Strange Days Indeed – thoughts on Ian Moore’s latest album

Ian Moore has never been afraid to follow his muse wherever it leads him, even at the risk of leaving others bewildered by their inability to neatly paint him within the lines or the confines of traditional genres. Many struggle to define what he’s “supposed to be” but he’s never been one to let others tell him who he is.

A Little Background

My introduction to Ian Moore came when my friend David Elbert, of Houston’s The Glass and Fake Believe, announced with rabid enthusiasm that we had to make a trip to the record store to get the new album. That album was Ian Moore’s Got the Green Grass and it changed me. I began following Ian and his incendiary group of musicians through the years. And All the Colors, Action Company, Luminaria, To Be Loved, and El Sonido Nuevo…each album a perfect collection of songs that led me through Moore’s passion for the craftsmanship of songwriting.

Never afraid to tip his hat to those who influenced him, there were nods to the Beach Boys, Dylan, the Beatles, as well as the compact and efficient songwriting of the Brill Building. He blended this with the sweaty soul of Sam Cooke, Sly and the Family Stone…he even threw the Monkees in there.

Certainly volumes have been written of the blazing guitar style seemingly born in some netherworld smelting furnace bringing together bits of Eastern scales with grimy Texas blues, jazz, Django gypsy melodies, funk and soul, and good-ole country pickin’.

There is a reverence for those who influence him in every note that pours from Moore’s voice and fingers. That appealed to me, a child raised to cherish these classic artists and genres.

On a Journey

At the end of every show I ran to the car and made notes. The next morning, off to the record store or off to the internet because beyond the fact that Ian Moore’s performances were cathartic celebrations of all things passionate, joyful, and inspiring – he always left bread crumbs for me to follow. Names like Chris Bell, Townes Van Zandt, Doug Sahm…all new to me.

Jeff Klein, now of My Jerusalem was introduced to me at early Ian Moore shows and soon thereafter the connection between Moore and David Garza appeared. Both Klein and Garza have become essential listening for me.

In bringing all these artists into my life, Ian Moore opened a door to a world that had been soulfully churning and burning just beneath the surface – as if in another dimension – and these artists, like those mentioned above, are held dear to his heart…and have become so in mine.

Every show, every album appears to be Ian Moore exploring all these musical traditions…not as a simple tribute or review…not as someone who wants to ride any given wave. No. Each album seems to be the result of him taking these influences into his soul, letting them simmer as the world around him seasons it all in a pressure cooker.

What comes out is uniquely Ian Moore. What comes out may nod its head to what inspired it but Moore cannot help but be himself. While having an uncanny ability to play everything – he’s unwilling to play just anything.

Almost like a tormented alchemist, he always seems to be moving forward seeking new methods, new formulas, and new paths to unlock the truth within…to take things forward…always forward.

Strange Days Follows This Path

Strange Days opens with a dirt-under-your-nails and sweat-under-your-collar guitar lick that would be at home in any 60s R&B club with rumors of James Brown maybe showing up after his gig uptown. But then, JJ Johnson’s snare roll brings an urgency that immediately introduces these Strange Days.

I went out walking towards
A free man of conscious with my gun
Free will or destiny, you’ve got to choose
You might build an empire but sometimes you’ve got to lose

The refrain comes quickly; this album has no time to waste.

 “I keep on dancing just to know I’m ok, nobody told me about the coming of the strange days.”

Strange Days indeed.

This album, like those before, has a salient thread running through it…at least I perceive it as such.

This album explores Moore’s funk and soul inclinations. Bass and drums in songs like Hercules provide a pulsing rhythm that drives the song forward as Moore’s guitar lays back until it’s time to explode…the filthy solo sweats fuzz as he bends the will of the guitar but again, no time to waste on this album. It ends leaving those many fans inspired by Moore’s guitar playing hoping for more…and are rewarded during the fade-out.

Two songs, “Saturday Night” and “My Girl” get a more polished reintroduction as they first appeared as part of the “30 Songs” demo series.

“Saturday Night” has a tight and efficient craftsmanship that would make Holland-Dozier-Holland proud. Complete with “do-do-do-da-da-das”  and sugary harmonies its arrangement and melody mask a more somber lyric – again, master craftsmanship.

“My Girl” finds Ian’s angelic falsetto in full display, again nodding his head to the masters like Smokey Robinson.

“I Will Carry On”, “Indian Red”, and “How Can I” bring a sense of angsty wisdom…cynical but without surrender or resignation. The music again reflects the subject matter as he blends demanding drums that allow the bass lines to roam and beefy horns provide a wall of sound all his own that embraces his not-so-subtle social observations of these times in which we’ve found ourselves.

The album closes with perhaps my favorite song.

“MaryGoRound” reminds me of when Moore used to close shows with The Monkees’ “Porpoise Song” and of the roaming, fuzzy dreamscapes he crafted during the All the Colors and Luminaria albums and shows.

The echo-drenched vocals surrounded by acoustic guitar and a warbling fuzzed-out electric carry the song sans percussion.

The closing lyric:

I was wide awake
You were half asleep
I need you
You said you don’t need me
And then it’s over.

The album pulls me in. There are so many surprises, so many layers, so much to explore. It gets better with each listen as it unfolds Moore’s inspiration and intention.

As part of the Ian Moore canon, it stands on its own merit while seeming in some ways a natural progression.

After exploring spacey acoustic folk, psychedelia, Texas troubadour storytelling, blues, jazz and everything in between, it seems appropriate that we would get an album that displays such reverence and enthusiasm for funk, soul, and R&B.

Yet…it stands as its own testament, its own statement.  This album and artist are not derivative or predictable. Yes there is evidence of what came before but it is something altogether different.

The album’s urgency, acknowledgement of frustration with the current socio-political landscape, and defiant yet optimistic (even sweet) temperament make this another essential listen in the long list of Moore’s incredible catalog.

I don’t do “ratings” or “stars” or any of that stuff so let’s just say I dig the album and I’ll be at the show next week in my usual spot…just to the side of Ian’s microphone so I can peek at his pedal board and maybe get a wink and a nod from him if he recognizes me again.

Haha…he once looked down at Dave and I and said “Hey, it’s you two guys. Man, you’re always here.”

Yes we are Ian.

We’re here and loving every minute of the journey you’ve been leading us through for all these years.

You can purchase Strange Days and all Ian’s albums on his website or through the usual digital streaming channels.

He plays Houston on March 17th at Rockefellers.

Until next time….

Be Well and Kind,
Jason

 

Q&A with Houston’s Own – David Elbert

David Elbert is one of Houston’s most talented guitarists and songwriters. I know this to be true because I’ve had the honor of calling him a best friend for over 20 years. We cut our teeth together and some of my fondest memories, musical or otherwise, include him. I humbly present to you Cathedral Records’ newest Q&A session with a dear friend of the Cathedral and one heck of a guitarist – David Freaking Elbert.

 

dave 2

You’ve been playing music for most of your life at this point. Tell me about how and why you started playing?
I grew up in a very musical family. My father, uncles and cousins all played guitar and my grandmother was a terrific pianist. If I had to really pinpoint why I started I think that it was a bit of hero worship for my oldest brother, Jeremy. He was a terrific singer, songwriter and guitar player who seemed to be able to play anything he got his hands on. He exposed me to more music than I thought possible and I certainly don’t think I would have ever picked up an instrument had it not been for him.

Tell me about your path from sitting at the edge of your bed to where are you are now…bands you’ve been in, what you’re currently working etc…

I’ve played in a number of bands and served a number of roles over the years. I’ve been both a lead guitarist and rhythm guitarist, I’ve been the singer, the bass player, I’ve even been a bad keyboardist in a band. Right now I’m working with some amazing musicians in a cover band called The Apple Scruffs. I also play lead guitar in a project called The Glass and I work with a band that I sing, play guitar and song write in called Fake Believe.

What are your main guitars and effects at this point? How did you come to start using these? What have you used in the past?

Like all guitar players I’ve bounced around a lot. For years I used a first year (Peavey) 5150 and I still love to play my ‘75 Marshall Plexi with a Les Paul or hot-rodded Strat. Right now I am using a custom made Telecaster-type guitar that I helped design and put together. My main amp is a boutique British style amp form a company out of Dallas called Jackson Ampworks. They do amazing stuff. Effects are always coming on and off my pedalboard. I use a few different boast, fuzzes, and delays. I couldn’t live without my Memory Man.

What are your thoughts on the Houston music scene? Being here for as long as you’ve been here, you’ve seen a lot, endured the whole “Austin is better” mentality, and have been performing regularly for years. How has the scene changed?

I’ve never been a part of the Austin scene, so I can’t really speak to it. I will say there is a history there that has been respected for a long time and I truly hope they hang on to that.  Houston’s strength in the world is our diversity. You can see a badass Tejano band, punk band, country band, rapper or indie band all playing the same weekend. One of my favorite things to do after a rehearsal is to walk down the hall of the rehearsal space I rent and listen to the drastically different artist all playing on the same night. I would love to see more venues play to that and put different genres on the same bill.

What is your favorite local artist or band out there right now?

There are several I could mention. I’ve been a huge fan of Hayes Carll since his first record and it’s great that he has made a national name for himself. It was so exciting to see The Sufers have a successful tour. To do it all without the support of a label speaks volumes about their talent.

What’s your favorite venue in town? What do you think makes a venue good for an independent artist or band? What do you look for when you’re trying to decide what venue to select for a gig?

My favorite venue is any venue is giving a stage to good acts. It’s always best if they have good beer too.

You’re a recording engineer too. Tell me about your background and education, software you prefer and a little about your philosophy in the studio.

I studied audio engineering under Les Williams (among other amazing professors) at San Jacinto College in the late 90s. They have an outstanding music school there and their recording program is one of Houston’s best-kept secrets. I worked at Sugar Hill for a little while and learned so much there.  Everyday that I got to be a second engineer for Andy Bradley or Dan Workman was a learning experience. Beyonce cursed me out over there, so that was pretty cool.
Currently I have a project studio set up with a Pro Tools system. I’ve worked with every DAW in the book but I’m most comfortable with Pro Tools. My philosophy as an engineer is the same as my philosophy as a musician. “You have to serve the song.” I love making other artist sound good. I love seeing them see their vision come out of the speakers.

In our lifetime, we’ve seen digital home recording explode. Prices have come down while the technology has grown leaps and bounds in the last 20 years. Given that, what role does an actual studio and hiring an actual engineer or producer offer an independent or aspiring musician? Why should or would someone pay to visit a studio when they can use something like garage band an ipad or even have a pro tools set up with a basic interface in their bedroom for less than a thousand bucks?

I think that’s a question that the industry is still coming to terms with. Amazing things are being done in a home studio. However, I’ve found that when an artist is trying to be all things in a session (producer, performer and engineer) that something is going to suffer and lots of time can be wasted. We’ve all found ourselves going down rabbit holes in the studio and wasting hours of the time we were supposed to be working on music.
Being in a pro environment can actually make things a lot less frustrating. Professionals have already made the mistakes that novices will inevitably fall victim to. The staff of a good studio can help keep the artist focused on their craft and push them to perform in ways they never knew possible.

How can an aspiring artist cut through the noise and distinguish themselves? While the tools exist to help someone get heard, what are some tips you can give to someone in order for them to get beyond their friends and families and connect with audiences?

Write killer songs. When I hear a new band I want to be blown away by how good the composition was. I want to go home singing it. There are always bands that are masters of their instruments or put on fun shows, and those are an important part of our job as musicians. But to have songs that set you apart and that connect with an audience is what makes a band cut through the noise. We as musicians like to write songs that are enjoyable for us to play, but we have to remember that our music is meant for an audience. We have to take that job seriously and give them something worth their time.

I think it’s getting harder and to get people to come out and see live music. There is so much competition for our time. We have so much more to be entertained with from the comfort of our couch than just a few years ago, so respect the craft and the audience that’s there even when it’s just the bartenders.

Most important advice you can give to an aspiring musician? He’s just learning to play, just getting started writing songs and riffs…

I don’t have all the answers so I’ll say what I wish someone would have told me when I was 21. Music isn’t a competition. Don’t let it be. You’re not trying to be the best, but to do your thing the best you can. Surround yourself with other musicians, better musicians, different musicians. Learn from those around you and be a part of a scene. We are all better when we all succeed. Go to other bands shows and cheer them on. You’ll be amazed at what’s out there and how much better your music will be.

Essential gear for a guitarist?

It depends on the guitarist. Guitar is such an interesting instrument because there is so much tone to chase and it all sounds different in other people’s hands. I love jamming with my younger brother, Kevin. He picks up my guitar and plays it through my rig and makes sounds I could never replicate. There is no magic box. Believe me, I’ve looked. I love the stuff that makes me want to keep playing and exploring.

Last question for now, and you know I have to ask: Beatles or Stones?

I love The Rolling Stones and have gotten into them more as I’ve gotten a bit older, but come on. When you look at songwriting, production and influence there’s no comparison. The Beatles are the reason we are all still playing in rock and roll bands.

dave 1Check out Dave’s current projects!
Apple Scruffs
Fake Believe
The Glass

And as always…support local music, not just with your ears but with your time and pocket. Get out to the shows!