Friday, June 24, 2011

Learn How to Live

Photo by Brun Gossen. Album Design by Luke VanVliet.

Every once in a while, a collection of songs comes along that just makes sense to your musical ear, to your heart—to you. Every once in a while, you put on an album—sometimes anticipated, sometimes stumbled upon—and the beat moves you, and the words move you, and the music feels good to listen to.

Then the songs remain in your head, waking you from your slumber, sound tracking your day, rocking you to sleep. You don’t mind. Why? Because the music is good. Catchy, honest, real, high-quality, good.

I was very excited to hear the new music that the band, which my husband happens to be in, is set to release in a 6-song EP. Imagine how I felt when my expectations were exceeded so far that the songs kind of crossed some metaphorical bridge from being “cool songs by the band my husband plays bass for” to being “songs I really, honestly love” (in other words: “songs just as good as songs by other, famous and/or well-known bands l love).

How does it feel? It doesn’t just feel “good” anymore—it feels awesome.

This week, I’m going to tell you about this EP.

Learn How to Live is a 6-song EP that was self-recorded and self-produced by folk/rock artist Scott Normandy and the Newark City Band. Scott Normandy released his first album (My Future. My Past.) in 2007, produced by Derek Elliotson. His second album, No Regrets, was recorded in Montreal and released in 2009. Now, because his band has become so tight and solid that they have succeeded in independently recording and producing an EP (mixed and mastered by Derek Elliotson), the band has a name.

The newly-named Newark City Band pays tribute to its hometown of Niagara; Newark City was Niagara’s original name.

2010 New Vintage Wine Festival (Niagara). Photo by Jodi Taylor 

In the same way that the band has unified both in name and by working so closely together on their most recent project, the songs also reflect the similar situations all band members have found themselves in, in recent years.

Learn How to Live is a collection of songs about just that: about having growing responsibilities such as families, raising kids and working to pay the bills. Life is full of blessings, challenges and surprises—we don’t know all the answers, and we can’t see the future; we can only learn as we go (or learn as we grow). In the band’s case, the other fundamental theme of the album is balancing these responsibilities and blessings with their innate passions and dreams for writing, recording and performing music. How do you balance both? What I like about the album’s position is that they don’t profess to know all the answers—they are riding the learning curve.

The album begins with “Restless Days,” which sets the tone for the album. It’s upbeat and fun, while the lyrics work to ground and balance the song by lending a serious hand. 

“Learn How to Live,” the title track, ties the whole album together. This song is very honest, and I can feel a strong emotion coming through the lyrics: “Well I don’t really know/ Where to go/ What to run to/ What I’m supposed to do…”

“So Cold” closes the album with a raw, acoustic ballad. Even though in earlier songs, Scott honestly confesses that he doesn’t know “where to go, what to run to,” he offers great wisdom and insight in a very quiet, humble song. I have, in my wondering mind, pondered the line, “Everything that you possess/ I’m sorry, but I must confess /It piles up just the rest/ Your status is so meaningless” over and over. In a quiet, humble song, listeners are gently prodded to take a step back and evaluate what really means something in their lives.

One of the qualities in this album that stands out to me is the way that Scott sings certain lyrics. He creatively puts emphasis on unexpected syllables, which makes the words sound really interesting. For example, it took me a few listens to catch what he was saying in the second verse of “Get Close”: “When I’m lawn-mowing, When I’m lawn-mowing/ I think a lot.” I like the way he sings it because it invites you to think about the words a little more. Another example is the way he says “…computer screen” in the first verse of the same song, with the emphasis on the first part of the word (com-puter) instead of the second.

As soon as you hear the electric guitar strumming the first chord of “Restless Days,” it will become very clear to you that the band is comprised of talented musicians. For example, occasionally in the EP, all instruments break down into a Wilco-esque kind of jam (such as in “Feel”).

Every part of every song fits together seamlessly. By actively listening, you can distinguish between different instruments and different riffs, and interesting lines and beats within those instruments, but even after a quick listen, you can tell that each part contributes to a solid whole—a unified band that plays together so well that they sound really impressive live. The album recording sounds quite the same as their live performances.

Scott Normandy and the Newark City Band. From left: Scott Normandy (lead vocals, guitar), Joel Durksen (bass, backing vocals), Mike Tuyp (guitar), Allan Campopiano (drums, percussion).

They’re not trying to be anything they aren’t, and in being true to themselves, profoundly succeed in being the kind of music that deserves to be heard. The kind of music that is light but has heart. The kind of music that is easy and fun to listen to, but also continually surprises the astute listener with Scott’s unique voice, brilliant guitar solos, various rhythms, solid yet active bass lines and effective, strategically-placed harmonies. If you haven’t heard their music, you should check it out. Scott Normandy and the Newark City Band offers something for everyone—especially in the topics they cover in Learn How to Live. I’m sure you will be able to relate many or all of their songs to your own life experiences in some way.

The CD release party is going to be held at the Merchant Ale House in St. Catharines on Saturday, July 2 (next Saturday) at 10:00 p.m. Why don’t you try and make it out?

If you can’t make it, don’t you worry. The album will be available on iTunes (search “Scott Normandy”), or if you’d prefer a physical CD, message me and I can get you a copy. 


Web Site

(Listen to "Restless Days" by going to the band's Facebook page!)

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