Out to Lunch by Jon Lewis Band – Review
After I heard the chord and harmonized hook of “Everyone Wants to Know,” the opening track of Jon Lewis Band’s newest EP, Out to Lunch, this very odd question popped into my head, and quickly found its way to my notepad:
“Is… Is this pop punk gone Western?”
Now, if I had actually though about it for a second and had this thought instead – “Oh, there’s a spaceman on the cover” – I would have realized that I was these open chords and harmonies, guitar and vocal effects, and atmospheric mixing and playing was JLB’s very successful attempt, intentional or otherwise, at making a semi-conceptual album of openness and space that combined recurring musical and lyrical themes while meshing Lewis’s signature songwriting and gentle vocal touch.
“Everyone Wants to Know” and “Western Winds” (Is this where I got the Western thing?) are perfect bookends to this EP, and function as the opening and closing scenes of a good movie. They introduce, establish, and remind the audience of the purpose and effect of the album, as both explore themes of loneliness, distance, and specific pieces of imagery – including descriptions of river that bind the story together. The former explores the life of a stranger moving on from home and his possible return, while the latter is a oblique love song, and the subjects swept along in the wind.
The highlights of the album, both these tunes have a distinctive groove that uses the lead guitar (Shawn Brogan), bass (1809 Studio Engineer and producer of the album, Dave Drago), and drums (Total Yuppies lead man Jake Walsh) with an offbeat sound, the former with a crisp off-beat hi hat and the latter with a shuffle feel and a surprise appearance from trumpeter Dave Chisholm that grounds the other material. “Western Winds” struck me as the most “arranged,” complicated, and intellectually developed of all the material; it sounded the most like the music was written out and composed, and it was a great way to end the album. I can imagine that everyone in the band felt really great about this one, and I can hear how well so many ideas were put together and synthesized.
Looking to the middle of the album now, the second track is “In My Head,” and it really lets the background vocals loose. Behind Lewis’s child-like tone, the audience hears such a stark contrast from the backing vocals, which are rough and hard exhibit an outward pain. The instrumentation mimics this, as the piano opening from keyboardist Alex Northrup is introverted, using colorful polychords/ pedal tones that reminded me of the “introvertedness” of Schumann’s “Eusebius” from the piano solo piece Carnaval, and then it transitions into a grooving hard rock piece.
“I’m Sorry,” the following track, exhibits signs of my Western thesis, using blues and those open “cowboy chords” behind a 1 and + of 3 kick drum groove. Above a tight bass and drum flow, Lewis accesses a sound with more edge and bite, telling the story of an unequal love with a sarcastic “I’m moving on” flair. We hear in this a piece a cool instrumental break with building and percolating lines.
The rock rolls on in “All the Time,” a love song in which the narrator can’t get someone out of their head, accompanied with a hard rock feel and pop punk vocal effects. A very coyly sung line “you know why,” caught my attention, and the whole piece using harmony frequently – like most of the album, simulating the perceived echo of space – accented a couple references to music making/ production/ recording seem fitting.
Ending that middle portion was “Don’t Wanna Wait,” which truly has the Lewis solo act sound. With no drums, the bass-guitar-vocal track has his solo performer prints all over it. Lewis truly hits his vocal stride by showing his inner child in terms of his delivery and simple writing, in this clean track that discusses looking back and nostalgia.
Wrapping up this review, I must give credit to Drago, who produced and recorded this album. As Lewis described in his Spotlight interview, this album was much more of a collaborative and free-flowing effort compared to his earlier work, and the recording demonstrated that perfectly with an even balance to all the band members, and the atmospheric sound and effects that thematically tied this whole thing together!
Here are some places you can listen to Out to Lunch: