Thursday, May 28, 2015

ALBUM REVIEW: Will Weston: Heart of the Order



Greetings, readers! I know you all enjoy the books reviews that I post on this site (well, at least I hope you do!). I've begun to review music as well, like the new Blur album that I reviewed last month. I thought it would also be nice if I could review albums by artists on indie labels in order to spread the word and help these musicians get some much deserved exposure for the great music they're making. Well, I've been blessed in my maiden voyage to this territory with the subject of the present review, San Francisco-based Will Weston's sophomore album Heart of the Order.

I first became aware of Will's new album a few months ago and from the first listen I've really enjoyed it. In his own words, Will Weston is a San Francisco-based songwriter and guitarist exported from humble roots in Maui, Hawaii. Weston's early exposure to rhythm and blues met with an attraction toward guitar-led rock and pop music. Relocating to the Bay Area, Weston recorded his debut album, "Quiet, Sirens," in 2012, forming the roots of his current rhythm section and enjoying a string of live shows and an outpouring of support that catapulted him within months to the Bay Area's top stages.

 Now backed by a 6-piece rhythm section, Weston has released his sophomore album, "Heart of the Order." With an energetic live presence, an emphasis on playing, and a frustratingly loyal support base, Weston & Co. are an artery to San Francisco's still-beating rock and roll heart, ascending the hills one contagious riff at a time.

Photo credit: Zona Foto


I've listened through to Heart of the Order several times now and each listen has revealed something new and interesting in the way the songs are constructed. To me, the overall sound of Weston and his band melds the funky/jazzy grooves and incisive and witty lyrics of vintage Steely Dan with the melodic pop sensibilities of late 1980s XTC, with a dash of early Chicago sprinkled in. The music is definitely guitar/bass/drums driven, but the keyboards and horns are an essential part of the sound and are always present without ever getting in the way (except for the times when they're supposed to). I decided to write up the album track by track, but I urge you to listen for yourself as it sounds even better than I'm able to convey with mere words.

Will's band consists of the man himself on guitar and vocals, as well as:

Cyril Guiraud on tenor sax
Brandon Jackson on trumpet and flugelhorn
Anthony Petrocchi on drums
Dan Manian on bass guitar
Erik Strom on guitars
Robert Kennedy on organs and keys


  
Some choppy delayed guitar chords kick off the song and album, leading into a song that has a bit of Steely Dan flavor mixed with some early 1980s Joe Jackson.  A great groove and sound, while Weston's vocals sound a bit like Joe Jackson in the verses and Andy Partridge in the choruses. It's at once both lush and beautiful, with the energy going up a notch in the chorus. I love the electric piano flourishes in background and the guitar solo at the end is fantastic, with a really smooth yet biting attack that is just great.

 
This is one of my favorite songs on the album! It's got a funky groove with a driving bass that really propels the song and some tasty pianet filling in the spaces. The horn section and organ are great and the sudden change in the middle 8 is really nice. I absolutely love what the bass guitar and horns are doing in outro...the entire song has a very summery type of feel and would have fit right in on classic albums like XTC's Oranges and Lemons or Wasp Star.

3. Oblivion Song

A slightly laid back, breezy tune with an infectious guitar-and-horn riff, a Steely Dan-ish groove, and a catchy chorus. 

4. Tell Me

A syncopated Phish-type groove with horns and keyboards heralds the song's arrival before the vocals start.  The sparser verses contrast really well with the organ and horn led chorus, and the lush vocal harmonies and saxophone solo at the end of the song are just beautiful.

5. Search Engine

This is definitely the heaviest song on the album, with some distorted guitar chords and bass lines during the intro giving way to jazzy horns and an insistent drumbeat played out by a steady four beat snare drum. From the overall sound to the rapid vocal delivery it sounds a lot like late 1980s XTC, which is a very good thing!

6. Trace of Your Flaws

Some soft electric piano starts off this quieter song, which has some understated and gentle vocals from Weston and nice ensemble playing from the band. I like the picked guitar melody and harmony vocals during the chorus, and the addition of some muted trumpet is a welcome touch.

7. One Step

Jazzy chords and shimmering organ start off the song which sounds like an early 1980s New Wave song crossed with jazzy Chicago or Steely Dan horns. There's a great chord change heading into the chorus and with the very resonant vocal it really takes off. The synth solo sounds a bit like 1970s prog-rock by way of Spock's Beard which is fine with me. It's little touches like the electric piano and the backing vocals in the chorus that show the attention to detail and atmosphere that the whole band used when putting the album together.

8. Born True

A nice groove right from the onset dictated by the drums and a great bass line. Some quietly intense horns come in before the vocals start with craftily understated guitar arpeggios and a laid back vocal. The electric piano solo and hand claps add a special touch in the middle of this great song.

9. Quiet Spark

This one starts with jazzy horns that sound like they could have come out of a smoky club years ago before giving way to a shuffle-type drum pattern and jazzy guitar figures. It's a quiet Steely Dan-type song that sounds as though it would fit perfectly on Gaucho (apart from Weston's voice, which has a hushed quality that fits the mood of the song more than Donald Fagen's pinched, nasal tone would). Love that jazzy guitar solo, too.

Photo Credit: Zona Foto
10. Hands Up

Another killer groove with a funky guitar lick that starts it all off. The horns and guitar play a dual lead melody and there are some nice rhythm kicks in between each phrase. There's a great breakdown section in the middle with just drums and a rocking guitar riff (doubled by the bass) that gradually builds up layer by layer with organ and vocals and an almost spoken-word rap.  It concludes with a ripping guitar solo that wouldn't be out of place in a 1970s hard rock song...the bass guitar underneath it is awesome, too. As the song ends, a bit of studio chatter and laughter ends it all on a lighter note.

Overall, this is a very strong album with a variety of textures and sounds all woven around Will and the band's distinctive sound. There are hooks that will stay with you long after you've listened and it stands up really well to repeated plays. As always, I urge you to support musicians both big and small...listen to their music, buy it, go see them live, and spread the word! You can buy Heart of the Order by clicking on the link and if you like what you've heard/read here, please do so! Here's to  what Will and his band come up with next while I continue to enjoy this one!

2 comments:

  1. Pretty nice pop, good review.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks! I really dig this album, great stuff. Sometimes in a sea of mediocrity with all of the major label garbage that's on the radio these days, you forget there's lots of great stuff, REAL music, being made by people and still for the right reasons.

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