Monday, July 5, 2010

You Don’t Know Jack ... But You Will

A couple of months ago a friend gave me a CD that he’d been involved in. He asked for my feedback, with the unspoken hope that I would write something good about it on this blog. Because I respect his musical skill and sensibilities, I agreed to listen to it and give him my opinion, though I doubted I’d publish anything about it since his description as he handed me the CD (“kind of in the vein of Dave Matthews or Jack Johnson”) suggested that it wasn’t particularly my cup of tea music wise. Nevertheless, he assured me that it was quite good, especially given the tender age of the players, some of whom have a ways to go before they’re out of their teens.

The CD in question was Generation of Need, by Jack Babineau, a young Rhode Island singer/songwriter. When I got down to listening to it, the Dave Matthews influence was evident right away, less so with the Jack Johnson sound. I did also hear some shades of Ben Harper (sans the gritty pedal steel) and John Mayer in the tracks. However, I was most struck by the maturity of the songwriting and the well-defined, sophisticated sound of the recording.

Instruments are subtly interwoven, yet crisp and well-defined. Most songs are built around a foundation of layered guitars, starting with Babineau’s driving acoustic and the frequent interjection of electric guitars of various hues. Solid bass and surprisingly adept drumming (compelling, but not over-busy) flesh out the sound. Understated, but essential, keyboards add nuance and distinction to most of the tracks.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that the young star and his band mates’ raw talent is featured in the refined setting of Emerson Torrey’s accomplished production and juiced by the guest appearances of other renowned local music industry vets such as James Montgomery (adding resonant blues harp), Mark Cutler (on country-blues style slide guitar) and Richard Reed (whose keyboard skills seem to grace all of the album’s best tracks), as well as Torrey’s guitar and piano contributions. (Torrey’s teenage son, Jake, is one of the three guitarists in the band.)

Babineau’s lead vocals are band-leader worthy and effective in delivering his catchy and thoughtful lyrics. The song arrangements are tight and the playing is sharp throughout. But the secret weapons that really give this release a major label sound are the well-executed harmony vocals and the production – studio effects are adroitly employed, never over done.

While the whole 30-minute CD is easy to enjoy, the standout tracks are the title track, a muscular song in which potent electric guitars are juxtaposed against an acoustic foundation; the funky “Love Now,” in which the soulful backing vocals and driving beat recall The Rolling Stones in their glory years; and “Keep It On,” which elicited some nostalgia for me, harkening back to the short-lived early 1990’s collection of local studio pros and an acoustic duo from Maine known as The Walkers (beneficiaries of Atlantic Records’ brief infatuation with New England bands at the time, which saw The Raindogs, Young Neal and The Vipers and The Walkers all signed to the label).

So what I originally considered kind of an obligatory favor to a friend turned out to be an unexpected gift. I will continue to give Generation of Need the occasional spin in the CD player and keep an eye on what these young fellows do in the future with their budding talent and benevolent mentorship.

Jack Track-by-Track

No Excuses – The most Jack Johnson-esque song on the CD; not one of my favorites, but it has grown on me with repeated listens. With a decent chorus, a mildly shuffling beat and bouncy acoustic guitar, it provides a fitting lead in to the rest of the affair.

From the Outside – One of the more Dave Matthews-esque songs on the CD, and a good one at that. A funky, buoyant beat is fleshed out with meaty organ fills and soaring lead guitar lines – all complementing the assured verse vocals, a strong chorus and outstanding harmony. This was one of my 15-year-old daughter’s favorites – she, like her dad, being of impeccable musical taste. :-)

Blossom Street – The tempo slows a bit for this more predominantly acoustic tune. Tasteful acoustic guitar glides over subtle electric guitar and piano. The sound builds in instrumentation as it progresses, but it maintains its simple clarity. A heartfelt love song and another superb production.

Generation of Need – Undoubtedly the best song on the CD, the title track is still acoustic driven, but things get considerably more funky and heavy. The electric guitars rock up the chorus, while the Dave Matthewsy vocal phrasing works particularly well on this ode to the age of anxiety, miscues and greed. Multi-layered electric guitars cut loose amid a swirling frenzy of effects to create a satisfying climax. Fun time for all, no doubt!

For Today – This piano-driven ballad is the other Jack Johnson moment on the CD. Nicely restrained vocals are well-suited for the romantic lyrics. Eventually, it evolves into Power Ballad Land, with a big chorus and arena rock guitar. Overall, my least favorite song on the CD, but one that shows the musicians’ ability to tackle different styles.

Keep It On – This bluesy, Walkers-esque, acoustic tune, sparked by James Montgomery’s harp and Babineau’s staccato R ’n’ B flavored vocals, is another stand out track. Quite good, indeed.

Love Now – The funkiest tune on the CD is my second favorite. The acoustic guitar takes a back seat to the funky bass, slick wah-wah guitar and soulful vocals, including potent female harmonies. “We need the love now,” indeed.

Conformity – The CD closes on a strong note with another upbeat acoustic guitar-driven song (with understated R ’n’ B guitar and piano). Tasteful slide guitar added by Mark Cutler, along with more soulful female vocals and a relatively unadorned blues-rock electric guitar solo near the end make this track another vivid homage to the vintage Stones sound.




No comments:

Post a Comment