31 Days of Jay Brannan – The ALBUM RELEASE
Days 13 and 14 – hey, it took me a few to put this all together…
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Today’s Playlist – ALWAYS, THEN & NOW (An Album Review)
Authors Note: There were no liner notes or booklet on offer with the iTunes version of this album. So unfortunately I can’t include credits (like the female vocalist on the final piece “Changed”) or any of the other instrumentalists on the work – as much as I’d like to. Also, I’ve pulled the various video uploads Jay has posted to his YouTube channel where possible. I will update with small snippets of the songs (much like iTunes or Amazon offer) to give you an example of those pieces where there were no videos online to include with this review. Oh yeah, this is a post after a couple of run throughs of the album. They are FIRST impressions.- S.A.
Final Analysis – This release takes a different tract from the seminal effort that was Rob Me Blind (still my personal favorite of his work). While it doesn’t quite reach the emotive impact of RMB, it is no less a worthy entry by Brannan, it is stellar in its own way. Like Brannan’s public persona, it is an amalgam of experiences that blend and turn back upon themselves, a vocal river of emotions and experiences. What this album does quite brilliantly is that it highlights the best instrument at Brannan’s disposal – his voice. That clear and sweetly lyrical quality that with age only seems to become finer and subtly textured – a mellowing warmth like a lovely cozy blanket or the hug of a dear friend that you haven’t seen in a long while. It’s like the fragrance of home – after a long trip. A vocal embrace that once it has you, you find you just don’t want to let go. A brilliant, brilliant effort and a worthy entry into his ever broadening and varied compositions. 5 Stars (though decidedly different stars than the five I had for RMB).
A full download PDF of the lyrics can be found from Jay’s site, here.
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Track 1 – Always, Then & Now
The first track give us our first glimpse on what we have in store for this album. It’s introspective (as much of Brannan’s work is) but in a way that threads a new tapestry for us to consider.
As if inspired by the recent change in popular opinion, a tidal wave that sees no signs of stopping, albeit slowing here and there – legal stall tactics that never really pan out, this song speaks to marriage equality (I refuse to term it GAY marriage – that puts it one down in my book. It already separates us from the masses). It’s a musical vow of love. It is a promise of a life together, facing whatever storms rage over the horizon. It’s defiant, like the simple statement of how I know I feel with regards to my husband. The trials, tribulations that life throws our way (complicated by the presence of children and grandchildren – not a complaint in any way) but this song says so much of how I feel about it all. A great opener to what is truly a great effort on Brannan’s part and a very welcome addition to his growing catalog.
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Track 2 – Blue-Haired Lady
I’ve expounded about this tune in another blog. This one is special for me in that I have a deep fondness for songs that relate a story – with a beginning, middle and end. Though this one works a bit in reverse in that we start at the old age and then reflects on a life that was and the irony that she never wanted to die alone but comes to the realization that dying is anything if not a lonely experience. One which we all must face at some point. It’s inevitable, as inconceivable as it must be at times for us. We try to push, we try to set it aside. Thought it never is far away. It’s ever present. It stalks us with each passing year. Each day, each moment. It’s always there, whether we want to discuss it or not. Brannan’s touch on this sentimental piece (that never crosses the line into being maudlin) is as lovely as it is thought provoking.
Track 3 – Elusive Knight
Elusive Knight is a lovely take on the shining Knight of fairy tale lore we all seem to want in our lives. The orchestration is minimal but effective. The lingering piano is dreamlike and subtle, weaving here and there and then supporting the verse with pronounced chords that never take over but give lift to the verse as it snakes its way to the chorus. The guitar work is hypnotic and supports the fairy tale-esque feel to the song. The balance between fantasy and the reality that pulls upon our heartstrings of a love that doesn’t quite measure up.
Track 4 – Take Off
This song is a folkish piece that niggles at your ear, pulling you in lyrically into the piece. The song is infectious, hummable and, as usual, evocative of that get up and go type of feeling – like you just can’t wait to get out there.
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Track 5 – Square One
This one is very infectious. The lyrics are rollicking and meander like the rush of a babbling brook. It bubbles along and the melody switches between punctuating staccato elements (highlighted by the plucking strings in the background) to lyrical lines within the verses that lead into the chorus. It’s about the resetting of one’s life after a breakup or hell, just a time out between two lovers. A cautionary tale of sorts – as if we all need reminding…but if we did, this is a helluva way to do it. Brilliant.
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Track 6 – Burn Into The Son
This piece harkens to the war protest songs of the 60’s – it is provocative in how it uses the lyrical imagery to provoke an emotive response (well, it did in me anyway). To my way of thinking, it is every bit as worthy of those war protest songs of our past. It’s brilliantly crafted and clever in how it extolls the after effects of war and bloodshed, and how as a culture we pass this onto other generations – never seeming to learn from our past mistakes. It’s an indictment of how feeble man is, giving into other things that are less than valuable when compared to compassion, and love to our fellow man. It’s a call to reevaluate what we do and how we find it easier to turn a blind eye to what we’ve done before and the legacy we leave never seems to evolve. Father to son, the aggression of man – a battle cry that by now we should’ve evolved beyond – yet, here we are, caught in the same hellish quagmire of our forefathers. The orchestration/arrangement is simply stated and carried by the pleading and emotive clear tones Brannan brings to the piece.
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Track 7 – No Ship
An a cappella piece that puts Brannan’s voice front and center to deliver the sarcastic and pointed prose. It’s a clever little ditty and a delightful respite from the rest of the work. An intermission of sorts – or an intermezzo.
Track 8 – After All This
“I know I am nothing special, I never been the best. But there are thoughts in my head, and thump in my chest.” In short, this is indicative of Brannan’s POV across many of his works. It’s something he extolls frequently. It’s self-depricating in a way that you shake your head and shrug and say, “Okay, if you think so. I happen to think you’re pretty damned cool, but okay. We’ll just see where you go with this.” This is Brannan at what he does extremely well, the end of a relationship song. The nudge to a past lover, so – after you left me, didja get what you wanted? Something we’ve all no doubt wanted to ask. Even myself. I told one of my exes, so now that it’s over, I want to make a date with you. When we’re seventy and living in a home somewhere or with our family – I want to sit on a porch somewhere and catch up and find out what happened to you. Tell me where you went after me. This song is along that same vein – with bit more bite than I intended in my own life, but I get the sentiment just the same.
Track 9 – My Last Day On Earth
Here is my favorite of the album. It’s Brannan bringing it home (well in my opinion). It has the plaintive string accompanying his soothing guitar work. It’s melodic, it’s evocative and it’s dark. It’s brooding and defiant. It’s everything that Brannan does best. It’s an anthem for life. It’s sweeps through you and shakes you up a bit before retreating and takes a different tract – rattling what you know to be true, questioning and provocative – it’s like a lashing of an iodine laced emotive whip that is immediately followed with harmonics that pecks at you like a murder of crows that is unrelenting only to slither away but never really out of reach. “If you try to sell me another day or two, I wouldn’t buy…” Yeah, it’s that kind of a song. Riveting and the best damned song on the album (to my way of thinking at any rate).
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Track 10 – My Love, My Love
This song got under my skin. It is beautifully crafted and hypnotic, both instrumentally as well as vocally. It’s introspective as it threads into your ear – wending its way into your heart. A lovely little piece.
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Track 11 – Uncle Auntie- Socialite
“…And we don’t need your sex-orcism.” Much like La, La, La of Rob Me Blind, this one is a lot like that piece. It’s all over the map thematically but it works as a patchwork, reflective of how varied our lives can be. It’s in your face in how it says plainly what it needs to. The orchestration/arrangement is solid without overbearing the message of the song. It gives it a french appeal that doesn’t give way to sentimentality (because that would work against the message of the song).
Track 12 – Changed
Melodically this song is like a lullaby for the soul. It’s haunting and lyrical (in ways that I don’t believe Brannan has explored before in his other projects). It’s a somber note to end the album on. But I found I was humming the plaintive melody of the chorus long after I’d stopped listening to it. Probably a testament to how sometimes the simplest statements can be the most lingering.
It’s decidedly a departure from Rob Me Blind. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just a different take. It’s like a dream that you can sort of recall once you wake. It’s fuzzy at the edges, some of the imagery is muted but lingers – you can’t stop thinking about it. In that way, it’s a profound work. It’s bold in its simplicity, it’s audacious in its quietude. I find with just a few listenings – it’s already growing on me – and that’s a very good thing. While I loved the broad and well produced sound of Rob Me Blind, I think that Always, Then & Now will be a perennial favorite of mine. For me, right up there with such story infused classics as Carole King’s Tapestry, though in a quieter, though no less emotive way.
A brilliant effort, Mr. Brannan. I’ll be humming these while I wait in line at Bottom of the Hill in SF. I’ve got two weeks to memorize the songs (and without liner notes, I’ve got my work cut out for me).
The Always, Then & Now Tour…
Please check out his site with links for his upcoming shows. I am definitely a late comer to the Brannan bandwagon whenever he pulls through my city. But now that I am going this year, I am making it a goal never to miss when he swings through town. I hope you take advantage of the opportunity as well. Also be sure to check out his web store at the following link.