The Sands
Beast To Bone


What a surprise!, an album of songs sounding highly inventive and bursting with colours, embodying a studied accessibility that once upon a time I would have called "commercial". Songs which are greatly enhanced by a very musical recorded sound, something that - while always highly laudable - is especially noteworthy when it comes to an album that's self-released. And it's the sound of this album that's my starting point.

This being the time of "portable music" and "personal stereos", talking about the sound of an album could appear as the idle occupation of somebody in love with terribly expensive hi-fi equipment. But I have to confess that in the last few years there have been quite a few albums that in the end I managed to like in spite of their recorded sound, a sound that appeared to work against the music, obliterating what the music wanted to say, forcing the listener to ignore its excessive compression and squashed dynamics.

I'm happy I can say that Beast To Bone is the kind of album where music is free to "breath", where a rich, varied instrumentation which always sounds "natural" and dynamic - acoustic and electric guitars, strings, vocals, piano, effects, drums - invites listeners to turn the volume knob to the right.

Suprise #2, the music to this album of songs was composed by one of my favourite musicians in today's panorama: Peggy Lee, who's also featured on cello and piano. I'm sure readers remember her work as the leader of the "chamber-jazz" (best I can do) ensemble bearing her name, also her work as a featured player in many fine line-ups - here I'll just mention Wayne Horvitz's Gravitas Quartet.

Her goal being to make the best album she could - this being an album that's timbrally quite complex - Peggy Lee invited some very fine musicians active in the Vancouver area, and since it's songs I'm talking about I'll have to immediately mention Julie McGeer, who sang the songs and wrote the lyrics.

I have to admit that listening to this album brought a smile to my face. Why? Well, when I first listened to the fine album of songs by Alicia Hansen titled Fractography (2011) I noticed that Peggy Lee was a featured player and so I wondered whether an album of songs could be in her future. But after the release of Invitation (2012), the album that I consider to be the best one released by The Peggy Lee Band, I completely forgot about the whole matter.

Invitation was recorded by Eric Mosher at Warehouse Studios, Vancouver, this choice being wisely confirmed on Beast To Bone. Additional recording and editing at Afterlife Studios by Erik Nielsen. The album was mixed and mastered by Jesse Zubot at the Britannia Beach Bunker. And it's Zubot - who produced the album, besides playing the violin here and there - who in a way appears to me as the real co-author of the music that's featured on Beast To Bone: immersed in quite convincing scenarios, enhanced by ingenious spatial placements, rich when it comes to its instrumental timbres.

Quite easy to enjoy, this music is not just as easy to categorize. I could say that this album could be appreciated by those who regard the music of Joni Mitchell and Neil Young as an apex of modern music, but also by those who prefer to listen to "modern, melodic indie rock" with strings. Anyway, this is not "abrasive" music, even though the timbral pairings and the songs' structures - which are not as linear as McGeer's quite natural-sounding vocal delivery could lead one to believe - incorporate a peculiar kind of asperity. Those familiar with those albums released by The Peggy Lee Band will have no trouble finding here those instrumental touches - the guitar pairings, the lyrical-sounding trumpet, a predilection for certain tone colours, the "hidden complexity" - which are part of the leader's palette.

The full line-up: besides Peggy Lee and Julie McGeer, the album also features Paul Rigby on electric and acoustic guitars, Cole Schmidt on electric guitar, Darren Parris on electric bass, Barry Mirochnik on drums and background vocals, J.P. Carter on trumpet (often played through effects), Jeremy Berkman on trombone, Jesse Zubot on violin, Debra-Jean Creelman on background vocals.

Ten songs, the total running at 39' - the perfect LP length.

Let's have a closer look at the songs.

Be More is the album opener: guitars playing chords, vocals, trumpet with mute. Rhythm section, mid-range vocals, piano in the background, in a way this is a "jazz ballad" working as the album's intro-invitation. Fine female background vocals. The song ends with the chorus, and a fine trumpet performance. I have to say that to me this is the least interesting song of the album, its opening position maybe being justified by its "accessibility". But, as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Fall starts with violin "squeaks", cello, acoustic guitar, vocals on a carpet of strings, a fractured melody; second time, the piano, great cymbals, male background vocals. Then it's time for a quite beautiful "B" section, which at first sounds like a chorus or a bridge, with fine vocal counterpoint, great piano backing, the whole in a way quite cyclical. Cut, and we're back to the first melody, this time with strings, piano, and drums.

Rise sounds like a kind of jig, a kind of "folk dance". Drums, electric and acoustic guitars. Then piano, fine vocal counterpoint, then it's time for an electric guitar solo, another electric guitar in the background - a typical move for Peggy Lee, arranger, on her albums.

City Is Gone has a fine vocal opening. It sounds like a melodic ballad, with piano, rhythm section, snare drum, the delivery getting progressively more tense. Different tempo, piano, acoustic guitar playing arpeggio, electric guitar. There's a long, fine instrumental coda, with guitar, strings, and cymbals.

Against The Drift is an "emphatic" ballad: piano, rhythm section, trumpet with mute. There's a very fine piano part played high on the keyboard under the trumpet solo. Fine electric background. In closing, a fine trumpet solo.

Devil has a "jerky" tempo, trumpet with effects, piano, and a great sounding bass drum-snare combination. There's a kind of chorus performed by three vocals, very good, and a fine trumpet solo.

Jealous Guy is the John Lennon song. Here it starts with a beautiful, slow melodic motif, a trumpet-piano unison la Bacharach, cymbals in the background. Piano, vocals, the song sounding like a kind of "jazz ballad". Drums with snare played brushes, fine cymbals, fine trumpet solo with mute. At first I was a bit puzzled by the inclusion of this song, then I came to appreciate its function as "a change of pace".

Hold On starts with trumpet and trombone, tutti, drums, piano. There's a fine melodic turn in the chorus. Fine wind performance. Only thing I didn't like on the album, to me the snare drum sounds a bit too "fat" to properly sit with the track.

Magnolia has a great start, with a fine rhythmic figure from the drums, with a very beautiful wood sound. Fine melodic vocals, almost sounding like a slow bossa. Piano, acoustic guitar, vocals, a fine melodic air in the chorus. Fine winds, and - like elsewhere on the album - a "subterranean" cello. Crescendo.

Trail Of Tangles starts with spoken vocals, with strings and winds in the background. Cut, and a very beautiful melody played on the piano, and vocals with a quite "abstract"-sounding background. Here the whole reminded me of Peggy Lee's instrumental pieces, with a fine cello.

Beppe Colli

Beppe Colli 2014 | Nov. 1, 2014