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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1526

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The Quarter After: Changes Near
by George Graham

(Committee to Keep Music Evil 512 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 5/28/2008)

One wonders whether the commercial pop hits of today will looked upon with reverence in the decades ahead the way that the 1906s are looked upon today. In 2048, will Usher, Lil' Wayne or Miley Cyrus be considered the classics that young bands use as influence and inspiration for some new retro music of that future era? Were the 1960s unique musically, or is it just the nostalgia of the Baby Boomers for their youth. If you look back, in the 1960s, there was not music of revival of music from 40 years earlier, the 1920s.

All of that is brought to mind by this week's album, yet another 21st Century rock band with their musical sensibility planted firmly in the mid-1960s, specifically the psychedelic era. And the reason we picked them for our album review this week is that they are very good at what they do. They are quite authentic in sound, and yet they do original music that is it not too imitative. The band is called The Quarter After, and their new second CD is called Changes Near.

The Quarter After are based in Los Angeles, and were founded by two brothers, Dominic and Robert Campanella. Dominic is the principal songwriter and lead vocalist, and also is never far from his Rickenbacker 12-string guitar, the iconic jangly instrument whose sound defined the Byrds four decades ago. Robert plays lead guitar and uses his own share of vintage equipment to create some of the shredded speaker fuzz sound that was also ubiquitous in psychedelic era recordings, such as Big Brother and the Holding Company. The bass player, Dave Koenig, was previously a member of the respected alternative band Brian Jonestown Massacre. He loves to play through a fuzzy old amp, and drummer Nelson Bragg also knows the genre, but is actually a significantly better drummer than some from the 1960s psychedelic scene. When he is not playing with the Quarter After, he plays drums with Beach Boy Brian Wilson's band.

The Quarter After formed back in 2000 and were part of a psychedelic revival scene in Los Angeles at the time. They began to be noticed, and were recruited to be the opening act for Arthur Lee, of the legendary 1960s band Love, when he resumed performing.

The Quarter After broke up for a while. Rob Campanella has had a busy career as a producer for other performers and bands. But in 2003, they re-formed, with somewhat different personnel and eventually released their debut CD. Now, they are out with Changes Near, and interestingly, all of the various current and former members of The Quarter After appear at various times on the new CDs, along with some guests. The result is a fun album that should appear to at least two generations of music fans, those who remember the Sixties, especially those who were fond of the Byrds in their psychedelic period, and younger music fans who are hearing this kind of music from a flurry of current bands. But of that scene, The Quarter After are one of the best, creating hummable tunes, lyrics with the kind of dewy-eyed peace and love optimism or philosophical bent of that decade, and really getting the sound right.

And that sound includes numerous little details, like the almost exclusive use of period instruments such as Vox guitars and a Mellotron keyboards, quirky recording techniques, and doing a lot of folky vocal harmonies. Dominic Campanella can really sound like Roger McGuinn when he wants to.

The Quarter After's trip begins with a song called Sanctuary which goes all-in for the psychedelic revival, with some art rock tendencies. <<>> Of course, the sound would not be complete without a little Indian tabla and Eastern tonalities. <<>>

She Revolves comes across a bit folkier in style, though the lyrics are very much from the period. It's also a fun evocation of a past era, complete with the Mellotron. <<>>

The Byrds were influential for initiating what became the country-rock scene of the 1970s, so the Quarter After also addresses that facet on a song called Counting the Score. <<>>

In a previous generation, REM was another band that were influenced by the Byrds. On their song See How Good It Feels The Quarter After shows their influence by both the Byrds and REM. <<>>

The band also includes an acoustic song, the one time Dominic Campanella is not armed with his Rackenbacker. Winter Song is one of the album's more appealing tracks with its contemplative sound, and such touches as that Indian tabla and Mellotron. <<>>

The title track Changes Near is another of the CD's highlights. The song cleverly assembles a number of the sonic ingredients that were ubiquitous in the Summer of Love -- such as the folky vocal harmonies <<>> and a good old psychedelic jam. <<>>

As mentioned, Dominic Campanella can really channel Roger McGuinn, when he wants to. This is perhaps most apparent on Turning Away. But it's a song that has enough originality not to be a complete clone of the Byrds. <<>>

The group serves up the classic psychedelic-era shredded guitar sound on several tracks, and perhaps most notably on Nothing Out of Something, which has the kind of dark quality of some of the psychedelic-era music. <<>>

It could be argued that The Quarter After is an imitative band -- after all, their new CD Changes Near on its surface sounds like a long-missing Byrds album from somewhere between their hit Eight Miles High and the Notorious Byrd Brothers album. But the group adds their own spin, creating original music that does not really sound like specific songs from the archaeological period in question. But they do get the sound right, their own music is appealing, and they are obviously having a good time in the process.

Our grade for sound quality is close to an A. There was a conscious effort to imitate the sonic consistency of recordings of the 1960s, but they were inspired by the better recordings of that day. So while there are studio tricks and quirks like some vocals being all the way to one side in stereo, there is decent clarity, and there is a surprisingly wide dynamic range for such an album. The sound was not too compressed in the mastering.

Who knows, maybe in another forty years, a new batch of artists may still be reviving the sound and style of the music of the 1960s. After all, the classical music of the 18th and 19th century is still being performed every day. The Quarter After is one of many 21th Century bands drawing on a period 40 years before their time. And they are one of the best.

(c) Copyright 2008 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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