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Cirque Du Soleil
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Andy Timmons Band
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Amos Lee
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Julius Curcio
"American Pie"
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Rising Stars [Issue #3]
Buchanan:
By Peter Vouras
All Understood (CD Ultimatum)


Ah, the twenties. The vast, dark, beckoning, untitled expanse of forest on the treasure map of life, often marked only by the words "Here There Be Monsters." Once inside, a young artist may be seduced off his path by the fabled phantasmagoria of early adulthood - ego, sex, drugs, wanderlust, and a wildly imaginative soul are a legendarily lethal combination - and yet a few manage to slay the beasts within and without and emerge on the other side alive and matured, clutching the Holy Grail of a respectable body of work. So it seems it shall be with Jay Buchanan and his eponymous quartet, whose debut album, All Understood, demonstrates the rare and delicate alchemy by which the base elements of shame, rage, despair and longing may be transformed into gilded melodic threads.

These four young men (Buchanan, guitarist Ty Stewart, drummer Chris Powell and bassist Todd Sanders) carry their sonic lanterns through oft-trod territory, but they fall prey neither to monotony nor to the dreaded "Hamlet had nothing on me" syndrome of unmitigated introspective self-lashing. This they achieve by focusing their lyrical and musical attentions outward as often as inward, remarking on connections between internal and external worlds, real and fantastical, with both eloquence and bawdy double-entendre: the haunting, pulsating "Satan Is a Woman" opens with an image of the title character gliding toward the singer with "all the grace of a spider on a string;" the final line of the glistening "Three Times Coleen," an epilogue for a friendship ended by a woman’s third aggressively seductive visit to her fiance’s closest buddy, is "She came three times, but it cost me my best friend."

Veteran producer Don Gehman, whose credits include R.E.M. and Tracy Chapman, plays Virgil to Buchanan’s Dante, and even in places where the songwriting wants for more structural definition, Gehman ensures that each discrete layer of the band’s superb instrumentation is crisp. Powell’s drums and Sanders’ bass register a vital heartbeat even in moments of quiet reflection, and Stewart and Buchanan add varied texture and flourish throughout. Vocally, Buchanan is a gifted and fluid singer who is effective even in the eerie moments when one is compelled to wonder if he is channeling Jeff Buckley from some ephemeral adjacent dimension.

I spoke with Jay Buchanan recently and asked him where he feels his music fits into today’s market. "I’m not sure that we do fit in," he candidly replied. "I don’t know what genre our music is or how to classify it . . . of course, that’s what everybody says about his or her own band, [but] I don’t really hear other people doing our thing." Influences from Bob Dylan to Otis Redding are evident in the songs, and belying the artistic nurturing his parents contributed to his upbringing in the quiet mountains of Wrightwood, California, Buchanan cites Joni Mitchell as his primary muse: “I look up to her artistically more than any of my other favorite artists.” Buchanan clearly emulates Mitchell’s highly visual, painter’s approach to the construction of songs, and shows promise that in time he may achieve her masterly economy of words and effortless phrasing.

The most notable recurrent theme on All Understood is that of crisis, of unequivocal and frightening change, nowhere better illustrated than in the explosive “American Son,” a controversial political protest in which Buchanan comments, in his own words, on “the isolationist point of view that we have when we look at the rest of the world. It’s about our country’s self-image projected on others.” He expresses frustration with an American tendency toward personal and national militance, yet the song’s irreverence is countered by Powell’s expression of gratitude in the liner notes to “The men and women of the United States Armed services for giving me the chance to do what I do (My eternal Thanks).”

It is, after all, in the twenties that one battles most fiercely to reconcile the deeply conflicting dualities of existence—one either learns to do so, or risks, as do the characters in these songs, being consumed by self-destruction and madness. Perhaps that is the intention of the album’s title: to acknowledge that wide unnamed forest in which all the monsters do exist at once, for better or worse—in itself a demonstration of understanding well beyond Jay Buchanan’s twenty-seven years.


All Understood
Ultimatum

Buchanan All Understood


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