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Richard X Heyman: Copious Notes
by George Graham
(Turn Up Records, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 8/18/2021)
In the 1960s, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and bands from the British Invasion, combined their upbeat songs with the increasing use of the recording studio in creative ways, and gave us the classic 1960s melodic pop sound, with lots of guitars, a bit of folk influence, and catchy songs. While commercial pop music has moved a long way from that kind of sound, it has never gone away, and there are still quite a few younger performers who have varying degrees of success in bringing the style to life, and there are some of the long-time practitioners who are still at it, jangling guitars, piling on the vocal harmonies, adding maybe adding a dash of psychedelic era influence, and creating songs you can go around humming or snap your fingers to.
Some of the emerging groups and artists who are reinvigorating the genre include Hello Forever, The Parson Red Heads, and Seth Swirsky. This week, we have a new recording from an artist who has been making melodic pop since it was new, over 50 years ago. It’s Richard X Heyman, and his new release, his 14th under his own name, is called Copious Notes.
Richard X Heyman got an early start, forming a band called the Ascots at age 12, who then became The Doughboys in 1965 and got to be well known in their home state of New Jersey. Heyman was their drummer, but has been a multi-instrumentalist, serving as a session and live support player for Ben E. King among others. Heyman has been releasing solo albums since 1983, and most have been hewing to the British-invasion/Beach Boys melodic rock sound.
While Heyman often plays many of the instruments on his albums, Copious Notes made that almost a necessity. With the COVID restrictions, Heyman and his wife Nancy Leigh, worked together in their home studio, with Ms. Leigh playing bass and doing the recording, and Heyman playing almost everything else. There are a few guest musicians including a string trio and a couple of horn players but it’s mainly Heyman playing about 20 different instruments listed in the credits. The result is, I think, one of the best albums of Heyman’s career. He has always been good at this kind of appealing pop, but I think he as outdone himself this time, with hook-laden songs, guitars that seem particularly jangly – he favors 12 string electric and acoustic guitars – and his layered vocal harmonies. Lyrically, the compositions can get somewhat deeper than you might expect for this kind of appealing pop, considering, for example, complicated relationships and the state of the world. The dozen songs are succinct like a good pop tunes, and never overstay their welcome.
Opening is a track called Nearly There which begins with Beach Boys style harmonies, <<>> before getting into a classic mode with the densely layered vocals, the 12-string guitar reminiscent of the Byrds, and the optimistic lyrics. <<>>
The added horns make their appearance on the more rock-oriented song Choices We Make, whose title nicely sums up the lyrical direction. <<>>
One of the most appealing tracks with its folky guitars and infectious melodic “hooks” is Tell Me When, whose lyrics are a kind of call to action to make a difference in the world. <<>>
A bit a departure is Cedarbrook Park which takes the form of a reminiscence from childhood. It’s likewise appealing. <<>>
Sink or Swim also has a kind of architypical 1960s sound with the soul-influenced horn arrangement. <<>>
One of the most interesting songs is Oval another strongly melodic piece with lyrics about how once close relationships can grow apart as the years pass. <<>>
About as close as the album comes to commenting on the state of the world, is the song The Truth about the lies being promulgated, which have led the current situation. <<>>
The album closes with another of its stronger tracks, The Greater Good, with a more produced arrangement on what is a one of its most straight-out love songs. <<>>
Copious Notes the new 14th album by veteran melodic popster Richard X Heyman, is one of his strongest yet. He hits all the right buttons with hummable songs, generally upbeat lyrics, layered vocal harmonies, plenty of jangly guitars, and a bunch of other sonic elements that evoke the best of 1960s pop. The COVID pandemic gave Heyman and his wife Nancy Leigh plenty of time to work in their home studio constructing the often dense sonic textures that mark this album.
Our grade for sound quality is an A-minus. The mix is generally clean, the layered sound is well blended, and the jangly guitars can sparkle. But as is so often the case, there is too much volume compression. This sort of music does not have a great deal of inherent dynamic range, but the sound comes off as too squashed and cranked up.
This sort of melodic pop on Copious Notes could be considered decidedly retro, but there are enough current practitioners of it, from both younger generations and veterans like Richard X Heyman to keep the sound very much alive.
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