Lane Baldwin - The View From Here
This may be the most unusual review I ever write. Let me explain.
Lane Baldwin has quite a following on StereoNET due to the excellent 'DIG THE HOLE' album from a few years back, released under the moniker of 'DEEPER BLUES'. With a classic three piece line up, the band tore through a set of classy blues workouts, and particular pleasure was to be had from Lanes' excellent vocals and 'in the pocket' bass lines.
In every sense, it was, and remains a brilliant album.
Between the release of that set, and the release of 'THE VIEW FROM HERE' Lane has survived all manner of personal upheaval, including 'flat lining' three times in the operating theatre during surgery for a life-threatening condition.
Therefore, perhaps needless to say, the recording of the new album was a stop-start affair. Different musicians, different studios, different times. The two constants were Lane, and producer/ musician POLO JONES.
The upshot of this has seen the new album 'THE VIEW FROM HERE' available as a download for the last few months, but not, as yet, pressed to CD or vinyl.
Lane sent an advance CD copy to me and asked for some feedback either on a personal level, or as a review. This is were things got interesting.
One of the things possible with downloads, is a listener can purchase as little or as much of an album as they want. So the suggested track listing on the download site, does not necessarily have to be what the listener purchases and keeps.
My advance copy is the same track listing as the download site.
My first play was vaguely unsatisfying.
Lane had indicated he was going for a wider reach than a straight blues outing: he calls it Blues Infused/Americana. He obviously has the versatility and the chops to tackle any branch of the American tradition he wants and pull it off with panache. So I was open to this.
The hiccup was the sequencing. It just did not work.
With at least five stylistic turns on show here, in my opinion the sequence as suggested did not show the individual tracks in their best light, nor allow them to comfortably follow the preceeding track, or set the tone for the following one.
Feedback from a few trusted sets of ears agreed with my assessment, with a few even stating they tended to tune out after the stylistic jolt between the opening two tracks.
In back and forth communication with Lane over the past few months, I explained my dilemma. I do not like to spend my time writing about stuff I cannot get behind. Music that I love, I want to bring to the attention of as many listeners as possible.
Taken individually, each track on this set is excellent. But presented as an album, in this sequence, it just held itself back.
So, I took the unusual /cheeky step of suggesting to Lane that he let me resequence the album to a format I believes works, and let me review that. Lane was open to that suggestion and provided further background to some of the tracks.
I sent my suggesting sequencing off for his consideration early in January.
As the track listing had not yet been finalised for a projected CD release, well….let's see.
O.K.- so what was my rationale?
Over many plays, I got to be familiar with the individual tracks, noting style, tempo, lyrics, band mix, and production feel. Then, many more plays, spent moving the tracks around, this way, that way.
What I came up with was a possible sequencing that absolutely transformed the set into an 'album' versus a ' set of songs'. I also did the unthinkable, and left one track out.
The album, in both original sequence and my alternative version, kicks off with a nod to what is probably the original blues template - the 'work song'. As heard in the fields, prisons, and on the battle fields: the chants and percussion that marked the toil and the hours of the black Americans. (Now there's a great title for a song- 'The Toil and The Hours')
'LAY ME DOWN' is a great opener. Lanes' central vocal line shadowed by a whispered vocal, and a mix of voices and clanging percussion. The backing vocals bring a real feel of authenticity to things. It gets your attention immediately.
“Lay Me Down – that’s not an overdriven mic, it’s a whisper behind the main vocal. Think of voices in a graveyard… ghosts of the past… that kind of thing.” - Lane.
Now, Lane had 'HALFWAY BACK' as track two. This in itself is a great track, but it has an uptempo 'city blues' feel, quite at odds with the opener. You could almost call it a 'swing blues', and it sure does swing, but, just not here.
This is the track I would completely remove: its rightful home would be on a companion album devoted to this style - in fact a whole album of city blues would be very welcome.
I found it stylistically jarring, and there was no sequencing I tried that allowed it to fit in and claim a slot. As noted earlier, every listener had a problem with the tune in this context. Hide it or lose it - it belongs on a whole different album.
At this point, I imagined Lane throwing a plate through a window!!!
I would suggest 'FREEDOM TRAIN' is the logical second track. Thematically it links with the opener, and musically, presages some of the more intense electric blues workouts to come.
“Freedom Train actually does have an overdriven vocal mic. It adds an old-school vibe to a song that has Rock intensity. By the way, that’s the tune Abe Laboriel, Jr. did drums on.” - Lane
Next up, I placed 'BLOW TWISTER BLOW' - it fits the strong blues based openers, and allows the listener to settle into a nice groove. It flows well in the bluesy context, but Lanes' vocal phrasing and intonations open the door to the different feel coming up in the next few tracks.
I really enjoyed the 'non blues' tracks, but felt strongly that they had to flow naturally, and not jar the listener. The listeners need an invitation to go with the artist. So, for my ears, the obvious entry point was 'HAPPY BOY' - which introduces a definite upbeat feel, and expanded palette of influences, as well as a statement of intent. A lightness, and a bounce. The melody gets stuck in your head.
“Overall, what we did was to take the concept behind Dig the Hole and advance it several notches. DtH covers a lot of territory, but TVFH covers even more, and yet, every song is rooted in the Blues, even the ones that don’t “sound” Blues. And, in several songs, we combined old-school ideas with new ones to create a sound that was unique and fresh.” - Lane.
I placed 'SING ALONG SONG' next, as feelwise it flows, but also says to the listener, “I know what I am doing here, come along for the ride'. It has that strong Cajun swing to it - a Bayou pop tune if you will! I can imagine a Taj Mahal cover of this.
Next up, was another uptempo bopper, 'I MISS YOU'.
The r&b / jazzier feel sits very well at this point, and leads comfortably into the humour of 'BIG DOG': guaranteed to put a smile on your dial. The brass flourishes signal a subtle shift back to the blues blueprint.
I went with 'BOOGIE MAN' leading into 'SPOONFUL' - it works very well. Also, the last track on an album should not be a cover - it comes across as loss of nerve in an artists' own material, and believe me, there is nothing on the album to be shy about.
“Spoonful ...wasn’t part of the original concept. We found a one-string hockey-stick bass, and knew we just had to use it. We chose Spoonful as a double tribute – first to Willie Dixon (obvious) and second to Jack Bruce, an early bass hero of mine. It’s also a bit of humor, in that I normally play a 6-string, at which many Blues enthusiast cock their head. Too many strings and all that. And it’s kind of a comment on what Blues is about and how it started.” - Lane.
'RUNNIN' FOR DAYLIGHT' is the sort of album closer most bands would kill for, and so, should be treated as the stormy blues jewel it is.
I did ask Lane if there was another minute or two of the outro available? This is faded out way to soon and far too abruptly. An extension, and a more gentle fade-out would cap the album wonderfully.
......leading to my last controversial suggestion.
After an extended fade out of 'DAYLIGHT', program in 2 minutes of silence. Then, put in ' LULLABY'.
- It works.
- It is a restful outro for those who are chilling on the couch after the album has run its course.
- Philosophically, it is a sweet and gentle statement of 'this is where I am at the present, and what I do' from Lane to the listener. Intimate, and inviting of another listen at another time.
'LULLABY' does not work within the context of the main album flow, but as a hidden treasure, it is simply inspired and gorgeous.
So, the sequence I suggest is.
- Lay Me Down
- Freedom Train
- Blow Twister Blow
- Happy Boy
- Sing Along Song
- I Miss You
- Big Dog
- Boogie Man
- Runnin' For Daylight (as suggested to Lane, unedited, extended outro version)
- —- Insert two minutes of silence
- Halfway Back (hidden Track if the downloader is capable, or add at the end as a 'bonus' cut- either way, should not be included in the main sequence.)
“The great thing about 'THE VIEW FROM HEAR' and 'DIG THE WHOLE' is that (covers excluded) each song is a story from my life… and there’s a deeper story behind many of them. Moving forward, we’ll be releasing videos about most of the songs on the CD, so we can tell those behind-the-story stories.” - Lane.
For me, this album now burns brightly, and is on high rotation. The styles complement and support from cut to cut. The studio differences add rather than subtract from the whole. Lanes' fine songwriting and arranging skills shine. His voice, in both texture and range has grown further still, and his bass work, as always, is peak.
Lane notes that all these tunes have lyrical relevance to his life over the past few years.
When the album has a CD or vinyl release, I trust he will give us the background in the cover notes.
“I’ve got to tell you, the fact that the CD was released at all was a miracle. Our timeline got shredded early on, which made life quite interesting as we worked to complete the project. Then, right when we were set to release, I died three times, and barely survived the surgery that ultimately saved my life. I’ve spent the last year coming back from that – Crawling Through Fire – and doing our best to put my life and career back together.” - Lane.
This sequencing of 'THE VIEW FROM HERE' I stand behind with no reservations. It satisfies on every level.
A walking encyclopedia of music, David’s broad music knowledge is a valued member to the team. Without music, there would be no HiFi. Look out for his words on current, past and future music, as well as album reviews.