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