I've been having flashbacks. I walk down the street and see old girlfriends, old cars, beer signs which haven't existed for decades (Oh, Heidelberg, what happened to you?). I think about what life was like before the Internet and at certain moments really wish that we could go back and change things. I find myself closing my eyes to so many things which are part of the everyday now and shuddering to think how far we have come. The thing is, it has come with a cost. A billion people knowing the answer to everything but not knowing much of anything at all. A million sure that their way is the way. A hundred thousand who are sure that there is no good music anymore and have stopped looking. A hundred, if that many, who know music is better than ever but have no one to tell because the hundred thousand who claim interest have stopped listening. I get tired.
And then along comes an album which drops into your lap and gives you hope and, yes, that hope is in the past because those times were simpler and not as intense and more human. The album of which I speak is The Mike Farley Band's Where We Stand and don't be surprised if you don't know of it. In this time of information overload I am surprised that we know as much as we do. But it is there and it has made its way into my ears and my psyche and I find myself listening to it on an escalating scale--- to enjoy, to escape.
Lately my escapes have come through music values revisited, mostly those of the early seventies. I have been drawn to the past as much as those hundreds of thousands have refused to leave theirs, preferring the constant drone of the “classics” to anything new or exciting. My past did include Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones and, yes, The Beatles, but I have heard those ad nauseum and have turned toward others--- the lesser-knowns, shall we say. The music going through my head is that of early Sons of Champlin and The Damnation of Adam Blessing and Illinois Speed Press, not because they are cool, like others who have found them or carried them into their present, but because the music was (and is) good. Paul Cotton-era Poco. The Atlantics. Greg Kihn.
A couple of years ago I added Lost Leaders to the mix because of the small details in their music, naming it Album of the Year for 2014 and ready to defend it against all-comers, though no one seemed to notice. And this year, there is The Mike Farley Band.
I have known Farley for awhile now but not as a musician. As much as we have talked music, his personal involvement just never came up. And he has a band. Sonofabitch, and I mean that in a music manner. Who knew?
Turns out it's a damn good band, in fact, and though I was ready to give them a chance, it took a few listens. Mainstream rock is a strange animal and I have dismissed albums before which became real favorites over the years. The first hint of quality was Back To Before, a light poppish tune which had just enough Greg Kihn to make me take notice. Listen two uncovered my now-favorite track, Subtle No More, which could have easily been a hit in 1972 or 1973, the verse building toward the chorus which stuck in my mind and wouldn't go away. Rewrite History came next, an upbeat but smooth rocker, then Helpless and so on and so forth.
They are good songs. Solid songs. But what makes them better than good is the attention to detail--- the way they were recorded. Listen closely and you can hear the organ on this song and the smooth electric rhythm on that song and the lead guitar, which could have been recorded by the master of the studios back in the seventies, Dean Parks. Guitarist Jeff Nagel will appreciate the comment. Parks was (and hopefully still is) a master.
The one negative about the album is not a negative at all. Reading the track listing, one song stuck out: Evil Woman. My heart beat a little faster when I envisioned maybe a slightly toned-down version of the Spooky Tooth classic. Could it be, I thought. No such luck, but the alternative was not all that bad--- it was a cover of the ELO song. The good thing is that I didn't mind it. Maybe if they had attempted the Spooky Tooth song, I would have. I will never know (unless they cover that one on the next album).
I'm listening to Subtle No More as I end this. It's the chorus. It has to be the chorus. Or maybe it's the guitar. Or the harmonies. But goddamn, I am beginning to really love the song. I knew it was making headway when I found myself in line at the grocery store and hearing it in my head and wondering who it was. It took a good half hour before Mike Farley popped into my head. Of course! He's in good company in there, lots of Nick Holmes and Brian Cullman and Lost Leaders and others taking up space. So much better than the days I worked retail and had Springsteen or The Rolling Stones bumping the much better indie songs out of my consciousness. It's called brainwashing, kiddies.
Music is better than ever. Where We Stand proves it. It may not be the best album you will ever hear, but it's goddamn good and close enough.
(Frank Gutch Jr. writes and has written for numerous magazines and websites, presently including this blog, his own website and the prestigious Don't Believe A Word I Say site put together by musician and music pundit Bob Segarini, out of Toronto. He specializes in the Indies, having fought hand-to-hand combat with major record labels for decades (talk about zombies). He believes music should be the core of the music business, though business it mostly be, and denies the accepted reality in the stead of the artistic one. Seldom does he receive pay for articles and/or reviews and believes that there is no place for negatives in a world in which one cannot keep up with the positives. He is, in a sense, a lost soul in a sea of music, drowning, but drowning gratefully.)