Kirtland Records, 2010
REVIEW BY: Josh Allen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/06/2010
Given that (1) Austin, Texas, is heralded by many as the “Live Music Capital Of The World” and (2) Bob Schneider has ruled the Austin music scene for more than a decade now, is it safe to say that Bob Schneider knows how to put on a hell of a good show?
I remember when I took a friend of mine to see his band live for the first time. Before the show, he asked me, “So what kind of music does he play?” I struggled to answer the question, because he plays, well, everything. Schneider’s ability to expertly span genres – from mellow rock to mambo to rhythm and blues – is staggering.
After eight solo studio albums since his debut in 1998, he must know a thing or two about songwriting, too. If you’re exploring his recordings for the first time, Lovely Creatures is a great place to start: it epitomizes his performances, boasting virtuosity in a variety of genres and exhibiting the vocal and instrumental talents of Schneider and his crew.
Track one, “Trash,” is the antithesis of the shock-and-awe opening track with its plodding pace and mega-chilled disposition. He even tells you that straight-up with his opening lyrics, “Well, here I am / Walking down the street again / Like a scene in a movie / Just me and the garbage cans.” The chorus, however, displays Schneider’s vocal talents as well as any other track on the album, as he holds out “Tra-a-a-a-a-sh” for a good seven seconds – which if sung by most other singers, would probably be about five seconds too long.
Schneider occasionally adopts a vocal style that is not shackled by the confines of rhythmic structure, in a manner reminiscent of Paul Simon. He uses it to great effect in the album’s lead single, “40 Dogs (Like Romeo And Juliet).” Rapidfire vocals in each verse contrast with the much slower, more deliberate chorus that inevitably sticks with you for hours. If syncopated rhythm and a simple but memorable repeating theme on guitar don’t make “40 Dogs” a perfect pop song, then maybe some thoughtful, mushy lyrics do (“You’re the color of the colored part of the Wizard Of Oz movie,” or “We’re like good times that haven’t happened yet, but will.”).
Bob doesn’t do it all by his lonesome, however. Oliver Steck challenges Schneider’s vocals for the listener’s focus with sometimes-flamboyant, sometimes-subdued trumpet accents, especially in “Slower Dear” and “Your Head Holds Gold. Your Heart Holds Diamonds.” The omnipresent backing vocals rarely command that level of attention, except for Patty Griffin’s gorgeous cameo on “Changing Your Mind,” a devastating duet that painfully illustrates the helpless sorrow of heartbreak.
It was a risky move to attempt to capture the sheer energy experienced with his legendary live performances of “Bombanaza” and “Tarantula.” The studio recordings on Lovely Creatures don’t quite cut it, but the bar admittedly was set unrealistically high. Still, hip-shaking rhythms and vibrant brass and percussion sections effectively add Latin spice to the album, which otherwise would be too bland to really savor.
Lovely Creatures closes nicely with “Bicycle Vs. Car,” a poetic anthem dedicated to the role of irrationality in romantic endeavors, proclaiming “head versus heart equals bicycle versus car.” Schneider weaves theme after theme together, beautifully meshing a repeating piano motif with vocals at varying dynamics.
It’s impossible to deny Bob Schneider’s musical talents as a performer when you’ve witnessed him live at Antone’s or the Saxon Pub in Austin, and it’s difficult to find fault with his abilities as a veteran singer/songwriter when spinning his albums. Lovely Creatures, complete with a radio-worthy single and a handful of other substantive, buoyant tracks, is surely no exception.