boxer at rest
ALBUM: boxer at rest
BAND: the bye bye blackbirds
reviewed by NADJA DEE
Artwork by John Conley/blkbrix
KEY to this album
(Hint: The closer to center white, the more Power Pop)
Mix of Power Pop, hard hitting rock, acoustic guitar, jangly guitars that evoke The Byrds, Tom Petty, John Lennon and Beach Boys rock songs.
[Tip: This review looks best on a desktop computer]
THE BYE BYE BLACKBIRDS
BOXER AT REST
Double Potion Records
Musicians: THE BYE BYE BLACKBIRDS
Doug Gillard (Acoustic & Electric Guitars, Keys, Harmony Vocals, Finger Cymbals)
Chris von Sneidern (Harmony Vocals)
Bill Swan (Trumpet)
Tom Griesser (Baritone Saxophone)
Paul Flum (Tenor Saxophone)
Produced by Doug Gillard
Recorded by Chris von Sneidern at Hyde Street and Tape Vault Studios, San Francisco
Mixed by Doug Gillard and Chris von Sneidern at Tape Vault Studio
Mastered by Dave Schultz at D2 Mastering
All songs by Bradley Skaught
Sure, this album was released in April but it's finally time to review this great album by an established band.
Their name, Bye Bye Blackbirds invokes a lot of imagery, from the 1926 song Bye Bye Blackbird (Ray Henderson, Mort Dixon), the John Coltrane album, to the 2005 film by the same name.
The song is so famous that many folks have covered it, including Paul McCartney on his 2012 album Kisses On The Bottom.
Bye Bye Blackbird cover by Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney Bye Bye Blackbird cover
Maybe I'm just like the Blackbird in the song:
Make my bed and light the light,
I'll arrive late tonight,
I said blackbird,
Oh, blackbird, bye, bye
Like the saying goes, "Better late than never."
The album was slated for a 2019 release but didn't come out to April 24, 2020 so I suppose I'm in good company.
This isn't The Bye Bye Blackbirds, Oakland Calfornia, first release. In fact, Boxer At Rest marks their 7th release and 5th album (The first two being EP's). They've been doing this since 2005 and this time have pulled in a ringer, Power Pop alumni, Chris von Sneidern, performing duties as recorder, mixer and harmony vocalist. The Boxer may be at rest, but how can you fail with Chris von Sneidern in your corner?
Chris von Sneidern at the board
Boxer At Rest starts off with an infectious riff, a riff that instantly took my brain to figure out where I heard those chords before? Then I figured it out:
Take the wine, take that pearl
Spill the wine, take that pearl
Spill the wine, take that pearl, uh-huh
It's the same melody as Eric Burdon (Animals) collaboration with War, in the song Spill The Wine.
Eric Burdon & War (1970)
But the similarities end there, as You Were All Light takes on it's own melody after the initial guitar riff.
Track #1 You Were All Right
It's interesting because with lyrics like:
Sometimes our plans all fall through
Sometimes we play out of tune
Nursing our drinks and our wounds
It would be easy to assume that this is another song written during and about the Pandemic. But it was released when the virus and the global shutdown was just starting. Maybe, The Bye Bye Blackbirds were channeling what was coming our way?
I love the lyrical nod to The Beatles, intentional or not, as it's like sending an offering to the Power Pop Creator in the first song, like shining a beacon to the listener of what's to come.
THE BYE BYE BLACKBIRDS
Sometimes we play out of tune (You Were All Light)
What would you think if I sang out of tune? (With A Little Help From My Friends)
You may think the chords are going wrong, but they're not (Only A Northern Song)
There's a definite John Lennon quality to Bradley Skaught's voice, almost as if he's doing a Lennon impression. In Hop On Power Pop's Podcast, Episode #1: What Is Power Pop?, I talk about the Power Pop voice. It seems like the typical voice for a Power Pop song falls into either the Lennon/Harrison/Tom Petty nasally vocal range, or in the McCartney/Mike Viola/Pete Ham (Sounding trained) tenor singing style. Of course, there's bound to be exceptions to every rule, but you wouldn't expect a Power Pop singer to sound like James Hetfield. Bradley Skaught definitely fits into the first category, which I love and would most likely sing in this style if I led a band. (I don't).
Offical YouTube Video: You Were Right
Bradley Skaught (L), John Lennon (R)
Track #2 How Do We Stay? makes you think we're all going surfing! The song talks about the ocean, the sea, waves and an anchor but don't grab your swimsuit and board just yet, as the song doesn't go full on Beach Boys.
Track #2 How Do We Stay?
Official YouTube Video: How Do We Stay?
Track #3 So True, may not be talking about the Pandemic either but it's certainly referring to the state of America, the fires and everything that came before 2020 took off it's gloves.
Track #3 So True
Official YouTube Video: So True
Track #4 Baby It's Still You is not a continuation to the Baby It's You story started by Burt Bacharach and made famous by The Shirelles in 1961. Nope. That song was about a no good cheater, and this one's about a girl who's alone and lost somewhere.
Track #4 Baby It's Still You
Official YouTube Video: Baby It's Still You
The music video, one of the better videos from this album, is a nod to the art pop movement made famous by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein but at an art school level. The song is fun, poppy, and thankfully, a lot more optimistic than the relationship Burt Bacharach wrote about so many years ago.
At times, there's moments that remind me of Game Theory or The Loud Family, and I know that the passing of Scott Miller had a huge impact on Bradley Skaught, as he dedicated 2013's We Need The Rain album Scott.
Words & Signs slows the album down a little bit with it's beautiful acoustic guitar and I felt the same spirit in it as I heard in Aerodeliria.
Track #5 Words & Signs
Track: Aerodeliria (By The Loud Family)
Anytime a band writes a song about sunshine, and feeling sunshine it makes me happy. There's a Caldecott Honor Winning children's book called “Frederick” by Leo Lionni, about a laid back mouse who doesn't seem to work while all the other mice are gathering and farming for the upcoming Winter. But when Winter comes, and the food supply runs out, all the mice are hungry, depressed and freezing.
That's when Frederick steps up and shares his gifts, the gift of storytelling, of remembrance, of imagination and the power of the mind. You see, while the others were busy gathering physical food, Frederick was collecting stories and images, storing them away in his mental reserves to break them out when the time came. Frederick goes on to tell the memory of Summer, the warmth of the sun, the feeling of sunshine and feeds these strong images into the minds of this mice family.
That's kind of what songs about sunshine accomplishes, especially when you listen to them on a cold evening like I did.
Feel the Sunshine on our heads
I know we’ll wind the clocks together
We’ll pull the hours apart at the seams
And watch them chime
We will, I know we will
Track #6 Watch Them Chime
Frederick by Leo Lionni
Track #7 War Is Still Hell is a danceable song that I wish wasn't necessary in 2020. I hoped that war would be a thing of our past by now, but sadly it's not. Not only in reference to the world at large, but right here in our own hometown. 2020's race riots and BLM have proven that we haven't matured very much as a society, and we still are hurting, burning and killing our own.
War Is Still Hell is another one of those songs where the happy music belies the heavy lyrics.
Track #7 War Is Still Hell
The video for War Is Still Hell is one of the best edited videos on The Bye Bye Blackbirds YouTube page, however, it doesn't look like any of the footage was actually shot for the actual song. Clever shot selection and editing make it match the song as best as possible and it's helped along by stouthearted color choices but none of it is from a performance of the song itself. The same could be said about the next track. Decent video but it's not from a performance of the song from which it's namesake takes.
The locomotion of War Is Still Hell continues into Track #8 If It Gets Light which seems like a mix between a George Harrison song with a Tom Petty song if sung by Roger McGuinn. (Would that make it a Bye Bye Black Byrds song?)
Track #8 If It Gets Light
The 9 track album ends on a strong song, All Our Friends, a great outgoing message for their fans.
Track #9 All Our Friends
It's easy to see why this band has put out so many albums, they write great music, the jangle of their guitars chime with the best what the Byrds had to offer back in the day, and they care about their friends and fans. It shows in the music, however there's one aspect that I think needs some improvement.
Let me explain.
Recently, I was interacting with musician Marshall Holland, and we were talking about album reviewers and promoters. Marshall was talking about a songwriting contest that charges money to enter. This, of course, brought into question the transparency of the contest, or of anyone who charges money to review or award music.
I hopped on my high horse and said that I will always review an album honestly, warts and all, the good and the bad. Plus I will never charge money to review an album, but it also means that while Hop On Power Pop will never tear down an album, but we'll always be 100% honest. Meaning you'll get a review, WARTS AND ALL!
So in the sake of honesty, here's one thing I don't love: I wish a few of the accompanying music videos were better.
Warts & All
The videos for "So True" and "If It Gets Light," look like videos created by an A.I. and who acted on their own to make the video. It's the kind of video that might happen if homosapiens were to vanish off the face of this big blue marble. Computer intelligence, artificial life might take hold of what we humans have left behind and decide through some previous programming glitch to create art, maybe make a music video to a piece of music that's out there in the Ethersphere. Most of the music videos on this band's channel, BlackbirdsVids look like an A.I.'s of spontaneous creation. A computer brain that absolutely loves Minecraft 8-Bit (See the music video to "So True").
But, the music rocks! Maybe next time, hire someone on Fivver, even one of those $10 Fivver creators. The music deserves better accompanying music videos.
The liner notes also instruct that the album is to be:
TO BE PLAYED AT MAXIMUM VOLUME
Some other music that instructs to be "Played at maximum volume" include:
The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie)
Let It Bleed (Rolling Stones)
Instant Karma (John Lennon)
The Pretenders (The Pretenders)
The Dreaming (Kate Bush)
Disintegration (The Cure)
Human Soul (Graham Parker)
Wasting Light (Foo Fighters)
Nigel Tufnel talking to Marty DiBergi from Spinal Tap
Although this album came out early in the year, before the global Pandemic took over the world, I hope people remember it when this Machiavellian level year finally comes to an end. If people do remember it, then I'm certain it will make many of the Top Ten lists for 2020, although as more albums get released, the competition is getting tough. Thankfully, the Boxer Is At Rest and ready for your next round.
Band photo by Scott Evans
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