Sunday, September 27, 2009

Brendan Benson My Old Familiar Friend 2009

Brendan Benson is a popmeister from Detroit that mixes power-pop styles with singer-songwriter fare as he navigates the pains of relationships. He has an unusually direct way with a lyric and easily blends pop and occasionally folk styles into a nice contemporary pop-rock. His latest record, My Old Familiar Friend is produced by Gil Norton (Pixies, Belly, Del Amitri), and the production work has added new sounds and flavors to Benson's work.

Benson can write nice twists into his lyrics that add some irony such as on this record's opener "I feel a whole lot better when you're not around, I feel a whole lot better when you come around" and similarly contradictory lines in I Feel Like Taking You Home ("I feel like being alone"). Several of the slower tracks have added strings, and the arrangements add a nice dimension to some of Benson's songs that need some flavor to set them apart. There are big power-pop rockers (A Whole Lot Better, Poised And Ready, Don't Wanna Talk, Borrow), nice mid-tempo pop in an upbeat, Aimee Mann mode (Eyes On The Horizon, You Make A Fool Out Of Me, Lessons Learned), and a few surprises. Garbage Day starts like a 70s soul classic by the Spinners with strings layered over a pop gem, and Gonowhere has a synth intro that sounds a bit like ELP's Lucky Man. But Benson's musical references are less obvious on this record than on some of his past work, and Norton's production work helps to keep the record varied in sound if not song structure.

There are a few weaker moments (Feel Like Taking You Home, Lessons Learned) that are kept from being too boring with nice production flourishes. Overall, an excellent record from a skilled songwriter who can assemble a pop song with the best of them. Lovers of the folkier first two records (One Mississippi, 1996, Laplaco, 2002) may miss the lower-fi attitude of those records. This new one builds on the very good work on Alternative To Love, 2006, and having Gil Norton produce seems to have helped keep the songs interesting even during the energy lulls of the more singer-songwriter tunes. Recommended.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Intro

So here I begin blogging about music old and new, and occasionally about electronic music reproduction equipment. My only qualifications are a large music collection, a good stereo, ears and enthusiasm.

My musical interests were formed in my teen years, which puts sixties rock, pop and soul, early seventies rock, late seventies new wave, punk and power-pop at the top of my list. But I listen to plenty of melodic jazz and current jazz-pop, and I like classical music, attending several Cleveland Orchestra concerts at Severence Hall each season. And I enjoy lots of newer music, but I haven't got any Britney albums or death metal or gangsta rap. I guess you'll learn more about me and my musical tastes if you end up stopping by and reading the blog once in a while. My plan is to review music that is both old and new, and add any other musical blather I come up with to the web-o-sphere.

The title of the blog comes from an interview with Frank Zappa in which he commented on music journalism, saying that "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." I know that this quote has been attributed to many people, but I like thinking Frank said it first.