Wednesday 20 February 2013

Review: David Are – A Few For Friends / Friends For A Few

David Are – A Few For Friends / Friends For A Few (independent)
David Are is the nom de plume of David A. Reiser, a composer and producer currently working in New York City. He mainly operates in the field of musical theatre, and is a founding partner (with his friend Logan Lipton) of New Make Do, where they join forces with other artists to develop and produce new ideas, both for theatre and other forms of popular entertainment.

His latest projects to reach fruition are the “Friends” recordings; an ambitious undertaking that resulted in the simultaneous release of two albums “A Few For Friends” and “Friends For A Few”. Both of which comprise of collaborations with a host of Broadway performers. It must have been a daunting task to organize so much talent for studio sessions, though I assume Reisner is completely at home in this world, with no shortage of friends and contacts to help facilitate his musical aspirations.

A Few For Friends
“A Few For Friends” is the longer of the two albums, clocking in at a smidgen over the hour. Its 13 tracks (and 5 spoken word telephone “scenes”) cover a variety of different musical styles, from lo-fi indie bedsit confessionals to full-on musical numbers, the latter, the sort of thing you could imagine Michael Ball belting out on a West End stage.

Logically, it shouldn’t work, but Are has been clever, and rather than coalesce the album through style of song or central theme, he’s instead concentrated on an overall sound. The production is understated and decidedly back-to-basics and the instrumentation is resolutely acoustic. The spoken word pieces provide structure, and the guest vocalists add another layer of interest.

Certain songs standout: “Great American Troubadour” and “Josh and Joey” bring to mind early Billy Joel, guest vocalist Caissie Levy shines on the kitchen sink duet “My Reason” and “You're Gonna Be Great Today” segues effortlessly into the new singer-songwriter movement. Perhaps best of all is “Two Northern Lovers in a Dixieland Storm”, which could almost be a Richard Ford short story set to music.

Friends For A Few
“Friends For A Few” shares certain formatting concepts with its sister album, though stylistically it’s altogether dissimilar. Both albums are 13 tracks long with a series of spoken word telephone “scenes” scattered amongst the songs. Both albums feature guest vocalists from various Broadway productions, and both feature a wide variety of song styles.

Here, acoustic instrumentation is replaced with electronica, predominantly keyboards, and the effect is quite retro and very “pop”. The whole approach feels rooted in the 1980s synthesizer scene, and groups like Yazoo and early Depeche Mode, together with later artists like Stephin Merritt and Twin Shadow. There are guests on just about every track, and some (older) listeners may be reminded of the classic B.E.F. album “Music of Quality and Distinction Vol. 1”.

“Out of the Blue” (featuring Gavin Creel) is an early highlight, its bubbly beats combining nicely with the gentle, understated vocal. “I Knew a King Once” with Celisse Henderson on vocals is big, contemporary R&B, but better still is Caissie Levy’s take on “The Countdown”, which is up there with Carol Kenyon’s guest vocal on Heaven 17’s “Temptation” or something from the first Massive Attack album. Yep – it’s that good.
Phil S.

David Are: A Few for Friends

David Are: Friends for a Few

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