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The Real Things

An Interview with Brent Bourgeois

I speak with Brent Bourgeois, who releases his first album in twenty years in June. Joseph Arellano

BB Don't Look Back

You have an album coming out next month, Don’t Look Back, which is your first in two decades or so. Why the long break from recording and what, if anything, inspired you to create music again?

When I made my last record in 1994, I had just moved my family to Nashville at the encouragement of my good friend and co-producer Charlie Peacock. He promised me work as a producer, which was great because I had always been as interested in producing records for others as I had been in making them for myself. I made the determination that whichever road was more fruitful would be the one I would concentrate on. While the album Come Join the Living World was considered a success by many in the industry, my producing career was really bearing fruit and it was an easier career to consider with four young children.

Producing led to a job as VP of A&R at Word Records, and after that, I was considered “too old” to be reconstituting my recording career. With the collapse of the music industry in 2002, I moved my family back to Northern California and had nothing to do with the music biz for over ten years. About a year and a half ago, I was invited to mentor a young singer/songwriter from Malibu. This involved writing songs, and programming them on my computer, and then producing her in the studio. Well, it got me writing again, and one thing lead to another, and here we are.

The new album seems, on a first listen, to be a very eclectic collection of songs; kind of like Tom Petty’s Wildflowers. Did you deliberately set out to include various styles and types of music or is this a product of being creative?

I just wrote ’em as they came. I was just happy to be writing again, and didn’t much concern myself about having a coherent style. I think this collection of songs could reasonably be called a walk through my career. I’m not re-inventing the wheel, but the main thing for me was that I liked them, and I hadn’t liked anything I had written for years.

How would you describe the album in one sentence?

A walk through my musical history with most of my best friends.

Are all eleven songs on the new release original?

Yes.

You have a great 80s-style track on the album, “Deep Blue Sea.” When I heard it what went through my mind is, “Rick Astley is back!” Tell us about the song.

That’s funny. I always think about the Saturday Night Live “Night at the Roxbury” skit with Will Farrell, Jim Carrey and Chris Kattan when I hear “Deep Blue Sea.” I don’t know where this latent dance track streak is coming from. I never indulged in it back then. I think it’s because I finally learned how to use an arpeggiator.

Brent Bourgeois Julian Lennon

“The High Road” is a Beatles/Badfinger-ish emotive ballad on which Julian Lennon accompanies you. What’s the back story on his involvement?

I first met Julian Lennon in about 1986. My band Bourgeois Tagg opened for him on a couple of shows. He was a big fan of the band; in fact, we walked into the hall where we were playing with him for the first time and he and his band serenaded us with a perfect rendition of one of our songs. I think one of the things that caught his ear with both Bourgeois Tagg and my subsequent solo material is the persistent Beatle strain that permeates all of it. I grew up on all things Beatles, and their influence can’t help but pour out of my music.

I reconnected with Julian on, of all things, Facebook. He had “liked” a number of my posts over time. When I wrote “The High Road,” I immediately thought of Julian, but had no idea if he would be interested in singing on it or with me. I was very pleasantly surprised when he responded quickly and positively and we set a time to record in Los Angeles after his trip to Africa and South America. He walked into the studio, and upon hearing my first vocal line in the song said, “Now THAT’S Lennon!” It’s a trip to hear those pipes with that obvious DNA singing this song. Oh, and by the way, Julian is doing really good works around the world. That’s why I have agreed to donate a portion of the proceeds of every record I sell to his White Feather Foundation, which is dedicated to bringing safe, clean drinking water to people in need in Africa.

Bourgeois Tagg

The full Bourgeois Tagg band plays on the song “Psycho,” which sounds like it was recorded back in the day. What prompted you to invite your former band members to play on the track?

I knew I was going to have them on the record. It was just a question of how much and which song(s). Larry Tagg and Michael Urbano are also playing on “The High Road,” and I think that sounds like a Bourgeois Tagg song, too. They also played on another one that didn’t make the cut. Lyle Workman was a little more difficult to pin down because of his schedule. And it is no accident that it sounds like that. I got the producer and engineer of our first record, David Holman, to mix it.

Let’s ignore for a second the title of the new album. If you could look back with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, would you have sought to keep Bourgeois Tagg together for a longer period of time?

Everything happens for a reason. One can always play “what if” games, but they are rarely productive. But I made three solo albums instead, moved to Nashville and had a great career there, produced records, worked at a record company, made many of the relationships that are in full force on this new record, etc. If I had to do it again, I would have probably done everything the same. I may have handled it a little differently. 🙂

There are additional prominent musicians that play on and assisted you with Don’t Look Back, right?

Well, yes. Todd Rundgren is singing and Kasim Sulton is playing bass on “Poor Me.” A slew of great Nashville musicians populate the record: guitarists Jerry McPherson and Chris Rodriguez, drummers Aaron Smith, Steve Brewster, and George Lawrence, and bassist Mark Hill. Charlie Peacock produced and played piano on “All She Ever Wanted.” Singers Molly Felder and Rachel Lampa are featured. And Wayne Kirkpatrick played and sang on “Without You.”

Out in California, Vicki Randle added percussion to a couple of songs, singer Michele Tumes is featured on “Don’t Look Back,” Paige Lewis is the female voice on “You & I,” and my son Adrian is playing acoustic guitar on “The High Road,” which also features 77s guitarist Mike Roe, and Los Angeles studio whiz Tim Pierce. I also got a couple of high-profile mixers involved along with David Holman. John Fields mixed “Poor Me,” and Ross Hogarth mixed “The High Road.”

What’s the release date of Don’t Look Back and, most importantly, how can your fans purchase it?

We are releasing the record as part of our Kick-Finisher program on June 2. Those who sign up to sell and help promote the record will get first crack at selling it. Signups to be part of the promotion team are at wwww.kick-finisher.com. We have invented something like the opposite of Kickstarter. I pay YOU to help sell MY record. It will be available later in the summer on iTunes and Amazon.com.

This article was first published on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/an-interview-with-brent-bourgeois/

This interview was also posted here:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/An-Interview-with-Brent-Bourgeois-5470161.php

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Everything Changes

Music Review: Julian Lennon – ‘Everything Changes’ [2013 Reissue]

Everything Changes

Julian Lennon’s sixth studio album, his first since 1998, is called Everything Changes. Originally released on a limited basis in 2011, this re-release adds two bonus songs to the 12 that made up its initial pressing: “Someday” and “In Between.”

It might have been called “Entropy,” to reflect a belief in disorder or uncertainty or degradation in our personal and universal existence. Lennon is concerned about many things here. He sings that, “Nothing stays the same/When you’re lost and when you’re broken.” Interestingly, his views on the hazards of life and living are much like those expressed by James McCartney on his Me album. (Is there something about being the son of a Beatle?)

Fortunately, matters are positively resolved before the end of this 65-minute plus collection of music. Lennon concludes that, “There’s always light at the end of the tunnel.” He also reminds us that, “We’re all in it together/One love now and forever.”

Here’s a look at the songs on Everything Changes, now available for downloading on iTunes and elsewhere, as well as on CD.

From the opening notes of the title song, “Everything Changes,” this sounds like a song from another Beatles-influenced musician; something that would prove to be true of other songs on this 14-track album.

On the song “Someday,” Julian joins with Steven Tyler of Aerosmith to ask an interesting question: “How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people?” Wait, haven’t we heard this before? Yes, Lennon borrows a line from a Beatles song in a tune built around a Magical Mystery Tour-style sound. Think of “I Am the Walrus” melded with “Blue Jay Way.” Having Lennon and Tyler sing together seems like something that wouldn’t work, but oddly enough it does and it works quite well.

While “Someday” is an almost joyful tune, Lennon notes that when it comes to life, “it’s just about holding on.”

“Lookin’ 4 Luv” is like a lost ’70s tune by the Beatles or Badfinger. It’s alternately sad and hopeful: “Why do you look the other way/When I’m trying to see your soul?… I’m searching in all the wrong places/I’m down but I’m fighting back again.”

“Hold On” is a piano-based tune on which Lennon sounds frighteningly like John Lennon: “Shall I give my heart to break again/Can it be real that I have lost a friend?” The recording includes a partially distorted vocal track, a technique of which John was fond. “Touch the Sky” is a composition that may have been inspired by the 2009 death of Lucy O’Donnell (the inspiration for John’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”): “We all want to touch the sky/We all ask the question why/We all need a helping hand.” Lennon’s wishes in the song are in accord with the Beatles’ values: “I just hope and pray peace will come one day.”

“Invisible” is Beatlesque: “Remember love forgotten… I know that love surrounds you/It’s invisible.” Had this been recorded by the Beatles, George Harrison would likely have sung it.

“Just for You” is a track that sounds in virtually every respect, save for the absence of a keyboard instrument, like a Brent Bourgeois (“I Don’t Mind at All”) recording. Lennon sounds like Bourgeois in his phrasing and vocal inflections. There’s a soft opening, broken by a strong bridge with angst-filled and religious-inspired lyrics: “You know I’ve talked to the Virgin Mary/Prayed to the Holy Ghost/Hung with the Bodhisattva for the one I love the most/And I’ve danced with the fallen angels/Sold my soul to the shadow mind just for you.”

It turns out that there are multiple tunes in the Bourgeois style on Everything Changes. It’s best left to the listener to determine the actual number.

“Always” is a surprise with its Pink Floyd instrumentation, while “Disconnected” could have fit on either Magcial Mystery Tour or Revolver: “Cradle life and love and let it flow.” “Never Let You Go” is another song in the style of Revolver.

“Guess It Was Me” is a nice ethereal track that calls to mind Crowded House. “In Between” is a completely original song in which Lennon laments that, “Reality was only in my mind.” (This might be his “Eleanor Rigby.”)

Julian Lennon

Those who download this album might be surprised to find that the two closing songs are listed as “Track 13” and “Track 14.” Not to spoil the surprise, but track 13 is “Don’t Wake Me Up,” on which Lennon sings in the style of Harry Nilsson. Track 14 is “Beautiful,” a very moving and heartfelt tribute to Julian’s father: “The feeling still remains/(Though) you’re on a different plane.” It’s a song of resolution and perhaps redemption.

Lennon has said that the songs on this release have “a dreamy, floaty quality.” This highlights one of the album’s flaws, a sameness to the ballads which can become wearisome. If only he had skipped one or more of the spacey songs and included a flat-out rocker like “Day Tripper,” “Helter Skelter,” or “Johnny B. Goode.” These are songs he’s performed gleefully on stage.

While Everything Changes falls short of being essential, it’s very close to being an excellent album and is well recommended.

Lennon is the son of a late musical legend. He shines on in his own way.

Joseph Arellano

This review originally appeared on the Blogcritics site:

Music Review: Julian Lennon – ‘Everything Changes’ [2013 Reissue]

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The Days That Used to Be

Waging Heavy Peace (audio large)

‘Cause there are very few of us left my friend/ From the days that used to be Neil Young, “The Days That Used to Be” from 1990’s Ragged Glory album

Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream by Neil Young (Blue Rider Press, $30.00, 502 pages)

Where to begin. Let’s try with Neil’s own words. How about we work backward from page 409?

“About twenty years later, in the mid-nineties, Briggs and I were making an album. I still call it an album because that is what I make. I don’t make CDs or iTunes tracks. I make albums. That is just what I do. Call it what you like. I remember how I hated the shuffle feature on iTunes because it f—– up the running order I spent hours laboring over. Having tracks available independently and having the shuffle factor sucks as far as I am concerned. Call me old-fashioned. I make albums and I want the songs to go together to create a feeling. I do those things on purpose. I don’t want people cherry-picking the albums. I like to choose the singles. After all, it’s my s—.”

That, in a nutshell is Neil Young’s amazing autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace.

The title comes from a query directed at Neil in which he was asked if he was waging war with Apple. He replied, “No, I’m waging heavy peace.”

Neil has been working on starting a company (originally PureTone, now Pono due to an alleged copyright infringement) – Neil is always in the middle of some project or another – to restore digital music to something resembling its original sound. In what I will call a companion release, whether accurate or not, the album sans CD Psychedelic Pill, a project with Crazy Horse, now leads with the song “Driftin’ Back”. A key verse starts off, “When you hear my song now/You only get 5%”. His web page contains a message touting that in 2012 record companies will release High Resolution Audio. Neil is nothing if not passionate, and he is overtly committed to doing all he can to ensure the next generation does not forget what music is supposed to sound like.

This book is as close to honesty as one can get without it becoming too uncomfortable. Yes, Neil likes cars and trains. He loves his wife, Pegi. But, how about finding out he needs brain surgery only to go to Nashville to record one of his finest works, Prairie Wind, while waiting for surgery on the aneurysm because he can’t sit still? How about vacillating between being a young guy who strands a woman in New Mexico to find her own way home because she is grating on his nerves, matter-of-factly describing incidents and leaving compatriots dead in the manuscript due to various indiscretions, and describing incidents such as David Crosby visiting with a yacht disguised as a meth lab, and yet revisits such scenes with candor, honesty, tenderness, love, and loyalty, that he comes across as eminently noble and likeable?

This is some book. Neil has two children with handicaps. Many people know this. Throughout the book, he continues to refer to his son Ben as Ben Young. Always Ben Young. At first this seems as quirky as Neil himself, until the reader eventually discovers the respect behind the moniker.

Neil tells you he’s writing the book as he writes it. He confides that he is attempting to produce art sober for the first time in his life. He has tremendous allegiance and affinity for fellow musicians, explains why Buffalo Springfield could never continue in its burst of brilliance, and admires Jimmy Fallon for doing a better Neil than Neil.

Some have compared this book to Bob Dylan’s Chronicles. Understandable, I guess, but Bob is Bob, and Neil is Neil, and this book is so captivating and fascinating that I cannot compare it to anything.

I rarely lapse into first person in any formal writing, but this book moved me. It hit me in the gut and remains stuck with me somehow, like Neil’s music. I could refer to Neil as Young, or Mr. Young, like The Wall Street Journal would. But I cannot. Neil is too personal to me. I’ll never meet the man, but if he goes first, I’ll never forget him.

Thanks, Neil, for staying true to your art in good times and bad, and creating such moving and unique tales of humanity that will last forever – and for writing one helluva book.

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

Dave Moyer is an educator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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