- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Fulfilling your dreams and your career goals is something we all aim to in our lives. We like to dream big and we are all convinced that life is going to be just a huge piece of cake, with plenty of opportunities to show who we are and what we can do.
When this idea applies to music, no one more than a blues or blues/rock artist knows how that path is rather a difficult one, with plenty of hard work, obstacles and sacrifices to be made, in order to be able to reach for the stars, one day. Albert Castiglia, one of the most talented blues musicians of this current generation, certainly earned in the hard way the respect and the popularity from both fellow musicians and fans through a career that has seen the Florida-based artist's music growing bigger and bigger album after album, together with his eclectic and powerful guitar style.
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
2016 has certainly been a memorable year for one of the most respected American Blues bands, Mississippi Heat. Their 2016's stunning album Cab Driving Heat has received unanimous praises from the worldwide music press and the Chicago-based collective, through their fabulous combo of Blues, Funk, Boogie and Rumba has once again shown the quality and the charisma of one of the most eclectic and innovative bands of the Blues scene.
The last 12 months have seen the band being very busy promoting and touring incessantly Cab Driving Heat but Bluebird Reviews has being waiting patiently and finally managed to talk to Mississippi Heat's bandleader Pierre Lacocque about the band's new album and the impact that music has always had in Lacocque's personal life and career as a musician.
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Sometimes, humans can only take life one step per time, especially those that had to go through some difficult, personal downfalls. They all have a different way to express their anxieties, feelings or emotions and overcome them in their own way, either through physical expressions or, in the case of musicians, through their own artistic skills.
Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Michael Marquart, aka A Bad Think, knows one thing or two about going through difficult, emotional journeys in one's personal life. Through the years, his records have constantly shown Marquart's ability not just as a great composer of songs but also as an acute observer of everyday's life and how much that does impact relationships among people.
His brand new album, The Tragic End Of A Dreamer, is the artistic parabola of an ill-fated dreamer that goes through a series of highs and lows in his life's journey, superbly narrated by Marquart and his impeccable song-writing style.
Together with writing and producing the whole album, as Marquart has always done for every A Bad Think release, this time around the artist from FT. Atkinson, Wisconsin, has played also most of the instrumental and the vocal parts on The Tragic End Of A Dreamer.
When Bluebird Reviews has finally the honour to talk with the ex-A Flock Of Seagulls drummer about the release of A Bad Think's new album, Marquart sounds in great humour and explains briefly the length of time it took to write and record The Tragic End Of A Dreamer. "It took about two years of writing. The songs came to me gradually and the whole process, as I said, took almost a couple of years between writing, recording, mastering, etc. and I am very happy and proud about the finished result."
Undoubtedly, A Bad Think's new record sounds even more personal than any other previous release, digging deep into what it might have been, presumably, a difficult moment of Marquart's life. "Yes, it certainly was. As you know, all my albums are very personal and self-reflective. As many things happening in most people's lives, I guess, this album mirrors things happening in my life going along in a way, expecting to end as well in a certain way. Then, when you realise that things didn't actually go in the way you originally planned, rather than being upset, you start thinking "Well, perhaps that was the way I unconsciously thought that things were going to end like", almost in a sort of awakening way. All in all, rather than being a Tragic End, as my album title would suggest, this record sees a rather happy ending for me, which is good news!".
Marquart has always been a very prolific songwriter and A Bad Think's new record is an ulterior proof of it. The Tragic End Of A Dreamer sees an artist paying a meticulous attention on each note of every song, almost to accentuate the message that Marquart is carrying already through the lyrics. Given the time spent not just on A Bad Think's new album but on every album, Bluebird Reviews is wondering which of the two aspects, between songwriting and recording/producing is more time consuming for Marquart when it comes the time to make a new record. "Well, you hit it right on the head. I spent so much time on every note, even thinking about the spaces in-between all the notes or how certain lyrics need to go with certain chords. I think about all aspects, while making a record, including the most minute. It's always a very emotional and draining process for me, working on an album. There isn't a one particular part in the making of a record that is more time consuming than the other. It's all connected, the music, the lyrics, the atmosphere that I create, the feeling, the emotions that I try to deliver to the listeners. It's a kind of multifaceted experience for me."
The Tragic End is an album that carries many different layers of sound, sometimes verging into Ambient, some others into Southern Rock, Folk, Alt-Rock, even little hints of New Age, showing clear signs of a versatility that Marquart must have been carrying within since the early stages of his career. "Yes, music has always been kind of all over the map since I was a teenager. I have been, in the past, in all sorts of bands, Heavy Metal, Punk, Folk, you name it. As I write my songs, I always let them go freely without trying to steer them in a certain direction. I don't try to railroad them down in any particular genre, I just let them go wherever they want to go. Rather than trying to control where they are going, I just try to get myself out of their ways (laughs)!"
A Bad Think's new album is, in many ways, the ultimate modern Alt-Rock symphony. Marquart's songwriting on The Tragic End Of A Dreamer is exquisite, especially in the central section of the album, with that superb trio of songs that are The Animal, Loyal Men and For What It's Worth. A wonderful album which surely, on some stages must have had some particular tunes a bit more trickier to write and record than others. "The trickiest one would either have to be No Way Out or Loyal Men. For Loyal Men, I had to fight with that one for a while. The reason is that there was something that kept bothering me about that song, something I thought it was not quite right about it. It took me a while to figure out how to put together the pieces of that puzzle but in the end, I managed to do that. No Way Out, well, that particular song has got 115 tracks on it, which are all used on that tune and it was a bit of a challenge to keep it like that, as you can imagine. They were certainly the two tracks that needed a lot of extra work to be done but I am completely satisfied with the outcome."
Modern society can kill one's dreams but can never kill the dreamer. For an artist like Marquart and considering his personal vision of what music is all about and stands for, we are intrigued to find out how difficult it is, in nowaday's music business, to be able to remain true to himself as an artist without compromising any aspects of his art. "That is such a good question, because it is really difficult these days for artists to be able to do what they really want to do. If you happen to get lucky enough to land on a record deal, they try to make you sound and look in a way that it's not really you and, as a consequence, it really gets hard to stay true to yourself as an artist. I am very privileged and fortunate that Windmark Records lets me do whatever I wanna do and they create the leeway for me to be able to generate my music and my records. But it is really tough for any musician, experienced or up-and-coming ones, especially for the latter."
Once upon a time, music was considered a very therapeutic art form and it had a massive impact on people's lives. Bluebird Reviews was just wondering, in Marquart's view, how much can, in these days and age, the power of music be still therapeutic for people as much as it is for who creates it. "I still believe that music is very therapeutic. Back in the days, music was so powerful that you could hear a song, a pure piece of music and that would actually change your life and you could become a better person, simply by hearing that tune. I still believe that music has still got that power, even now. I feel that perhaps younger people get very distracted by things like Social Medias like Facebook, Twitter etc. and music becomes simply background noise for them. Perhaps I am a dreamer, but I still believe that there is people out there that takes time to listen to music and let the music take them to places of their souls that they did not even know they existed. That is the reason why I keep doing what I do, when it comes to make music, because I want to try and keep that belief alive."
Some of the lyrics in A Bad Think's new album quote "Sometimes the movie starts without a sound, and sometimes the movie ends too soon". Should Michael Marquart be able to look back to the beginning of his career and where he is right now, as an artist and as a human being, how would he describe the movie of his life so far? "You know, the older I get, the wiser I get and the happier I am. It's almost like a process in reverse, for me. When you are younger, everything looks great to you, you are happy and feel invincible. When I think about all the music that I played with different bands, in the past, I see that as a part of a whole process to get me through to realize that you really need to be true to your music, always. At the end of the day, what I play is who I really am and what I have to say and it's the best that I can do, as a musician, in that particular day. I wish I had this point of view and learn that lesson when I was younger, rather than playing the stuff that was popular at the time. But the good news is that, hey, I am still alive, I still keep going and I am still enjoying the ride. It's getting better and better as the years go by and I feel really good about where the movie of my life is taking me to."
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
The Tragic End Of A Dreamer is out now and it is available via Windmark Records
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
It's a cold, wintery afternoon in London, United Kingdom when Bluebird Reviews goes to give the award as Artist Of The Year for 2016 for our website to Los Angeles singer/songwriter Beth Hart. The past 14 months have been certainly among the most intense and rewarding for the American artist; while still enjoying the huge commercial success of the 2015 Better Than Home album, here comes, totally out of the blue, a brand new record and perhaps one of the most inspired one that Hart has ever made in his career, called Fire On The Floor.
It's a bit of a mystery how Beth Hart could have found the time to write and record a new album shortly after the successful Better Than Home, given the intense touring that the American singer/songwriter faces every year. "Check this one out, because, hand on heart, I am telling you nothing but the truth! It took less than two weeks between meetings with Oliver Leiber and then three days in the studio to record, that was it! That was all it took to make the album. This album was made directly after Better Than Home and the reason why it was made in that time, it was because before we left the New York Studio, where we later spent about seven days for the recording of Better Than Home, we got back home in L.A. and I was starting feeling a bit of anxiety, given what was happening at the time. Better Than Home was a very painful record for me to do and I was aware that Michael Stevens, one of the producers of Better Than Home was dying (he then sadly passed away in October 2015). As a result, even before we started the mixing process for Better Than Home, I called Ed Van Zijl at Mascot (Hart's label) and I said to him: "Dude, if I don't get in the studio right now and make another record, I'll probably never go back in there ever again, after the experience I am living". He said to me "What's happening? Are you not satisfied with how things are going with Better Than Home?" to which I replied "I haven't got the faintest idea because that album has not even been mixed yet but I am positive the Team mixing the album will make a great job. The bottom line is that I need to get back again in the studio, now, please". When I then got the "Go Ahead" from Ed, I was very excited again and I couldn't quite believe I was given that chance. Then it's me back on the phone with Oliver Leiber, telling him "Man, can I come and see you? I need to talk to you". I went there and and he could spot something about me, asking if I was ok and I told him I was feeling ok but having a tough time lately. I asked him if I could make another record with him and he said "Sure, just send me the songs".
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Sometimes music artists spend relentless period of times trying to nail the right sound effects, to write the right lyrics, find the right producer or to cut the right vocals in the hope to make their albums a true masterpiece.
Rather fortunately, though, there are still musicians out there able to play a more stripped-down music style, still achieving brilliantly their ultimate goal, which is to bring their music to the masses.
Eric Johnson, the Texan-born veteran guitarist and one of the most talented and versatile blues/rock artists worldwide, has totally and perfectly embraced this concept, by releasing, towards the end of 2016, the very first acoustic album of his career, simply called EJ.
The album is a total revelation for old and new fans of Johnson's music. An eclectic collection of superbly balanced songs, plus some instrumentals and a bunch of covers, the whole executed in such a phenomenal style, a true pinnacle in Eric Johnson's career.
When Bluebird Reviews has the opportunity and the privilege to discuss with the legendary Texan guitarist and singer/songwriter his brand new album, Johnson is affable as always and sounds in a really good humour.
BBR - Hi Eric, thank you so much for talking to us at Bluebird Reviews. EJ, your brand new album, is your first ever acoustic one after three decades in making music. Which criteria did you follow in choosing the songs that ended up being on EJ?
EJ - I just went in the studio and recorded a bunch of songs that I had in mind to record for a while plus a couple of new ones that I wrote and included in the record. I believe I managed to capture, on EJ, the best performances of songs that I played live that I had a good take of. Few of the songs I had in mind, they didn't quite make it, compositionally, so I kind of threw them back in the pond but the ones that I thought were good compositions, I just kind of over-recorded them and looked for takes on which I did a good performance on. I actually have a bunch of more acoustic tracks that I am considering to put on a possible EJ Vol. 2 but I just need to get good enough performances of those songs, because I just want to get the best takes possible on the next album, as I always try to achieve on all my records.
BBR - EJ sounds a bit like a therapeutic album for you to record and something you truly enjoy doing, something that allows you to let your artistry completely break free. What triggered this sudden desire to explore the beauty of playing and recording music in a more stripped-down form?
EJ - Well, playing acoustic it's something that I have always done in my private life which, for various reasons I have never included that much in my electric albums. I guess that, generally, my style of playing nods more towards electric kind of stuff but on this album, I thought that the fans wanted to hear a more stripped-down version of my music. I think that in the last couple of years I have arrived to the conclusion that I want to include more stuff, especially acoustic, on my records, which is something I totally enjoy. All in all, through an album like EJ, I just wanted to be a bit more balanced, musically, with everything I like.
BBR - Your new album features some of the most inspired instrumental tunes I have heard for quite some time, from your own version of that timeless classic that it's Mrs. Robinson to some authentic jewels like Serinidad, Once Upon A Time In Texas and Song For Irene. Have such tracks been composed long ago or are they the spontaneous outcome of your improvisational skills, at the time you recorded EJ?
EJ - Actually, Song For Irene is a song that I wrote in the studio, while I was making the record and I think that it was the last thing I did on the record because it just came to me just like that. For Mrs. Robinson, well, I was looking to find the right way to start the record with and I though that making an instrumental up-tempo version of that classic was the best way to launch off the album. They just came in different times, all the songs. There are probably two or three songs on the album that I actually recorded several years ago, the rest of the album was written and recorded in the last six, seven months prior to the end of the recording process.
BBR - We all know, at Bluebird Reviews, your great love and respect for a guitar giant like Les Paul, to which you paid an artistic homage on The World Is Waiting For Sunrise. It was, though, slightly unexpected to see two Simon & Garfunkel's songs featured on EJ. How much did their music contribute to your artistic growth?
EJ - Well, they are kind of one of the soundtracks of my childhood. I liked to listen and I still do to a lot of folk music. It is something that, despite the fact that I did not include in any of my previous records, it's part of my musical DNA. I grew up listening to these guys, as I did listen to a lot of James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and stuff like that, so, in answer to your question, it's something that has always been in the back of my mind because it has been part of my musical formation. The Simon & Garfunkel songs included on EJ are such great songs and I just wanted to work on them with different arrangements, approaching them in a different way. At the end of the day, a good song is a good song, regardless of what flavour you apply to it and how you do it.
BBR - Even when you don't touch your guitar, you are still able to gift memorable music moments to your fans, like that goose-pumping tune that is Water Under The Bridge, executed with just piano and voice. What is the story behind the wonderful lyrics of that song, Eric?
EJ - I think it's a song about not holding everybody or keep tabs on everything. I think it's pointless to do that, it's important to forgive people on stuff of the past and to focus on moving on in your life. Regardless whether we have got a reason to hold on on stuff or not, if you keep going on about this type of things in your personal life, it kind of becomes poisoness to yourself in the end. It's much better and healthier to let it go and move on.
BBR - How many different guitars have you been using on EJ?
EJ - I mostly used a 1981's Martin D45 and I also used a Ramirez Classical and a Silvertone Acoustic on Song For Irene.
BBR - Texas is America's holy land for guitarists, either born and bread there like you or people like Billy Gibbons or adopted one like Lance Lopez, Omar Dykes or Mike Zito, just to mention few. Have any of you considered, one day, to join forces and take on Tour the cream of Texas guitar players?
EJ - Oh, boy, that would be real fun! We should call the project T3, rather than G3, wouldn't that be just fantastic!
BBR - Eric, in November 2016 you finished your Solo Acoustic Tour around the Statest with a fabulous hometown concert at the Paramount Theatre in Austin. Is there any plan, so far, to tour the EJ album also in Europe and the rest of the world?
EJ - We are currently discussing the possibility to extend the Tour even out of the States but it's all about to manage and fit it with my current schedule but I would be really up for it. I'd love to go back in places like Europe, for example, I have such fond memories of that part of the world and the fantastic crowds over there.
BBR - George Gershwin once stated that "True Music must repeat the thoughts and inspirations of the people and the time". What thoughts and inspirations does the EJ album carries within to describe where, right now, Eric Johnson and his music are?
EJ - I guess that what I am trying to do right now is to be more sincere, more honest, genuine and spontaneous. Most of all, trying to make people feel more inspired and lifted through my music. I don't know if I am succeeding in making people feeling that way, but that, believe me, is my ultimate aspiration.
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato