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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Albert Bouchard


Review by Jason Hillenburg

You can call Albert Bouchard many things, but predictable isn't one of them. In ten plus years as the drummer and primary songwriter driving Blue Oyster Cult, Bouchard's imaginative creations and underrated work behind the kit brought him well deserved accolades. His departure from the band in 1981 and low public profile that followed might have seemed like notices of a career in eclipse, but those notices were returned to sender in the early 1990s when Bouchard returned, again as a important creative force, in The Brain Surgeons. This wildly eclectic outfit disbanded in the early years of the new century, but Bouchard didn't lay fallow for long. He resurfaced playing alongside former Alice Cooper Group bassist Dennis Dunaway and his brother and former Blue Oyster Cult bassist Joe Bouchard in a trio named Blue Coupe. While Blue Coupe continues to flourish, finding contentment with that alone is forgivable, but Bouchard's restless creative spirit, irrepressibly prolific, is experiencing late life creative resurgence. This album is, superficially, the most surprising release of his long career and a singular achievement destined for posterity.

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Track by Track Review
He couldn't have chosen a more appropriate opener. It initially struck me as an ethereal song, but that's a superficial observation. The music does have a floating quality, but there is real musical density here instead of some half-coalesced cloud of acoustic instruments. The layered, airy feel has a sharply elegiac demeanor that contrasts with its ultimately life-affirming message. There is certainly melancholy in this song, but there is real humor and moments of genuine pathos. No one will ever mistake Bouchard for Frances of Hoboken, but I am hard pressed to believe a fair-minded listener would find much fault with his emotive, sympathetic singing here.
The rollicking, upbeat tribute to the tradition that gave birth to Bouchard's career isn't setting out to remake the wheel, but that's the point. This song delivers exactly what it promises from the outset - an intelligent, entertaining romp. However, it isn't merely a bit of self-referential filler. The memorable chorus and superb mandolin playing are creative touches.
This plaintive, deeply poetic song will likely be a highlight for many. Bouchard's musical arrangement matches the lyrical beauty with glistening piano passages and lovely melodic touches. The song is a dark, cheerless confrontation with grief but sorrow doesn't weigh down the mood. Instead, I think this is a cathartic moment expressed in song with the hopes that facing it will liberate the speaker from despair.
Do You Believe In Me?
The acoustic guitars and mandolins are wonderful, but the highlight is hearing the symbiotic relationship between the vocals and stringed instruments. They strengthen each other in immeasurable ways while possessing ample merit as parts of a whole. Perhaps such strong harmony vocals might be unexpected from the former drummer of Blue Oyster Cult, but anyone familiar with Bouchard's career will support the idea that one of BOC's underrated strengths was its vocal harmonies. The strong storytelling in the lyrics is another highlight, but arguably the song's most memorable moment is its appealing chorus. There's a deceptively simple art to composing these moments that Bouchard makes look and sound easy.
Prayer (Light The Dark)
This reminds me of Pete Seeger filtered through Albert Bouchard. Like the preceding song, the strong hand of folk music tradition makes itself felt again here. There is a social consciousness here that Bouchard's songwriting highlights with another exhortative chorus and another array of harmony vocals adds much. Yet an additional important reason why this song works so well is Bouchard's exuberant, energetic vocal.
I love the haunting arrangement and the brave honesty in the lyrics. This is an unabashedly personal song firmly with an intelligent eye turned to the past as a way of connecting it to the present. The sensitive playing, particularly a brief and tasteful guitar solo, elevates another strong arrangement even higher. It serves as further evidence of the care Bouchard has taken with his vocals on this album. His voice is strong throughout, brimming over with sincerity, and even winking at the listener with an occasional bit of warm humor.
Cry x3
A great kiss-off song, the personality shining through in the album's vocal performances thus far is here too. They strike a stylish, smirking counterbalance to the vitriol often laced through the verses. Some songs shine a little brighter than their surrounding company, but repeated listens to tracks like this reveal what an astonishingly solid, complete work the album is in its entirety. The compact, focused verses, another catchy chorus, on point instrumentation that never oversteps are hallmarks of the album.
Voyeur, Pt. 1
This is another standout track. The sheer inventiveness of the number means I can hear echoes of folk music, rock, and even Euro-influenced 80s pop while listening. The treated vocals, sudden bursts of guitar and lyrical content conspire to give the song a claustrophobic quality that matches its subject. Even the guitar sound has a brittle, stretched taut quality full of anxiety and desperation. When you contrast these moments with others in the tune, like the chorus, you hear how enormous Bouchard's capacity for surprising the listener remains after all these years.
Face In Your Mirror
There is a hard-won swagger conveyed in this song that grabbed me right off. Bouchard sings it with the understated sneer of someone who's seen it all and has no more illusions. It is easy to mistake its message as a dark one as the lyrics deal with some weighty imagery and topics, but this is a piece about long-suffered rebirth, not the Hollywood ending variety. The hero still stands, but scathed.
Still Dreaming
After the darkness of the preceding two songs, "Still Dreaming" is like long-awaited sunshine. This isn't a statement that the song's disposition is much sunnier than its predecessors, but crouches its subject in a much lighter, gentler musical backing. Another excellent guitar solo provides one of many highlights, but my favorite element is Bouchard's nuanced vocal.
Career Of Evil
This is an astonishing acoustic re-invention of a Blue Oyster Cult cut from their third album, Secret Treaties. The arrangement follows the original closely in the chorus and bridge, but the verses feature Bouchard's voice paired against a spare, stuttering acoustic guitar riff. I had no idea what to expect when I listened for the first time, as this song is still played by the band's current incarnation as well as covered by The Brain Surgeons, but Bouchard takes another chance at perfecting the numberand leaves us with an important variation.
Death Valley Nights
This cover of a relatively obscure track from Blue Oyster Cult's Spectres album (you know, the one with Godzilla on it?) features lyrics from longtime band lyricist Richard Meltzer. Bouchard's new arrangement is much more upbeat and appealing than the mournful original. In this guise, the tune plays as a memorable folk rocker benefiting from another good Bouchard vocal.
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