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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. ūüôā

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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Coming Up Next…

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Julian and Paul

A record album review! We take a look at Everything Changes, the latest album from Julian Lennon.

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Strong As You

Music Review: James McCartney – Me

Me James McCartneyMe

It’s not often that a musician releases his first full album at the age of 35, but that’s the case with James McCartney. James is not related to the pop rocker Jesse McCartney, but his father once wrote a catchy tune called “When I’m Sixty-Four.” It’s said that the senior McCartney also wrote a few other songs that have been played on the radio.

Me is an album about a person facing adversity in his life. He’s not sure about his love life, his career, his familial relationships, but he tries to display a stiff upper lip: “We’re on our own and we’ve got to go on….”; “I am strong enough to make it through / I am strong enough as strong as you….”; “You think I’m going to lose / But I will win in the end….” Still, he has his doubts, “…we’ve got to go but we can’t go on forever.”

Here’s a look at the lyrics and songs on McCartney’s Me:

“Strong As You” – “It’s hard for me to say how happy I am / Happy man….” On this single from the album, James sounds like Julian Lennon and the lead guitar part that he plays will remind some of George Harrison. Badfinger also comes to mind.

“Butterfly” – “Little bird you don’t quite understand / Everything is lying in the sand….” Here James sounds more like John Lennon, especially in the phrasing, than Julian. It’s a song that might have fit on the Imagine album and there’s a trace of Dave Mason’s “Sad and Deep As You” in the melody.

“You And Me Individually” – “You and me are different / You and me were different individually….” It’s acoustic guitar opening is reminiscent of “Blackbird” from The Beatles White Album and reflects the fact that James and his father reacted in different ways to the death of Linda McCartney. The lighter than air quality of the song shows that James may have listened to Harry Nilsson’s sui generis compositions.

“Snap Out of It” – “You know that I’m not here / The candle’s burning at both ends… And I know that I can make it / And I think that I can take it / I’m not going to fake it anymore….” This is a song that’s very much in the style of George Harrison, who often mixed fear and self-doubt with grit in his compositions.

“Bluebell” – “Something pulls me close to you / Like a moth to a flame like a music box / Unwinding rewinding / I’m on my own / I’ve got to go on but I can’t go on forever….” This melodic piece sounds like a cross between two of John Lennon’s songs, “Across the Universe” and “Beautiful Boy.” It’s nicely done although the slow pace of the music to this point begins to feel plodding. A change is on its way.

“Life’s A Pill” – “…now I’m bleeding still / I know the pain will leave / When troubles disappear… Life’s a pill give it to me now.” Now the rocking begins. “Pill” sounds like a merger of “Things We Said Today,” “Running On Empty,” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and it’s just a warm-up for the next track.

“Home” – “I kind of heard it on the radio / Oh my god what am I to do….” James and his musicians kick out the jams on a song that’s a melding of Wings’ “Helen Wheels,” “Magneto and Titanium Man,” and Styx’s “Mr. Roboto.” The drummer kicks, punches and violently pounds on the drum kit until it’s destroyed. Yes, some serious behind is kicked!

“Thinking About Rock & Roll” – “Walking around Disneyland / It’s so pretty me and Mickey the Mouse / And he turns and says / It’s so fine and it’s going to be mine / Life’s so fine and it’s already mine.” This is the “Silly Love Songs”-style track on the album. It’s a song about celebrating life and living and appreciating what one already has (rather than what one wants and desires). A bit silly, but fun.

“Wisteria” – “Baby if you know what love is for / Let me know what it means to you….” This one’s like a track from Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend album. It’s pure energy. Wisteria is apparently a woman’s name, although it might refer to Wisteria Lane.

“Mexico” – “Moving down to Mexico where the women treat you right / Moving down to Mexico where no one gives a shite….” A celebration of the joys of living in Mexico; it’s no threat to James Taylor’s song of the same name and theme.

“Snow” – “Nighttime falls on Manhattan city / New York like white snow / I’m on the fence for you / I’m in the zone glancing at you / Dancing with you for the very first time / Dance for the first time….” James channels John Lennon in a stunningly beautiful piano-based composition about love and winter in New York City. It’s like a lost love song written for Yoko Ono.

“Virginia” – “…my baby’s gone and left me… She left me at the station / And I don’t give a toss….” This is a non-essential bonus track that displays the McCartneys’ wry sense of humor. It would have fit well on the Wings Wild Life album.

Me is definitely a good album, but the question is where does James McCartney go from here? He is so clearly fascinated with the Lennon sound that it might make sense for him to join with 50-year-old Julian Lennon to jointly write and record a collection of songs together.

What would they call such an album? That’s easy, Lennon & McCartney.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review CD was provided by ECR Music Group.

This article originally appeared on the Blogcritics website:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-james-mccartney-me/

This review was also used by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Music-Review-James-McCartney-Me-4637098.php

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Maybe I’m Amazed

Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney by Howard Sounes (Da Capo, $20.00, 624 pages)

In Fab, biographer Howard Sounes achieved his self-stated goal of creating “a better balanced, more detailed and more comprehensive life of Paul McCartney than has previously been achieved.”¬†¬† It surpasses the earlier-recommended Paul McCartney: A Life by Peter Ames Carlin, and provides details that are not found in any of the band bios of The Beatles.¬†¬† For example, want to know why Paul began wearing a moustache in the 1970s?¬†¬† (Something the other members of the band quickly copied.)¬†¬† The answer is found within the pages of Fab.¬†¬† Want to know why George Martin admitted that he “made the biggest mistake of my professional career” when it came to compiling the songs for the Sgt. Pepper album?

A highly illustrative example of Sounes’s thoroughness is when he explains the many surprising similarities between Linda Eastman McCartney and Yoko Ono.¬†¬† The “two strong women” both grew up as girls in Scarsdale, New York; and each of them had a very successful, domineering father.¬†¬† Both attended and withdrew from Sarah Lawrence College.¬†¬† Both became involved, as young women, in the New York City art scene and both had an initial unsuccessful marriage that produced a daughter.¬†¬† Linda and Yoko were to each make “a beeline for the The Beatles,” and they each achieved their goal of marrying one of the best known men on the planet.¬†¬† Sounes even throws in the fact that when John Lennon had a tiff with Yoko in 1973, and left her in Manhattan for a fling in Los Angeles with their assistant May Pang, he was seeing a childhood friend of Linda’s!

Most every other writer who touches the story of the Beatles will tell you that Linda and Yoko were very different women.¬†¬† Kudos to Sounes for arguing that the exact opposite is true…¬† Another strength of this account is that Sounes does not give short shrift to McCartney’s time with Wings.¬†¬† Fab devotes just as many pages covering Paul’s time with Wings, and their tours, as he does to McCartney’s time as a member of the Fab Four.¬†¬† This is quite fitting as Sounes notes that during the years 1989 through 1991, Paul and Wings played live before 2.8 million people – including this reviewer and Sounes.

Sounes’s weakness is when it comes to Paul’s music.¬†¬† He makes some huge mistakes, as when he critiques the song Let Me Roll It for sounding too much like John Lennon.¬†¬† Wrong, it was Paul’s intent to show how “easy” it was for him to write and perform a song that sounded like John and the often-ragged Plastic Ono Band.¬†¬† And he criticizes Magneto and Titanium Man from Venus and Mars as being “virtually unlistenable” – it’s still a very fresh sounding track – while ignoring the brooding classic Letting Go, where Paul compared Linda to wine and cocaine.

“There is one thing you’ve got to remember about Paul: he’s a very, very private guy.¬†¬† He doesn’t like to be talking about his family, or anything to do with anything other than music, if he can possibly help it…¬† He doesn’t like to share things.¬†¬† He takes them on his own shoulders.”

Speaking of shoulders, Sounes includes several interesting tales about Paul’s songwriting experiences, including one about how when Paul was finishing the song Hey, Jude he was determined to excise the line that reads, “The movement you need is on your shoulders.”¬†¬† It was John Lennon who convinced him to leave the¬† line in, and John who realized that the throw-away line was brilliant (many heard it as Paul’s way of encouraging John’s son Julian to use his brain as a¬†means of taking a hard life – a sad song – and making it better).

The Sir Paul McCartney portrayed within the pages of Fab has not led a perfect life, but then no human being does.¬†¬† He is shown to be a sentimental creature (“Obviously one of my feelings is how proud my mum and dad would have been…¬† But I won’t go into that because I’ll start crying.”), sometimes harsh, but often generous with those in need.¬†¬† His career, without a doubt, has been a fine gift to the world of music and the world in general.

This intimate biography is a model for future rock biographers.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.¬†¬† “Fab delivers all you need to know.”¬†¬† Rolling Stone magazine¬†¬† “A McCartney bio that intrigues all the way through.”¬†¬† The Times of London/U.K.

Howard Sounes also wrote Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan.

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All My Loving

mccartney-a-life

Paul McCartney: A Life by Peter Ames Carlin (Touchstone, $16.99, 384 pages)

“Take a sad song and make it better…”

Peter Ames Carlin wrote what was likely the second-best biography of Brian Wilson, Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson.¬†¬† It was¬†very good but a bit dry in places, especially when compared to The Nearest Faraway Place by Timothy White.¬†¬† White’s earlier¬†biography masterfully blended the migration of the Wilson family from the Midwest to Torrance with the history of Southern California itself.¬†¬† (The title referenced the phrase used by Brian’s mother¬†whenever she wanted to escape to the not-so-close and not-too-far-away¬†community of Ventura.)

This time Carlin has come closer to fashioning a definitive, lively and warmly human account of the man they call Macca in Great Britain.¬†¬† More than half of this bio covers the story of the Fab Four, which seemed to have had its last good moment with John Lennon and Paul – just the two – recording The Ballad of John and Yoko.¬†¬† Said Paul, “It always surprised me how with just the two of¬† us on it, it ended up sounding like the Beatles.”

This is far from a totally fawning¬†tale of Sir Paul, and Carlin does well in picturing the band as a dysfunctional family.¬†¬† In Carlin’s eyes, John was the wild husband, Paul the responsible mother figure trying to keep the family on track, George the often brooding and secretly rebellious son, and Ringo the “What, me worry?” older brother.¬†¬† And yet…¬† Yet they all came to realize – in one way or another – that they had¬†destroyed the¬†household too soon.¬†¬† The¬†break-up came too early.

Carlin illustrates several times how much Paul came to miss John once he was suddenly gone:¬† “I really loved you and was glad you came along/and you were here today, for you were in my song.”¬†¬† This is the Paul who was subsequently again destroyed by George Harrison’s untimely death:¬† “To me he’s just my little baby brother.¬†¬† I loved him dearly.”

The one caution with Carlin is that you should certainly feel free to disagree with his musical judgments, as when he praises the disastrous – to this listener’s ears – remixes¬†of the Beatles songs on albums like Yellow Submarine, 1s (Ones) and¬†Love.¬†¬† They’re louder and brasher, but not better nor true to the original recordings.¬†¬† He also fails to understand the simple genius of the album called McCartney – which contained Maybe I’m Amazed, Every Night (the alternate version of You Never Give Me Your Money) and That Would Be Something.

But in the end, we see here a musician who carried on quite, quite well even after the loss of his two quasi-brothers and two wives (one by death, one through a bitter divorce).¬†¬† If you love Paul McCartney, you will feel the same way about him once you’ve finished A Life.¬†¬† If you’ve never much liked Beatle Paul, you may grudgingly make your way through this bio and find that he’s earned a bit of your respect.¬†¬† “Take it away…”

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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