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The Graham Album Review #1804

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Last Charge of the Light Horse: Nine Kinds of Happy
by George Graham

(Independent Release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 2/11/2015)

For me, one of the thing that has become more difficult to find these days on the music scene in interesting rock. Commercial rock has all become so interchangeable that people have done mash-ups splicing together pieces of pop bands and it all sounds like the same song. The alternative rock scene used to be a haven for musical iconoclasts, but a lot of alternative rock has become as predictable and homogeneous as the commercial side. The roots rockers tend keep it honest but simple. The jam band scene provides an outlet for good musicianship, and there are still some art rock bands around. But there are few groups that I would consider musically creative who work in more or less the context of a rock band with electric guitars and vocals.

I was reminded of that by the album I have for our review this week. It’s by a Long Island based group called Last Charge of the Light Horse, and their CD is titled Nine Kinds of Happy.

Last Charge of the Light Horse started out as a kind of one person band, the creative outlet for singer-songwriter Jean-Paul Vest, and had previously released two albums and an EP over the past decade. Vest organized the project in 2004, and released their first album called Getaway Car the next year, and followed that in 2008 with Fractures and an EP called Curve in 2011. Some of the early projects involved Vent in his home studio multiply overdubbing tracks by himself. But the new album features a regular band who add much to Vest’s musically intriguing songs, with their shifting harmonic textures and often atmospheric quality. Setting Vent apart from others in the arty rock school are his lyrics which are intelligent and creative, showing his literate singer-songwriter side. Vocally, Vest has a distinctive sound, not quite the folky. He reminds me of Bill Mallonee of the band Vigilantes of Love who also made highly creative music in the context of a rock band.

On this album, Vest is joined by Bob Stander on bass and some lead guitar, Pemberton Roach on bass, and Shawn Murray on drums, plus a couple of guests. The group was apparently assembled previously when Vest was performing the material from his more solitary recordings. It’s a tasteful band that is quite good at sonic textures, even though it’s usually just two guitars, bass and drums. Vest’s songs seem always to have a searching quality to the music, with highly effective shifts between major, minor and modal keys. The sound can have some rock guitar edge, but there is a lot of space in the music and a very appealing atmospheric quality that helps to highlight the lyrics, which are often love songs in a roundabout way.

The CD opens with a piece that immediately marks the band’s distinctive sound. The song This Is Where starts with a line about Senegal as metaphor that sets a somewhat exotic scene, with the music that matches. Jean-Paul Vest’s plaintive-sounding vocals complete the musical picture. <<>>

Another excellent piece of lyric writing is the following track, Anyone Else. The relatively short track is basically a love song. With all the music in the market place on this same lyrical theme, it’s had to stand out, but the Charge of the Light Horse comes up with an intriguing atmospheric piece. <<>>

A bit happier in the musical mood is a song called All of My Days, which is a nice acoustic guitar-driven folky-sounding love song. <<>>

Further changing the musical texture is a song called Spoken with a rockier sound, but in a 6/8 rhythm. The lyrics, also about finding love are more passionate to go with the music. <<>>

Glaciers is another fascinating piece, which gets into the last ice age for its lyrical metaphors. <<>>

About the height of the group’s atmospheric rock sound is a fine song called Slow As You Can. Its plaintive sound is built on the nice guitar interplay between Jean-Paul Vest and Bob Stander. <<>>

The CD ends with what is a sort of title track So Happy. The piece has a distinctive combination of the atmospheric, plaintive, vaguely psychedelic-influenced sound with lyrics about the happiness of life. It’s a definitely a highlight. <<>>

Nine Kinds of Happy the new CD by the band Last Charge of the Light Horse is a rarity these days, a creative, musically and sonically intriguing album by essentially a conventional rock band. They avoid the cliches common in everything from roots rock to alternative to stadium rock. In a way it’s something of a singer-songwriter record, and group leader Jean-Paul Vest is a literate lyric writer and a worthy vocalist for the singer-songwriter role. But on this album, there is a good deal of unity among the band members, and the arrangements, though they are for a conventional guitar-driven rock band, have enough musical substance to make it quite absorbing. There is the old show-biz expression, “Leave ‛em wanting more” and the one drawback of the record is that it’s so short. At only 32 minutes, it does leave one wanting more.

Our grade for sound quality is close to an “A.” The mix is very well done. The use of sonic treatments and reverb ambience is is quite good, and yet the sound has good clarity. The dynamic range, how well the recording handles the differences between loud and soft, while still suffering from some volume compression, is definitely above average in an era when even acoustic records are cranked to be maximally loud all the time.

According to Jean-Paul Vest, the odd name for this group came about in 2003, after the breakup of another previous band. He decided, in his words, “to stop naming the groups and name the journey instead.” He said it was in part a nod to George Harrison’s Dark Horse Records. And indeed up to now, Last Charge has been a project with different musical lineups as Vest went along. This particular incarnation of Last Charge of the Light Horse is a most worthwhile one.

(c) Copyright 2015 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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