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The Graham Album Review #1913

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Zach Gill: Life in the Multiverse
by George Graham

(Brushfire Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 9/27/2017)

Jam bands tend to function best as a unit. What makes them what they are is the musical interaction among the members of the group, in other words the whole is more than the sum of its individual players. But numerous members of established jam bands have put out solo recordings, or at least albums with a different personnel lineup. Sometimes the result can resemble the band, and sometimes the solo album is used as an opportunity to go in a different direction. This week we have one of those jam-band-member goes solo recordings that ends up evoking the sound of the band, mainly because the member in question is the lead vocalist and front man for the group.

It’s the new recording by Zach Gill of the band ALO, formerly known as the Animal Liberation Orchestra. His new release is called Life in the Multiverse.

At 42 years old, Santa Barbara, California, resident and multi-instrumentalist Zach Gill has had a lengthy musical career. He formed his first band at age 12, one of whose members was bassist Steve Adams who remains with Gill and ALO to this day, and also appears on the new album. Gill attended college at the University of California at Santa Barbara. While there, he was involved with various college groups including the UCSB Gospel choir, the jazz ensemble and a college Middle Eastern Band. With his classmates, Adams and Dan Lebowitz, Gill formed various bands, including one called Django, in the early 1990s. The group toured extensively and for a while settled in Augusta, Georgia. After graduating with a degree in history from UCSB, Gill took a job at the college as accompanist for its Modern Dance Ensemble. For a time, he relocated to San Francisco where he also worked as an accompanist for modern dance classes. In the meantime, by 1998 Gill’s group Django had evolved into the Animal Liberation Orchestra with the Free Range Horns. He played with the band while holding down jobs as accompanist and music teacher in northern California, before returning to Santa Barbara and touring with ALO and also joining up with college classmate, popular singer-songwriter Jack Johnson in whose band Gill also plays.

Life in the Multiverse is Gill’s third full-length solo album. Gill does something rather interesting in the CD booklet notes, and explains why another solo album, instead of an ALO Record, given than a couple of his band-mates appear on the CD. Gill says he intended this to be a more personal record in terms of its lyrics and a bit more wide-ranging musically than another ALO album. He writes songs about his family and considers the general state of the world, with his songs having the kind of underlying optimism about them that marks much of ALO’s music.

In addition to his long-time ALO band-mates, bassist Steve Adams and guitarist Dan Lebowitz, there are a number of guests, including Jack Johnson and former Doobie Brothers vocalist Michael McDonald. Gill plays mostly keyboards, including some synthesizers with rhythm electronic rhythm sequences, but most of the album has an organic, sound with acoustic instrumentation, including prominent piano. Gill arranges the tracks on the CD as “side A” and “side B.” He explains in an interview on his website that the Side A songs are more upbeat and electric, and tend to be about other characters, while the Side B songs are more laid back musically and more introspective in their lyrics.

Opening is one of the more upbeat songs Window Display, which hints strongly at the sound of Gill’s band ALO. The song features a series of characters and their life circumstances. <<>>

With an appearance by Jack Johnson on guitar is a piece called Solstice 2016, which is a kind of love song. Gill uses electronic rhythm loops but is heard on acoustic piano. <<>>

One of the more subtly clever songs is called Joy (Goodbye Guilty Pleasures) which drops a lot of names of commercial pop artists from the 1970s and 1980s. Michael McDonald makes his appearance on the track. <<>>

A particularly appealing song is The World Is New (Ode to the Father of a Teenage Daughter). That subtitle explains the premise of the lyrics, and the song had a lot of charm. <<>>

A presumably autobiographical composition is Chuck and the Nomads which the name of a rock band in which Gill’s father played, and which was never recorded, but lived on in the stories. <<>>

From the more laid-back “side B” part of the album is Eliza Grace another song to a daughter, with Gill mainly on ukulele. <<>>

Gill tends to write songs that sometimes are philosophical but with an ultimately optimistic outlook. Little Speck is nice example. The title refers to the earth and how in the universe, or maybe multiverse, the day to day conflicts we have are insignificant in the bigger scheme of things, so why not get along. <<>>

Gill’s relationship with San Francisco where he lived for a while, is considered in the closing track San Francisco which, overall, considers what it means to call a place home. <<>>

Zach Gill’s new release Life in the Multiverse is a more personal record than his work with his band ALO and is fairly wide-ranging in its instrumentation and sound, but there are also a lot of similarities. Gill is an appealing performer who brings an almost contemplative approach to the jam band scene in his work with ALO, and it’s even more so on this new album. The songs are thoughtful, and there’s often a good groove to go along with them.

Our grade for sound quality is an “A-minus.” The mix has everything in the right place and even when there are electronics and loops in the music, the sound does not come off as phoney nor does it descend to the bad audio that seems to be trendy. But the vocals on the some of the tracks are not as cleanly recorded than they could be. The dynamic range is not great but better than a lot of commercial pop.

Solo projects by jam band members have been rather variable in quality. With Zach Gill being the prominent voice of ALO, it may be hard to separate the two in some people’s minds. ALO’s albums always have something worthwhile to offer. Such is also very much the case with Zach Gill’s new release. It’s fine new recording that threads the needle of lyrical thoughtfulness, and music you can dance to a times.

(c) Copyright 2017 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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