We Could All Make History
Click to hear: “Riding Through the Courtyard”
We Could All Make History is the first album by This Way, the new incarnation of the band formerly known as J Biddy and the Crossfire Inferno. The album title is apparently the result of a pang of inspiration felt during Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
The press release accompanying the CD includes the following quote from frontman Jason Basiner, a.k.a. J Biddy: “My songwriting began to reflect the hope and civic responsibility that came out of Obama’s campaign which really gave the band a genuine purpose. I have always believed in the edifying powers of rock & roll and it is This Way’s job to leave you changed.”
A quote like that sets the bar pretty high for any rock band. After more than a few listens, History did not leave me changed so much as baffled — baffled as to how this album, with its red, white, blue, starred and striped cover, is supposed to have edified me.
The lyrics of several songs make vague references to concepts like hope and leaving fear behind, but History’s a far cry from, say, Neil Young’s Freedom, or The Rising, by Basiner’s idol, Bruce Springsteen. The big question is: why did this band feel it was their responsibility to do anything but entertain?
Listening to This Way requires some context. Basiner plays classic rock covers most nights of the week, usually in the Old Port’s Irish bars. Nicknamed “The Human Jukebox,” his head is said to hold a library of hundreds of classic rock songs he can play from memory. According to his MySpace bio, Basiner’s also a classically trained musician who learned to play violin, drums and piano before the age of 10.
Given all his knowledge and talent, it’s frustrating Basiner’s songs don’t have more of an edge. Most songs on History lack any sense of adventure and ignore opportunities to build on the classic-rock foundation. This is generic music for mainstream rock fans who prefer not be challenged.
That being said, there isn’t a song on this album that won’t appeal to its intended audience: the bar crowd at places like Bull Feeney’s and Brian Boru. The musicians are skilled. Each track is crafted with care and has at least one hook catchy enough to please the ears of the masses. The production is as good as money can buy. Producer Jon Wyman and Adam Ayan, the Grammy-winning engineer at Gateway Mastering, polished History like antique silver. Most of these songs could easily find a home on mainstream radio.
The best song on the album, “Riding Through the Courtyard,” arrives a bit too soon at track two. It begins with a guitar flooded with dreamy effects, setting a medieval, churchy tone, then morphs into a mix of clean electric and acoustic guitars, a bouncing bass line, harmonica and shakers. The song is hushed, one of the few moments of restraint on the record. Just when you expect it to blow up in your face with drums and a surge of volume, it doesn’t. There’s even a delightful glockenspiel bit.
Likewise, “Song for Wendell,” a ballad about a deceased loved one, is wisely turned down a notch. Anna Patterson’s background vocals are a welcome addition.
But overall, it’s hard to get past the pedestrian songwriting and the sense you’ve heard these songs before. The flag-waving cover comes off as little more than a marketing ploy. History sounds like just what it is: a bar band given an immaculate studio treatment.
— Tyler Jackson
This Way plays Sat., March 28, at Empire Dine and Dance, 575 Congress St., Portland, at 9 p.m., with openers Adam Kurtz and Pete Miller. Tix: $5 (21+). 879-8988. For more on the band, visit jbiddymusic.com.