Full Disclosure… Dean and I are friends who went to NU together and recently reconnected at our __ th reunion.
But he was a crazy SOB in college, who stole countless women from me, so I was hoping to get back at him with a horrible review. I’m kidding! Well, maybe not… he was taller, better looking and did play music at NU…
I did not… and we ALL know how that goes. Sigh…
Going to school at Northwestern and being so near Chicago meant a few things. And no, we are not discussing football here, nor for the rest of the college football season, so shut it.
One… there was a ton of talent ON campus… acting… music… dance… It is a creative juggernaut, and while that has not propelled me to stardom… yet… I got to see and hear some gifted and dynamite folks.
Two… there was an amazing opportunity to take in some incredible bands, OFF campus and in the city. From the huge, world-famous acts that came through town (Bruce, U2, Van Halen) to some of the most wonderful blues and jazz musicians ever (Stanley Jordan, Junior Wells, Willie Dixon, Koko Taylor, Albert Collins)… who I got to see in tiny clubs for $5-10 a pop! And there was everything in between. What an education!!! In all senses of the word.
College, and NU specifically, is where my classic rock brain exploded and expanded, like the universe. I heard music I had never really been exposed to. I realized if one person had played Miles Davis or John Coltrane for me back in grade or high school, I might have stuck with trumpet or clarinet. Oh well.
But… if push comes to shove, my regular listening fits nicely in the Adult Alternative pocket. That is probably the largest “genre” in my iTunes… though, perhaps it has become much harder to define… College Radio, back in the day, would also be a good descriptor.
The album cover is so serene, beautiful. A street that could be the one I grew up on. The peacefulness of snow… the comfort of a neighborhood… But is it a road home or a road out of Dodge?
The album is called Squander. Ironic that I am coming to listen to it right AFTER our reunion… AFTER a period of deep reflection, where I keep asking myself if I have done all I could have done… if I have squandered opportunity and time. I had some serious and focused dreams in college, yet I am still very far away from seeing them come true.
Heavy stuff. So is this beautiful record.
The album opens with “Emily” and I am immediately smitten… I cannot help but hear Toad The Wet Sprocket, which is all Kismet and pleasant coincidence, since they put a phenomenal new album out just a few weeks ago. This is the kind of music I thrive in… and on. But if you go beyond the surface, go beyond the gorgeous melodies and music… the lyrics are potent.
“And everyone who’s ever left us has led us here.”
Simple… powerful… a long and detailed story in one line. A different meaning for everyone who takes it in, but a commonality… a similarity… a bond of being human. Life… death… and the journey we all must take.
“Sometimes it’s hard to know
If the truest path is one you didn’t take
Sometimes the smallest sound of all
Leaves you wide awake.”
There are also elements of the BoDeans (a band I happened to see for the first time in Chicago, when they opened for U2) and R.E.M., and all those other, great “college radio” bands. Alternative is almost too ubiquitous of a genre now, but this record may squarely be there because it has elements of rock, pop and singer/songwriter without being held to just one of those. Plus, the fact that it was self-financed surely pushes it into the Indie Pop realm.
The title track puts things in perspective and the lyrics tip Dean’s hand as to his literary influences… You also get a lovely Gospel choir singing some back up.
“Glasgow Smile” hits me the right way, too, and its melodic hook and great rocking beat make you forget, briefly, the heartbreaking lyrics. According to Dean it’s about the Black Dahlia murder in LA.
The duet “Stranger In A Room”, which is a “re-do” of the second track, “Sitting With A Stranger”, reminds me so much of “Spring Awakening” and Duncan Sheik… another amazing Singer/Songwriter I’d add to the list of comparisons. Hmm… this might be my favorite song on the album… Gorgeous. And yes, I am a bit in love with Valerie Miller’s voice. I said VOICE!
Then right after this one comes “Airplane”… a cinematic stunner. Of course, flying is something Dean knows a lot about and I’m not sure I’m at liberty to disclose the story of this one, but let’s just say to find such beauty in an absolute tragedy, is even more remarkable.
“Sometimes silence says it all.”
Then comes yet another strikingly beautiful song in “Cry Yourself To Sleep.”
I need to find out if he is writing his own string arrangements. If he is, I may have to kick his —. Stunning. Really. Kudos to the Kazanetti String Quartet.
I spoke to Dean about the specifics after I gave it a few listens, which I wanted to do… I wanted to discover the music on my own. But the insights he gave and the inspirations for many of the tunes… wow. Such beauty in such heartache. But that is why we make art and why musicians make music. We try to give order to chaos… to find an understanding and identity of the unknown, and in all those things that are perhaps not yet understood.
There is a lot of heartbreak on this record, but Dean is smart enough to end with “Throw The Ball To Me,” a song of real hope… the simple joys… and the realization that life is both “precious and brief,” but ours to “take back.”
This album is quite a journey and one I hope you will make… Check out Dean’s music here!
We’ve come a long way, baby… and still have a long and hopefully great way to go! We may have to leave a lot of things behind to find ourselves, but when we arrive at the truth and the love and the bliss, it will all be worthwhile.