My old friend Ian Parks moved to LA a few years back and set himself in a sweet little place with a cool courtyard. He puts on music shows there calling it Frog Town.
Living in Seattle I’ve only been able to catch the bits that get posted to YouTube. Regardless, after I listened to a performance by John Elliott I was impressed. When I found out he was putting together an album I got in touch with him so I could check it out and maybe write a review for both of my dedicated if mildly retarded readers.
You like watching videos of live performances? Ok.
So his new album is called Backyards and is published under John Elliott & the Hereafter.
If you are reading this early enough (and you are in the LA area), you can still catch the album release party (13 August 2011). If you want to get tickets for the release party you can do so here. It’s a show for adults so become an adult before you go, eh?
Long story short, this is that review. Let me just cut to the important part: this is good music and should be bought, posthaste. Zoomzoom, amigos! Buy it here.
The audio and recording quality throughout is excellent. The same holds for the musicianship and the mixing. Coincidentally, John shares my distaste for the ubiquitous mp3 and what it has done for the expectations of quality in musical recordings. That’s a good thing.
I’ll just talk about a few tracks that stood out for me. You might end up getting more deeply into different tracks. I might change my affiliations over time. Music is like that.
The first track, called The American West, reminds me of one of my favorite albums of recent years. If One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur isn’t already in your collection you are missing out, but American West both in musical feel and thematic scope would fit right into that set. Good company, that. (This is the same song as in the video above, but this version is with The Hereafter while the video is a solo performance with just John Elliott.)
The third track is a sweet up-tempo romp about winning and losing and the shape of life in sketches seen through timid fearless eyes. It’s called “Daylight Saving”. I like this song a lot and wonder if it’s going to be a hit one day.
“Losing Streak” is in the fourth slot and I don’t know what to say about it. Is it a lamentation? Could be. Mellow for some I suppose but musically rich and in a way exciting. Having listened to them several times now I have come to view these first three songs as a kind of trilogy: they each tell a different story but they have a commonality between and through them.
“I Think I Found a New Friend” (track five) has some nice backing vocals. When I find out by whom I’ll update it here.
I thought “Over a Year” might have been influenced by The Edge (guitarist for U2), but even if it’s not it has some great guitar work and some punk influence, making it a nice lead into the next song. As a side note, this seems to be the song from which the album title comes.
Track seven is a change of gears. I’d maybe call it a punk jam calling upon the ghosts of The Clash and Joan Jett. They called it “Cassius Clay”.
Now we come to quite a contrast to Cassius. Track nine, called “So This Is When It Comes”, is what we might call a spacey ambient tribute to ambient space people everywhere. Really shows the broad musical range of this album.
Eleven tracks in all. A clandestine reference to Spinal Tap? Who can say?
The final track, “Empty in the Heartland”, musically strikes me as a sort of reprise to the first track and thus makes for an excellent bookend for Backyards. It’s the sort of song you can find yourself fading off into the land of dreams. Sort of like at the end of a party. When everyone else has already passed out and you’re looking around your own backyard yawning and thinking “look at all those fucking beer cans where’s my lawn chair?”.
Happy the end.