to be noticed that the
only song that wears more contemporary clothes is also the one that here sounds
"out of place", besides being totally unremarkable).
I would not define the approach taken on this album as
"dated", but many times in the course of my listening sessions I
found myself listening to the music "in quotes", like I would when
watching a musical in a theater. Something which - by constantly reminding me
that it's all a "mise en scène" - greatly diminishes its impact.
© Beppe Colli 2015
| Nov. 7, 2015