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(Independent release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 7/3/2013)
Maybe, there's the begining of a trend going on of acoustic rock. We have featured a number of such albums in this review series in the past year, including Good Old War, Busby Marou, the Dunwells, the Wiyos, and Barnaby Bright. While one can understandably hear the folk influence in these groups, others are taking some different directions, with a little tropical influence. Jack Johnson has probably been an inspiration to some.
This week, we have the latest recording from a Minnesota-based band whose sound is dominated by acoustic guitar, and features some rhythmically infectious ska influence. And they are notable for their strong two-part vocal harmonies. The group is Chester Bay, and their new second CD is called Changes with the Midwest Moon.
Chester Bay has been around for about eight years now, forming in 2005 on the campus of the University of Wisconsin, Eau Clare. Lead vocalist Jake Bosben and drummer Marc Greeley met in their college dorm, and eventually formed the band which also includes Cory Bosben on bass and vocals. None of Chester Bay's publicity information or bios indicate whether Cory Bosben and Jake Bosben are related, but their fine vocal harmonies sound as if they have been singing together for much of their lives. The current lineup also includes lead guitarist Mike Salow.
Together they make an airy, often danceable sound with reggae and ska woven into their music's beat, with vocals that can evoke the close harmonies of Simon and Garfunkel. They had been performing for a few years before they released their debut CD Get Free in 2010. Though the band has been active, they did not were not able to follow up with a new CD until now. They started recording theiralbum in early 2012, and then, doing it independently, ran out of money during the recording. So they used the "crowd-sourcing" funding website KickStarter to raise some $6000 from their fans to complete the album. Now it's out and it was worth the wait. The music is a crisp blend of folky vocal harmonies with acoustic guitars, contrasting with danceable beats. It's marked with high quality writing, especially musically with a lot of interesting but subtle musical twists. The band brings in some fine musicianship. While the sound is dominated by the acoustic guitars, Mike Salow can play some and tasteful and occasionally impressive electric guitar parts.
The dozen tracks on the CD are generally succinct -- with nothing over five minutes -- and no extended jams. Like good pop songs, the tunes make their impression and then are over before they overstay their welcome, though there are times when one might wish the band went on a little longer with a song.
Opening is a piece called 40 Hours, that exemplifies the good-time facet of Chester Bay's music. There's the tropical ska feel and that fits the lyrics about taking time out for some R & R. <<>>
The more traditionally rocky side of the band comes out on the following track Get Next to Me. Lyrically it's also more in keeping with a rock song. <<>>
The folky side of Chester Bay comes out with great charm on a composition called Victory. The sound is acoustic, minus drums, and there are those great family vocal harmonies. <<>>
One of the more interesting stylistic blends the band comes up with is heard on the song Soul Soothe, which mixes up the group's acoustic folk with a kind of retro soul-rock sound and bits of pieces of alternative rock. The group pulls it off very well. <<>>
There's even a hint of country influence on the song Who We Are. But from the Nashville of the verse, the group heads for Kingston for bits of reggae in the chorus sections of the song. <<>>
Another of the group's clever and tunefully infectious songs is called In Recovery (The Highest Places). The stylistic mixture runs from reggae to rock with even a little banjo included. The two Bosbens, Josh and Cory, trade off on the vocals. <<>>
The pop side of the band is highlighted on Feels Like Home, but the song has enough little musical twists to make it as interesting as it is appealing. <<>>
The CD ends with an intimate acoustic track The Weight of the World with just one guitar and the two Bosbens on the vocals. It's a kind of philosophical love song and very nicely done.
Chester Bay's new sophomore release Changes with the Midwest Night is an impressive CD that creatively uses familiar elements, such as folky vocal harmonies, a danceable ska or reggae beat, plus good songwriting and musicianship to make for a record that had a lot of potential pop appeal, but with enough musical interest to give it a lot of depth and staying power. Jake and Cory Bosben do tight vocal harmonies like the siblings they might be, and while their songs might not have the lyrical profundity of some of the great folk music poets, their songs are literate and go beyond the light pop phase.
Our grade for audio quality is about a B-plus. Most of the time the instrument sounds are clean, as are the vocals, mostly. But the recording sometimes has the processed, over-compressed sound that recalls corporate pop.
With their eclectic and intelligent approach to what is at its heart, some melodic pop, Chester Bay has come up with a winner, in the form of a thoroughly likable album that will sound as good years from now
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