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Always, Then & Now – A Review

31 Days of Jay Brannan – The ALBUM RELEASE

 

Days 13 and 14 – hey, it took me a few to put this all together…

 

Always Then & Now Cover Art

Always Then & Now Cover Art

 

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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.

Jay's Website - jaybrannan.com
Jay’s Website – jaybrannan.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Half-Boyfriend… we’ve all been there…

31 Days of Brannan… Day 2

 

Today’s Playlist:  Half-Boyfriend

 

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So here’s the song that crystallized it for me. It made me a bonafide Brannan-ite (?), Jay-Fan (??), I’m gonna need help with that one. There’s gotta be a marketing moniker for Jay’s fans out there – The Jay Babes? I’ll keep thinking on it.

Anywho- Half-Boyfriend.

Yeah, man or woman, we’ve all been there. The guy you can’t possibly believe you’ve hooked up with but he’s hella hot in his own bad boy way, treats you like a second class citizen at times, but damned if he isn’t either great in the sack or will bust your balls with some romantic (and completely unforeseen) gesture that just makes you have one of those ‘well fuck me running’ moments. So you give in yet again, even if your brain keeps screaming behind that thick pane of glass that separates your head from your heart telling you to give him the boot but you just can’t cause he’s one hell of a number and the other guys and gals are all thinking how you so scored with that one.

Am I right?

Now, I can’t say with any certainty that that is what Jay experienced (I mean, I don’t know the man, personally) but the song had enough common truth in it that that’s what I took away from it.

For me his name was Ron. And lord did he fuck up my life for a while. He was the son of a friend that my mom knew back when she was a kid in her old neighborhood. Small world right? I mean the guy’s family moved away when my mom was still young. But somehow fate had a hand in it and Ron turned out to be gay and so did I – what were the chances of that? Say nothing of his finding his way to me?

Stupidly, I took it as a sign. The universe was saying we should be together… (yeah, not so much).

We did a lot of shit that was technically illegal (how we got away with it I’ll never know). I was in my late teens (just outta high school) and just yearning for some man on man love. Ron was energetic, he was built, he was – okay, he was a little quirky when it came to the bedroom (at least at that stage in my life). Ron was far more sexually adventurous than I was at that stage but I went along for the ride (save the dumb-ass remarks ’cause you ain’t thinkin’ anything I haven’t thought or said to myself). So I got into shit I probably shoulda saved until I was a bit more mature. But it didn’t go that way. I wanted the bad boy adventure he promised – it was wild, it was certainly dangerous, and it was flat out stupid.

Ron and I were really rarely on the same page – probably why Jay’s lines from Half-Boyfriend hit me over the emotive head rather hard:

I could give a million reasons
Why we should not be friends
Our moods change like the seasons
My mood ends your mood begins and

You’re a tease, you’re a cockblocker
You’re a loud mouth bitch, and a big talker,
But that’s okay.
You’ll grow up someday.

They are certainly what I latched onto and took away as ‘preach it, brotha…’ because in those few lines he took me right back to those heady and wild and completely stupid days of young love.

Oh, and a sidebar here – I should come clean about my fangirl stalker write up of the day before. I tend to write with tongue firmly planted in cheek. So while I have nothing but complete admiration and am often awestruck by Brannan’s prose, I am hardly the wild and nut-ball cray-cray I prattled on about in yesterday’s post. I was just having a bit of fun. I can be off that way sometimes. Partially why I get it when Jay riffs esoterically on his YouTube channel. When I am in the doldrums and can’t figure out how to get the creative juices flowing I just listen to a few of his mental musings and it’s like splashing cool water all over my tired brain. If brains could gain any benefits from such an exercise. But, well, hopefully you get my meanin’…

So back to Ron the bad-boy Half-Boyfriend in my life:

So I finally got smart, or should I say my friends and family got smarter than me at that point and made me see the light. This after a bad drug induced moment where Ron went completely off the rails and I had to, with the assistance of his parents who were then living in Seattle (we were in San Diego) have him committed to County Mental Health so he could recuperate and get some much needed help. Turns out there were a whole lot of issues I didn’t want to even look at then that came out in the wash from that little drug induced scene.

Looking back on it now, I just shake my head and thank the universe that I smartened up. In a way, I kind of thank Ron for being the whack job that he was. I got my bad boy phase through early on in life. Which led me to the man who I would spend the next ten years of my life with (and no, that’s not the hubby of 20 years that I am married to now). But more on boyfriend number 2 when we get to the post about the song that reminds me of him. I’ll let you all know when that is.

 

Now for a completely esoteric moment from Jay – I love it when he just does something fearless… never fails to make me smile.

 

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JAY’S TOUR DATES – Please check them out and catch his show in your area…

Tour Dates

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No Apologies… [NSFW]

Author’s Note: This is a converted blog entry. It was originally published on 04.18.14 @ 10:15pm, US Pacific.

[NSFW] Not Safe For Work entry! Fair Warning…


So today I’ve been thinking. Thinking about my first novel. It’s dark, it’s messy, it’s balls to the wall, in your face covered in man-spooge aggressive. And I really can’t find it within me to make any apologies for that. It is what it is…

This is all over the map – I make no apologies for that. I’m in a mood…you’ve been warned.

So here’s the deal: Men are messy.

Even when we’re neat and tidy and orderly like a soldier straight outta the military, we’re messy. I’m talking about sex. Man sex. Men being the big boys that we are, and being thoroughly unapologetic about it. The only reason there is anything that remotely resembles going all sappily romantic and flowery (as it seems to permeate every facet of the M/M romance genre as of late) is that women are involved. Not that gay men don’t get romantic – there’s just a line in the sand where it gets too damned girly. ‘Sides, inside we still are… messy.

Boys like mess. It’s what we do best. Gay/straight – it don’t make a bit of difference. Don’t get me wrong. We can be orderly when called for. Men like rules. It’s how we like to run our lives. Responsibilities are born out of the rules that were handed to us, rules we follow or consciously choose not to follow. And somewhere along the line it gets messy.

We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Take real M/M sex.

Two_Men_Having_Sex

Honest to goodness man on man sex.

Euphoric bliss much?

From what I’ve read in the genre (which is primarily marketed towards women – as a gay man I find that really astounding) – the m/m sex in it (often written by women who, I suppose, are trying to eke out what goes on in the male psyche in their burgeoning relationships as they come together, meander apart for whatever reason, only to ensure they have a big fat HEA (Happily Ever After) in the end). And if it’s anything I rail against, it’s formulaic writing structures. It may sell books but it sure as hell ain’t literature.

And before anyone in the genre starts to cackle like a hen being chased by a hungry fox – I ain’t saying my shit is high flying literature or that we have to aspire as such. But why couldn’t we? For me there is something transcendent in how two men who come together willingly in a clash of muscle, mouths and bones, so to speak. But what it is, for me at any rate, is honest to goodness male thinking about things that erotically charge my juices (along with a few of my gay male friends about all things – well, uh, male).

Yeah, I know that sounds exclusionary. Look, as a community we’ve been hounded from all sides – ‘too much gay shit on TV, too many songs about gays, too many… whereas I am saying – why isn’t there MORE of it? That’s my reality. That’s the world I move in. You know what it is: It’s all very tiring.

My latest gripe across ALL MEDIA – print or otherwise – is how much in our faces the “success” of a man in any advertisement/movie/tv show, is measured on whether he has some chick tagging along in his wake or trailing behind him in some skimpy getup (and let’s be fair to the ladies, I also don’t like it because not only on account of the guy who seems to need her to establish his studly qualities, but I think it demeans the woman/women in the scene as well). I don’t want my granddaughter thinking this is how her success is measured – by some guy she has to catch. Nuh uh, brother. We need to shit can that crap now.

Another thing I am so tired of? Having to translate the fucking straight world to my own experiences. Substituting the girl for me when I am NOT a fucking girl! If anything I think I might just being going gay militant (at least insofar as my writings go – maybe even beyond by the timbre of my rant here) in my literary worlds.

Way I figure it, somewhere someone else may want to read it. But really I’ve decided I am gonna write my shit my own way. Just get it out there one way or another and not translate or succumb to some marketing ploy/trend in order to appease some quick selling formula that seems to be all the rage at the moment.

This fucking industry needs a shake up. I’m going all gay beat generation on this whole writing endeavor of mine.

This isn’t new for me, not really. It’s a contrarian streak I have – definitely. Which I guess being gay is akin to being a contrarian when it comes to human relationships, I suppose. Then again, I am sure that since gays starting to permeate all facets of life (finally, thank the stars above), that there’s probably now “men who love buildings” or “statues” that will have us gays beat in the off-kilter (hey, they might even steal our ‘queer’ term for their more masonry inclined relationships) relationships arena. But as I said, this way of thinking isn’t new for me.

When I was in my English classes in college having to write academic papers I can’t tell you how often I pushed back on the whole topic sentence with supporting evidence bullshit that academia thrives upon. I wasn’t some kid fresh outta high school that needed that formula to make my report case. If it’s one thing I know how to do is make a strong argument and back my shit up. I know how to write a compelling narrative so let me get down and do my bidness…dammit!

So yeah, formulas and formulaic writing drive me bat-shit cray-cray.

So back to the sex… I am an erotica writer after all.

First off I have two words that epitomizes gay sex for me (aside from the hubby): Antonio Biaggi.

Antonio Biaggi - Cock God

Cock god and uber top – Antonio Biaggi – my go to sex choreographer.

A fucking cock god if there ever was one… and not just because he’s got a rockin look and bone, either. For a guy in the porn business he’s seems to have his head screwed on straight (pardon the pun). And a very centered outlook on life (well, at least the way he expresses his views on things, at any rate.) Confident, without cockiness. Sexy as all fuck and brimming with passion (even when he might have to fake it). He’s intense. That’s what makes great sex – gay or not. Passion. Biaggi’s got it in spades. He’s my definite go to when it comes to visualizing my guys in full on rutting mode no matter the story.

Sometimes I am not even sure that the women who write in this genre are involved in gay men’s lives at all (aside from the simple mechanics involved) where they have a no holds barred open door policy on what they think and feel (provided to them by GAY men – and I don’t mean the stereotype nelly gays either) when they are intimate with another man. There is so much within the genre that I’ve run into (not all of it, mind you – I’ve found a few authors in the genre who actually have a clue – so refreshing to find them when I do) that the majority of them are really nothing more than chicks with dicks.

Cirque style fucking...

Who doesn’t like a good ol’ Cirque Du Soleil fuck?

I love a good circus style fuck, don’t you?

I realize that might not win me readers in this genre as the market stands now. But I’ve come to a realization: like a proud black woman, I am a proud gay man.

And as a gay man, I wouldn’t take it upon me to write about the black experience in this world. I’m not black. I simply have no real context (and this is coming from someone whose parents were in a (nearly) all black gospel choir (my parents being the sole exception) – so I was knee deep in the community and the church at the very least. Grew up with it all around me). Still – I am not black, so therefore I can’t speak with any authority in that genre. It just wouldn’t ring true. Not as a focal point to my stories. Write what you know – isn’t that the old saying? I’d be a big time pretender and trying to make money on it if I did. I just can’t go there. Sure I’ll have multi-cultural characters in my story – that’s a part of life. I am not being exclusionary or ‘gated’ in who I will write about, but what I won’t do is center my story around a culture or a people that I don’t have any real context for. No life experience.

Now the kicker? I am a trained classical singer – been not the stage since I was a kid. So I get the whole – let’s pretend and role play thing. I get it, I do. But even when I read some books written by men where women were the central character I never really quite go all the way with the – yeah, that was truthful emotive core. And I am a big Joss Whedon fan, so yeah, I can give props that he gets awfully close. But even so, it still has that maleness about the strong women characters within his stories that I sorta go – meh inside just a lil’ bit. I can’t help it. He’s a dude trying to write a strong female character that comes off a bit too – male.

I guess I should be happy that there’s a market at all for things that are even remotely speaking to my life experiences. I get that. I do, I swear. Yeah, I know it’s a mass of contradictions. It’s a straight up mess.

…and like my man on man sex, I like it just like that.

Smith-KentBareback

I am soooo going to use this position in one of my books at some point…

So in my stories, my boys/men will be messy. Covered in man-milk both in and out. Gay guys are all about that (yeah, ladies, I get it that you know our straight counterparts are all about the cumming as well – we’re dudes, it’s all the same shit no matter which sex you are inclined to bed) but you just don’t get the whole need to seed that goes on every 8 fucking seconds in our heads from the time we pop our first boner til the time we draw our last breath. It’s RELENTLESS… even when we aren’t ‘thinking’ about it, we are. And believe me – it’s messy.

Slurpee Suck...

Wide shot… (see below for the close up action)

Messy Deep Throat

Sloppy Slurpee Suck – The Best Kind EVER!

Let’s face it, men are built to breed. We’re built to seed. While I may write about Natives battling a menace from another universe (Cove Chronicles), or the ancient Feigr (Fae Wars), or my gay bashed artistic gay boy and his athletic quarterback boyfriend (Angels of Mercy), you can bet on one thing from me. No translations. No apologies. No fucking safety’s applied just because it might offend someone who can’t take the mess men make of their lives. My guys will be balls to the wall bonafide stud muffins that give into their baser needs whenever the moment arises. I’m cool with that. And I’ll make sure to wrap it all up in a good story too. I swear I will. I don’t write porn (though I know I could), I write erotica. So the story is what’s important. But it will be VERY male.

It’s what makes us fucking interesting. It’s why I love surrounding myself with men. Not just because they are the object of my desires. But because I emotively connect with them (there are so many straight guys in my life that don’t have a fucking clue about what I am all about – the private sexual conversations we’ve had about their wives, girlfriends or office temptations), I understand men. Why? Because I am one. A gay one, to be sure – unabashedly so.

And I’ll make no translations to anyone for who my male characters are in the world’s I create. The stories are what they are. I may have to self-pub and just hope I find an audience. It may not be a big time seller in the M/M genre out there or maybe, just maybe, I might shake things up a bit. Make a mess.

…and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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