Monday, August 3, 2015

Let's Begin to Start Again. Again. [Review of Travel Lanes]

Attention avid music lovers! It's been two years since the release of Travel Lanes well-reviewed EP, "Hey, Hey, It's Travel Lanes!" They have now graced us with the release of a new self-produced project entitled, "Let's Begin to Start Again." So it's now 2015 -- and exactly who are the musicians in Travel Lanes and why do they need to begin to start again? Again? Well, any invitation to start again should at least begin with an introduction of the talent.

Frank Brown: Vocals, acoustic/electric guitars, keyboards 
Mitch Cojocariu: Bass, background vocals, mandolin, keyboards 
Derek Feinberg: Guitar, vocals 
John Bicer: Drums, percussion 

In this latest release by Travel Lanes, all songs were written by Frank Brown except ‘Little Outta Love’ - written by Frank Brown and Gerry McGoldrick. The tracks were produced by Frank Brown and Mitch Cojocariu. 

Personal aside: Let me tell you something about this little band from Philly called Travel Lanes. I once asked Travel Lanes if they would be able to play a gig on a weekend that I would, by chance, be in Philadelphia. (Unfortunately, they were not playing the weekend that I would be in town.) They checked around and then found a place where they could play so I could see them play live.


Something else that I will never forget are lyrics written by Travel Lanes’ lead singer Frank Brown. Frank is a long-time Philly music staple, however, his name is fairly common -- see the links to a music festival with his same name all over the place -- and with no real social media presence – it's hard even for me to find out anything about him other than his musical history:  Flight of Mavis, Buzz Zeemer, some work with other bands on the now-defunct Record Cellar label, a solo album in '05, and then, of course, the Travel Lanes' EP release in 2013.

But back to the lyrics… Frank Brown is my songwriting hero and I'll spend a greater part of this review analyzing lyrics from many of the songs on this new album. One of the first lyrics from the prolific songwriter that I latched onto came from a 1989 Flight of Mavis song that I first heard in 2004 (the year I discovered the band). The song is "It Comes in Time" which was featured in an Olsen Twins movie back in 2002. Don't ask.

Don’t think that you shouldn’t call /
it’s mine to take I’m awake /
If something’s on your mind, it’s on mine too  /
I’m part of you /
And there’s nothing you can hide that I can’t find
For my future screenplay, imagine a fade into a tiny apartment at night in the late 1990’s in the heart of Austin, Texas. A young, pretty girl calls a guy on the phone and hears these words back to her. It’s in the screenplay because it never happened in real life, but think of how nice if it would have happened if that guy would have said that instead of, oh, ...wait. Where am I and what am I talking about – oh yes...Travel Lanes!

Which begs the question that maybe these lyrics aren’t as brilliant as I think they are, but maybe they do speak to something that can be recognized as special by the individual, and, therefore, are redeemed by being held to this higher, very personal, standard. 


This blog has already covered my personal ‘history’ with Travel Lanes and how popular and influential an artist Frank Brown is in many circles:
“(Flight of Mavis) ran on the gas that was the songs of one Frank Brown, who had a great voice if ever there was one.”
- Nov. 27, 2002 [Philadelphia Weekly] 
Not to mention Frank Brown’s stint as the lead singer of Buzz Zeemer -- which I mention because I have contractually obligated myself to mention Tommy Conwell in every post. This blog is called Audio Rumble for a reason! But again, I don’t want to get caught up in any kind of nostalgia – a subject which (ha!) allows me to drop-reference another Brown-penned song from his solo effort in 2005 released by Record Cellar, "Out of the Blue." From a song called “Nostalgia”:  

"Now I don’t want to talk about the kinds of things that happened long ago /
I don’t want to celebrate the infinite wisdom of Columbo /
Songs that meant the world to me are now only hawking mediocrity"

So, true story about the first time I listened to “Let’s Begin to Start Again” (a week ago now) in its entirety. I was so awestruck in my first listen that I had to really, really think about what I had heard. Was it brilliant? Was I overwhelmed by the themes I thought I was hearing? Was I low on B vitamin supplements? Anyway, I decided to stew over these first impressions and not listen to the album for an entire day, so as to completely get my thoughts together before getting back to the music.

And now for a song-by-song review: 


Class Trip

This opening track from Travel Lanes really channels Cheap Trick. Crunchy guitars, powerful rhythm section, great vocals. And I'm talking about Cheap Trick in the late 1970's, y'know, after Budokan, but before Dream Police. It could easily be mistaken for a track in the 'Heaven Tonight' LP, because it would fit right in between "On Top of the World" and "California Man" - it's a great rock song! I know my Cheap Trick, so take my word for it.

Lyrics: “Well, you’ve got your permission slip / It’s all you need on this class trip!” 

Plus I enjoy the almost menacing tone of the lyrics towards the end:

"Hold tight, don't lose your grip / if you want to come home from this class trip!"

What? What do you mean "if" I want to return? How rough is the ride on this class trip? Holy cow - that is awesome! Where are my parents to sign this permission slip...

In the World
The first time I heard "In the World" was in May of last year. Travel Lanes played it in rehearsal at Dawson Street Pub and also played it in their main set. After the song was over, I cheered so hard for this song and Frank said, 'We'll keep that in the set' and I smiled like a Cheshire cat. It felt so great to hear a new Frank Brown song on its first night. Themes of true love and melancholy in spades. And it' s a great song.

Lyrics: “A picture that you took / that she kept inside a book / It holds the memories of a summer so sublime” 

No Go
"No Go" begins very rhythmic and has an engaging tone. Frank's vocals are not overly complex and neither is the song. But it has one of the best pleading lines a song has ever had about intimacy.

Lyrics: “Darling, there’s a reason that this night is just so-so” 

Little Outta Love
A song co-written by Frank Brown and Gerry McGoldrick, former lead of a couple of cool Record Cellar bands, including Napalm Sunday and Solid for Sixty. The soft-rock pop harmony and rhythm section find their stride just as the singer is "...trying to find (his) way up."

Lyrics: “Not everything’s behind you /
Sometimes it’s merely a precursor / nothing’s wrong
just make sure your seatbelt's on”

100th I Told You
Quick. Write a catchy, witty pop song that is under 2 minutes and 30 seconds. You can't do it, can you? That's too bad, because that's Frank Brown's stock-in-trade. By the way, did you hear Travel Lanes cover Taylor Swift earlier this year on WXPN? In my imagination, this is Frank Brown's way of throwing down the gauntlet and saying, "Yeah, Tay-Tay, I've been doing this pop music brilliance for years. Big deal."

Nah, that's just me talking. Frank is probably way too nice to ever say that. But this song is so good, I'm not even going to give you a snippet of the best lyrics. You'll have to buy it yourself and check it out. Rocker's Dive Radio has been playing it a lot, too.

Lyrics: “…losing your nerve / as I’m finding mine” 

The Year 
“The Year” is my personal favorite and, additionally, Frank Brown's vocals are at their best on this track. The overall feel is very reminiscent to me of Frank Brown’s work from his 2005 solo album, “Out of the Blue.”  A review from music mag No Depression that year stated:
“This is what The Eagles would be if they were still making music every other year…. It’s like Don Henley and Glenn Frey came together again to make another classic…a bit of low-cal SoCal country-rock that temporarily turns Brown and band into...wait for the punchline...the Philadelphia Eagles." 
Fact: No band currently does alt-country live right now better than Travel Lanes. In one night, I witnessed them cover (with much depth and expertise) both Ricky Nelson’s “Anyone Else“ and the Carter Family's “Lover's Lane.“ I proclaim Travel Lanes to be the music industry's updated version of The Eagles in 2015...but just a lot more exciting. 

“Life rearrangin’ /
Time started changin’ /
Not hard to see /
when it inevitably unfolds in front of you” 

But I’m Not  
A straight forward rock/country-ish love song that's touching in the mood that it creates. This song reminds me of Buzz Zeemer's "Delusions of Grandeur"-era, which was a series of tracks that created an atmosphere so dreamy and rapt, it made you want to cocoon yourself into the next rainy day - because it was that good.  This song is that good, too.

“All I can do is follow through this love for you /
There ain’t a doubt the way out’s an avenue /
Sometimes this world makes me want to run away /
But I’m not”

So an inside source tells me that the title of this track is a real person's initials: 'The name in the chorus is so much fun to say that Frank had to write the song.'

"From the moment I heard it said, I had this song going through my head...."

With that being said, let me know if you can figure out the name being said in this song because I'm lost.
It will be added to the category of "Great Misunderstood Song Lyrics of All Time." But I love the creativity of how this song was created, the punchy and fun lyrics -- "Her aunt and uncle are extraordinary" -- and it's yet another great pop-rock song. And a mini-Flight of Mavis/Buzz Zeemer reunion with David McElroy on keyboards.

An alt-country stylized track about the inevitability of death that might be a surprise for some, but it works here. And how poignant this bridge:  

“While I know that you’re surprised /
you‘ve got to try it on for size /
All the things that you used to worry about /
Well they all just went away with all the pain that you’re without”

I won't give away the lyrics of the song at the intro, but once you hear it, you won't ever forget it. The song is a detached look at its subject, yet at the same time a personal and connected look at the weariness that the eventualities of death brings for everyone. And some great work by Point Entertainment's Jesse Lundy on guitar.

Cream Soda 
At one level, "Cream Soda" expresses itself on the joyous effects of the simple pleasure of a cool refreshing childhood drink. On another, the band may be imploring us to enjoy their confectionery hooks, melodies and lyrics because they are as palatable as a cream soda. Whatever the case may be, it’s a happy, hip rock song that really comes to life with the line:

"Cream soda, it’s the only thing that I’m sure of"

It's so catchy, it’s a musical crime. I especially enjoy the fact that this song really amps up the listener for the last ¾ of the entire album. 

More Than Me 
"How come everyone seems to have more than me /
Got more friends, got more money /
How come everyone seems to have more than me /

Seems so, I don't know"

The almost universal lament of this track seems to get verified at the end when the song fades out and then fades back in:

"Everybody / everyone..."

If you need a comparison about what this somewhat alt-country throwback sounds like, think a more Americanized Elvis Costello meets Ricky Nelson. Hey look! You said you wanted a comparison, right? But a good bit of roots rock, if I do say so myself. And that's Frog Holler's Michael Lavdanski on banjo.
It’s My Pleasure  
And then the last track....this last Travel Lanes track was haunting me for days. The song opens with an acoustic sort of musical scale that then opens up into a piece that is quite ethereal. That scale runs throughout the track then, and ties everything together. It is a perfect cap to everything musically that came before -- which is fitting because it's as if saying, "Look at all we’ve been through on this musical journey. I’d do this all over again with you, you know?”

Before I let you go, I need to know / If you are a part of me, of me 
The last few lines - ‘All you are is dreaming’ - come across like a musical sigh in its repetition, as the listener becomes even more enchanted with the addition of the lines ‘So let’s begin to start go first’ The release of acceptance to everything comes with the line ‘It’s my pleasure’ — a completely unexpected statement aside from the fact that it’s the title of the song. Is life but a dream? It's up to the listener to decide, of course, but in reference to the entire album, it's been a pleasure to hear this work. 

For myself, the entirety of the tracks on Travel Lanes' "Let's Begin to Start Again" encompass almost all of life’s varied experiences. The album runs the gamut from youth and adventure in "Class Trip," "In The World" and its reference to true love via woefulness, the humor found in "No Go" and "Cream Soda," commitment and dedication in "Little Outta Love," the persistent failure yet hopeful tone of "The Year," and the sweet melancholy of "It's My Pleasure."    

The fact that Frank Brown has surrounded himself with excellent musicians -- Mitch Cojocariu's bass, John Bicer on drums (both formerly of The Rigbees) and guitarist Derek Feinberg -- is no accident and fully fleshes out this Americana/indie sound, yet these guys are a step above. (As mentioned, the album is produced by Brown and Cojocariu with the latter taking lead in the recording, engineering and mixing.) Their time together as a band in both the studio and in their live shows has made for a cohesive unit and sound -– and they are truly one of the best bands around today. Travel Lanes' new LP is simply one of Frank Brown’s most ambitious and successful projects to date.

You will not go wrong in buying a copy of Travel Lanes’ latest, “Let’s Begin to Start Again” on CD Baby (for digital files), purchase the CD exclusively at Main Street Music in Manayunk, PA, and/or stream on Spotify

Do all three. You'll make a band happy.

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