JASON KARABAN SHiFTS HIS MUSIC INTO HIGH GEAR AND DUSTS THE MEDIOCRITY OF POPULAR MUSIC. HANG ON TIGHT!!

Karaban himself admitted during a live show that this cover looks similar to that of someone performing a bodily function. If you have the intelligence to find this page, you can figure out what that bodily function is. Photo courtesy of Ascend Records.

The background behind Jason Karaban coming into my line of vision (or auditory sense) was seeing him and Jim Boggia doing an opening set for Sam Llanas at the Rockwood Music Hall on September 12, 2012.  Usually you see an opening act and think “Oh gawd, how long am I going to have to suffer through this act?”  The truth of the matter was, the evening began with a young lady singing and playing piano with a guitarist accompanying her.  In true opening act fashion, the house was empty near the end of her set, and her mix was faulty, as the guitarist often got lost in the mix.

Once the female-led duo left the stage, we decided to settle into a front row for Mr. Llanas’ set.  Before that, we were treated to the song and comedy of Jason Karaban and Jim Boggia.  Boggia came off like a comedian immediately.  Joking and interacting with the crowd.  Karaban was equally funny but a bit more demure in demeanor.  But the voice coming from Karaban was honest, and very evocative of another artist who does well in scaled-down, intimate settings, Mark Mulcahy.

While some of the material Karaban played that night does come from his album, we are going to focus on the CD, SHiFT.  I may recall the songs that were played live, but that will be the only comparison to the live performance I will try to make with this review.  It’s all about the product…

But I will say it is a bit of a diversion of process as I am usually exposed to the artist via a product (disc) first, then go to see them at a show, sometimes scaled down.  So this is a departure…

Let’s board, shall we?

“Misplaced” is very familiar to me as he played it at the show (oh well, so much for not talking about the show already) and I posted the video on my Facebook page Free Progressive.  I have to say I was taken aback at the full instrumentation and production of the disc.  The lyrics discuss some oxymoron-type experiences our protagonist goes through.  “I was rich until they took all my bread.”  The CD version starts off with acoustic guitar as an intro, but the arrangement kicks into full gear right away (with the disc’s title and the fact that Karaban drives a sweet late 60’s Camaro in the video, expect lots of car references).  But along with the acoustic, there is a sustained guitar or violin within the intro as well (the arrangement is powerfully lush) and plucked violins build with the rhythm section behind Karaban’s dichotomies of life.

The chorus is huge, so huge it sort of buries the vocal unfortunately.  The chorus describes being driven to the place where the misplaced go.  That could be any post-concert affair…

After that chorus, there is a brief solo into a sparse verse.  Don’t get too comfy as we are right back into another full chorus.  There is a break, but the vocals are overcome again by production.  When they intermingle chorus and break, it all (to use Karaban’s lyric) crash lands.

He did do this at the Rockwood show, and the lyrics (of course) were not as “overcome” by the two live instruments as they are on the disc.  But for the production, he does pack a lot into these three minute songs.

A breathy percussion and an Adrian Belew-style lead guitar kick off “What Do You Say (To That)”.  An organ-style keyboard supports and assists the vocal melody, which again ruminates about paradoxes.

This is pop as it should be and I am having more Mark Mulcahy flashbacks as a tasteful solo is intertwined between chorus lines of “what do you say to that”.

I say too short but way cool.

Karaban offers up the change-up with “Devil That I Know” featuring piano and voice eventually joined by guitar building into a quick chorus.  Another one from the show, but far livelier on disc.

A piano solo hops right in and gives way to a piano/vocal break, but full arrangement returns right away.  It’s a good thing I did those Americana-roots reviews (Sam Llanas, Eddie Randazzo), they got me in shape for these radio-ready ditties that Karaban has presented.  A vocal ad-lib is quite nice on the hold note end.

I think the best part of this song (or the part I most identify with) is the religious phoniness of the opening verse.  I took chorus in school, I went to church (at my parent’s insistence) and I still don’t buy it.

A droning 16th note and double bass drum open “Succeed 101” which not only displays some of that humor Karaban displayed live, but gives way to a tuba and handclap verse.  This alternates with the more conventionally arranged verse, replete with strings and horns, but the full instrumentation takes over the chorus.

This is one of the more original songs I have heard in a very long time!

A trumpet comes in for the ‘days of the week’ break.  Backing vocals sturdy up the outro chorus.  Nice!  I won’t compare this to the Beatles because it’s better.

“Born Into This” starts with some lovely fingerpicking.  Another track they did live, but on the disc, the bass keeps the dynamic up.  The message is one of impatience.  Another verse and bridge have minor percussion bits added into the second chorus.  Slide guitars add to the impatient, hopeless emotion.  All the instruments back off as Karaban talks about being born into this life.  The instrumentation builds in time for him to ask “are we there yet”.

He must have kids.

The mood is brought back uptempo by “Tumbleweeds” with a quick shuffle beat and some minor chord phrasings with vocals.  It does have a western tinge to support the title, but instead of dead bushes, he is talking about fair weather people.  Fame hucksters and the like.  The violin lines add to the western feel.  In the third verse he talks of experiencing his child asleep.

Question answered, he does have kids.

Three verses and three choruses before the two-minute mark, then a full length, over one minute guitar solo outro.  Screw conventional arrangements.  YES!

Steady guitar chords build “Pay With A .45”, a tale of life behind the gun.  An interesting perspective, having heard the lyrics in the stripped-down live version.  But on the disc, they are lost to the production, buried under the mix.  Guitars come at you from every angle, keys pile on as well, the vocals never stood a chance, much like some of the characters in the lyrics.  Picture a four-way gun battle, with you as the vocal caught in the middle.  There is a constant backing vocal line that is lost in this onslaught.  It ends and the backing vocal comes out to sound as if it is saying “we don’t lie here”.

I wish the lyrics were included.  I may need to look for them online.

Delicate finger-picking and slap-back vocals highlight “You’re Already Home”, which talks about being kicked around even though you are already where you need to be.  There are breathy synth-whistles with the rhythm section.  Another Miracle Legion surprise, a very Ray Neal-esque solo comes right in and takes us out after the chorus.  Again, too short but too cool.

Drums and full arrangement start “Swinging At The Wind” right away in this tale of putting forth too much effort.  This was written with Glen Phillips of Toad The Wet Sprocket fame.

Remember them?

This was another sparsely performed live track.  It seems that all the live interpretations pale in comparison to the disc versions.  The fuller instrumentation makes the songs more satisfying.  I’d dig seeing Karaban and his loveable sidekick Boggia tour with a full band.

A slide guitar envious of the late George Harrison (damn, I hate referring to the Beatles) comes in until a crisp piano leads the troops with organ played to fill in between piano notes.  The second bridge builds only slightly to have a first verse repeat with a half verse break into an outro build. Clever!

An easy electric guitar leads to an uneasy “Life Of Ease” about one who is assigned unpleasant chores as opposed to someone who has it made.  We’ve all been there.  WHAT?

The second verse stinks of Grand Ol’ Opry, so get your shit-kickers on and do some boot-scootin’.  Dollar to a donut the solo was played on a Telecaster.  But hang on to your sky-miles, because the horns take us to Bourbon street for a first verse repeat, again.

Personal note to Jason Karaban, beware the formula monster.  Also, don’t sign to Interscope records, ever.

We revisit “Misplaced (Reprise)” but in a far more sparse version to feature the vocal.  More strings are added to this mix, with the rhythm section stripped away entirely.  A novel idea would be to release an entire disc of ‘reprises’.  But a very lovely symphonic ending for this version.  Worth it.

My personal favorite tune on the disc “Until Then” begins with eerie sounds, builds, swells, and breaking glass and other oddities around an acoustic guitar and synth bends start this brooding, plodding number.  The full vocals augment the Mulcahy-strange lyrics.  Something about a bright, intelligent, professional idea that leads to death.  There might be an accordion in there, or not.  All I know is, it was 2:40 of sonic beef stew.  Tremendous!

Summing up this disc, buy it.  Get it.  Order it here:

http://www.amazon.com/Shift/dp/B008M4HV62/ref=pd_rhf_ee_p_t_1

You’ll not be disappointed, and remember me when you put it into iTunes and play it over and over…

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