I stopped reading music reviews years ago because reviewers stopped focusing on the music and instead, made it about themselves. But reviews in the East Bay Express, SF Weekly, Bay Guardian, Mojo Magazine, even Spin and Rolling Stone used to be instrumental in leading me to the shows I wanted to see or records I wanted to buy. Being guided by the World Wide Web is more like dodging fuzz from a riverbank lined with dried-out and exploding cattails. When it comes to tracking down my musical desires there’s just too fluff a’ flying, and I don’t have the attention span needed to let anything take root. Luckily for me, my husband is tireless when it comes to procuring music.
One of the bands Brian plays in, Harold Ray and East Bay Dynamite, had a recent gig with the Bye Bye Blackbirds. And even though I did not go to the show (boring excuse) I did listen and watch the videos that flew up on Facebook afterwards. HOLY SHIZA! What a great band this Bye Bye Blackbirds is!
We writers, musicians and other artists rely upon each other to get the word out. With that in mind, I am going to make this review as much about the music as I can, but I learned something when I started writing that had me re-examined my bitchy attitude toward music reviewers – music IS personal.
Some families are not awful. Take for instance all the generations of The Beatles offspring: ELO, Big Star, Todd Rundgren, Cheap Trick, The Knack, Crowded House, The Posies, Chris Von Sneidern, Jellyfish, Nirvana, Fountains of Wayne, and Spoon. In these bands the use of melody is paramount. You gotta wanna make folks sing along if you consider yourself kin. And, you must worship love, adore beauty, and be willing to layer up the harmonies. The songs need to be fun but not silly. And romance is key. Whether it’s the love of pain and suffering or the length of the thigh on the woman sitting across the room - you want to swirl that romance around in your mouth before you kiss the mic. The Bye Bye Blackbirds are a rootsy, glammy, pop-rock outfit that offers up eleven lovely songs on their most recent recording, Take Out the Poison. These smarty-pants white boys from the East Bay don’t need to get their Ancestry.com results checked because clearly, they are third or fourth cousins of The Beatles.
Take Out the Poison
1 - Earl Grey Kisses
Aaron Rubin’s bass drives this song. Bradley Skaught’s lyrics and vocals are sneaky-sublime. I learned the chorus first, as one should, and before I knew it, had my window rolled down and hand tapping the roof of the car as I drove a little too fast.
2 - Let Your Hair Fall Down
Another finely crafted up-beat number impossible not sing along with, Let Your Hair Hang Down has a glam-rock horn section with Jamison Smeltz on sax and Scott Jensen on trumpet. Ala Suffergette City, I forgot how cool horns can be in pop rock. Singing along with the bridge, “What time is the right time to tell you?” is absolutely mandatory.
3 – Duet
Duet is a lovely country-rocker that brings the Jayhawks to mind with wistful visits from Tom Petty when Bradley occasionally channels our dearly departed. This sweet song intertwines Skaught singing and song-writing duties with Lindsey Paige Garfield, a fine singer-songwriter herself.
4 – Wasted
I love the combination of chime and swagger Lenny Gills’ uses in his guitar playing on this shuffle. The shine Brad Brooks’ harmony brings to Skaught’s lead is tight! Reminds me of Jellyfish and that is always a good thing.
5 - I Meant to Write
This minor-key folk lament invokes the spirits of two more dearly departed, Elliot Smith and Nick Drake. Lush with strings yet sparse instrumentation, this song highlights Bradley Skaught’s lyricism:
Do you think this breeze is never ending
Where land and sea conspire to keep me standing
Don’t tell me how the winners will be spending their
Cold, dead nights
It is the remorseful soul of the album, and the words, like the vocal are taut and wary, a drifter straying from the bustle and clamor.
6 - Alfred Starr Hamilton
This song is chewy and delicious, and mighty catchy for a song named after a 20th Century poet. It brings another songbird onboard, Ms. Julie Wakefield. And for whatever reason it makes me think of a funny little band from the 80’s called The Dancing Hoods that I loved. They later became the Sparklehorse, and the lead singer, Mark Linnous, much like his pop brethens from Bad Finger became tragic figures. Bradley – let this be a cautionary tale.
7 -Baby We’re Fine
This twangy mid-tempo duet with Olivia Mancini invokes San Francisco’s finest, Chuck Prophet and Stephanie Finch. A couple trying to cajole each other into believing everything is okay, “rolling and tumbling, baby we’re fine, believing in something like ‘time flies’.”
8 – Broken Falls
Bradley Skaught writes really well. This straight ahead roots rocker suggests a heartbroken state of affairs, whether it’s a sentiment with the nation or a specific relationship, the opening line, “Come alive or don’t come at all,” sets some serious philosophical boundaries.
9 - Your Spell is too Late
The relationship between the couple in this duet (Julie Wakefield & Bradley Skaught) is not going to get better. But there’s a restraint of cruelty. It’s dark and passionate, “I’m spinning webs, to catch stars that won’t bring me their shine.” Khoi Huynh plays growling organ that accentuates the mood beautifully.
10 - Poison Love
A country classic played in an early rock ‘n roll style brings levity back to the fore. I asked Bradley why this particular song on this album. He responded, “I write a lot of art-y pop rock and I feel like the rootsy influences help keep that grounded and give it all a grittiness or soulfulness that could otherwise get lost in the smarty pants pop music I love in equal measure.”
11 - Earl Grey Kisses (Reprise)
Here we are right back where we started. Oh how I love the bookended reprise! In this stripped-down version, we can really admire Bradley Skaught’s song writing, his voice and the words. This song is made even more beautiful by strings and Julie Wakefield’s harmony. Her voice is honey butter and she makes me want toast.
Upcoming show: May 11, 2018, The Hemlock Tavern, San Francisco
Bye Bye Blackbirds are Bradley Skaught (singer-songwriter-guitarist) Aaron Rubin (bass) Lenny Gill (lead guitar) Joe Becker (drums) as well as other drummers, a host of singers, piano and keys, horns, and strings.