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Bentley’s Bandstand: Robert Francis, Devendra Banhart, Darrell Nulisch

Posted By Karen Young On November 5, 2009 @ 2:09 am In Arts & Culture,Music,spotlight | 3 Comments

billbentley110BY BILL BENTLEY

Robert Francis, Before Nightfall, Atlantic Records

BBNightfallThis is the story of an incredibly talented young singer-songwriter and his hometown of Los Angeles. It includes growing up sideways, love affairs, losing the way, finding it, losing it again and maybe, by the end, accepting life is always going to be a surprise. The first words on this album are, “When you’re lost, in an old part of town, got to friends to carry you around.” Robert Francis might have made 3 a.m. visits to Tommy Burgers, slept under the Santa Monica Pier, driven back and forth across Mulholland Drive looking at the lights at midnight, sneaked into the Hollywood Bowl to see a favorite artist, cruise the Sunset Strip and pray his life doesn’t end up there, have friends in Beverly Hills who aren’t going to make 20, spend all his money on guitars and strings, hope the mescaline he bought in 10th grade is the real thing, gotten tired of smoking pot but knew there is not much chance of quitting, joined a series of rock & roll bands knowing none of them were going to last, started writing songs in middle school wondering how in the world they’d ever get heard, gotten kicked out of his parents’ house so many times everyone loses count, had the police bring him home in high school hoping he changes his behavior, laughed the minute they leave realizing he may have gotten in over his head, riden the bus to Disneyland only to find out he didn’t have enough cash to get in, sworn he’s going to live in San Francisco before he’s 21, worked only two days at the last job he had before promising himself he’s going to be a professional musician, met some of the most incredible players alive, started having people tell him he’s got all the talent he needs to do whatever he wants, taken those people at their world, found out those same people are the worst liars on Earth, have every show business trick pulled on him twice, finally found someone who believed in him enough to take it al the way, signed to a major label that lets you make exactly the kind of album you heard in your head, gotten told you are the next great American artist and will be discovered by the world very soon, known better than believe it even if it happens to be true and then happily discovered everything you ever loved about music is still there. The last words on the album are, “I had a good heart.” Before Nightfall is all that.

Devendra Banhart What Will We Be Warner Bros. Records

BBDev130The musical revolution of the 1960s will be forever felt, because every time it seems like it has been covered over with a different style or sound, there will be cracks in the concrete and another new visionary will grab the greatness that defined that decade and throw it into today’s mix. No one does that better right now than Devendra Banhart. With his open-ended rhythms and open-minded lyrics Banhart has found a way to turn freedom into a sonic bilingual celebration. There is never a question of mimicking the past, though, because he doesn’t try to sound any certain way. It is all about the act of creation, wherever that may lead. Some songs start with the looseness of a jam, but soon coalesce into more structured patterns, building steam and finally finding their way to fruition. It’s almost like a trick of the ear, except you know Devendra Banhart is much too original to resort to any trickery. The musicians on What Will We Be are world-class candidates for ESP instructorhood. They play like mere words would be beneath them to communicate what to do. This is a one-head philosophy of the first order: any other attempts at explaining an approach would be superfluous at best. Joyousness often appears to be a quality in short supply in today’s gray outlook. But isn’t that when bright colors and dancing feet are most needed? Here is a man ready to bring his rainbow with him, and we’d be fools not to fall in behind while we can. Heading towards the 40th anniversary of the concert at Altamont, it’s high time to remember the alternative road, and this vibrant album is the best candidate yet for a potent antidote to that troubling time. The line forms wherever you want it to.

Darrell Nulisch, Just For You, Severn Records

BBdarellFor over thirty years, Darrell Nulisch has been fronting bands, recording albums, touring the world and never backing down from a commitment to walk the blue-eyed soul side of the street. And while he may not be a household name or see his name on the record charts very often, that doesn’t diminish a bit what the man has accomplished. Every release has gotten better as he finds new ways to express himself and take listeners to that place where music soothes the heart and makes life a richer and more emotional ride. On Just For You, Darrell Nulisch hits a new high, his voice a rich blend of tenderness and toughness. It’s something all the great soul singers have, and the trick is getting the mix just right where the strength is there but so is a vulnerability that invites compassion. That’s when you know you’re in the presence of something special. Of course, without the right band none of this can come through, and fortunately the players on Nulisch’s new one are prime-time r&b groovers. Guitarist Johnny Moeller is one of the younger Austin bright lights, and adds plenty of passion to these ten songs without playing the show off. The rhythm section of bassist Steve Gomes and drummer Robb Stupka sound like they were schooled by producer Willie Mitchell on Al Green’s classic hits, providing a carpet of warm bottom and beats underneath the songs. The full horn section and background vocalists complete the circle, recalling Memphis at its best but also pushing this music into the future. The playlist here is a good balance of originals and covers, from J.J. Malone’s “It’s a Shame” to Nulisch and Gomes’ tip of the stingy brim to Dyke & the Blazers on their “Let a Woman Be a Woman.” If real soul music is something you’ve been searching for, look no further. You’ve just come home.

Bill Bentley is a writer, musician, publicist, record producer and A&R director. He once played drums with Lightnin’ Hopkins. For more reviews and music news, go to www.sonicboomers.comBent

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