A BOULEBLOG FIRST! TWO REVIEWS FOR THE PRICE OF ONE! SAM LLANAS BRINGS THE PASSION TO THE STAGE WITH 4/5 LIVE VOL. 1, AND A DAY FOR GRACE RETURNS TO THE STAGE TRIUMPHANT!

A personalized copy of Four/Five Live Volume 1! It doesn't get much better than that!

A personalized copy of Four/Five Live Volume 1! It doesn’t get much better than that!

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  We are embarking on something new here at the BouleBlog, a double review!!!  There is much going on in the Sam Llanas camp and we have little time to cover it.  So sit back in your favorite comfy chair, grab yourself a lovely beverage, turn your cell phone off and spend some time with Sam Llanas, as well as Doug Vincent in our first epic, single post two part review!  Two for the price of one, and cue that annoying little guy ‘the price is FREE!!!!’

When you see an emotive performer like Sam Llanas live, you get to witness the whole being.  Because when Llanas interprets his songs, time after time he put each and every atom of that being into every performance.  So to get this live disc from Llanas is thrilling because other than the visual of Llanas, you are still going to get powerhouse passion, as well as the full array of human emotions in song form.

For those of you who want to get a live load of Llanas, he will be performing sets in advance of the play A Day For Grace playing in various locations from Virginia, to Denver, to Milwaukee, to Chicago and culminating in a return to New York to play on the stage where it first came to being, Stage Left Studio.  Llanas has been reported to play a set then is joined for the play by Doug Vincent, star and playwright.

I find myself at a slight disadvantage as many of the songs were from Llanas’ BoDeans catalog.  I have not yet gotten myself up to speed on the BoDeans (regrettably).  So I will evaluate the songs I am unfamiliar with on their current merit, how they were performed on this disc, at that moment in time.  Actually, I think that’s fair.  There is no real point in comparison between what was and what is.  Llanas is solo now.  He lives and dies by the bits and bytes he puts on the disc.  But knowing Llanas, he’s not sweating it.  He is a consummate performer, and his backing band is a crew of highly skilled professionals (we’ll get to who plays what later on) who are totally capable of carrying out Llanas’ concentrated compositions.

In fact, here’s some of them now:

“She’s A Runaway” begins with a close edit letting the acoustic of Llanas be heard immediately and set the tone and tempo for this BoDeans take.  I am woefully barraged by so much music to review, I regrettably (after hearing this disc) am behind in my personal collection purchases.  The list of artists for that goes on.

But the full band kick in, and this tune is off and running with the snap of Ryan Schiedermayer’s snare drum.

Mary is our runaway, she shot her man down.

The structure of the song is verse, to chorus, to verse, to chorus, to bridge rejoinder, to verse, to chorus, to solo, to chorus, to build, to bridge rejoinder (repeat), to stop break down, to verse, to chorus two times then end.

For you burgeoning songwriters, there’s a formula you may want to learn.  Llanas’ arrangements are classic pop structures that lead to critical success with the BoDeans.

Sean Williamson plays a barn-burner yet appropriate solo.  It has movement; it is tasteful, yet dirty enough to let some amp noise seep through..

Just the way I like it.

Of course, Llanas’ vocal brings it.  I mean, he’s just one guy doing lead vocals, and on this track (admittedly with the help of Jason Loveall’s violin  counter-melody on those choruses and Williamson’s lead punctuations after the vocal line in the verses), you don’t miss the backing vocalists!  Llanas’ voice is THAT thick (if not a tad under-mixed on this track).

Now “Cherry O” on the other hand is an old, familiar favorite from Llanas’ 4A.M. cd.

After a count-in (edited) Llanas’ picks right up into chorus one, after two beat stops, verse one starts.  Verse one then culminates into a series of three triplet strikes and one double strike, to return to the chorus a couple of times.

With a repeat of the double beat stop, the verse returns.  The triplet and double beat series returns us to the chorus and a solo.  A chorus repeats but with a much greater dynamic and ends on a hold note.

Another searing solo from Williamson, but the instrument that really makes this GO is the bass of Turner ‘el’ Matthew (his parents named him Matt Turner).  Turner’s runs on the bass line in the choruses towards the end, simply killer!

The lyrics on this rival many a soap opera plot (remember those?).  Rebound relationships, jealousy-based relationships, longing, loss, if Llanas had included lyrics about a character returning from the dead, it might be a storyline right out of ‘The Bold And The Boulliabaisse’.

The sound on this track?  Only the audience at the very end gives away the fact that was recorded live before said audience.

Let’s talk about audience.  Why is it that the BEST artists usually have such small followings?  I said that about Rundgren, and he dried up.  The twist with Llanas is, I am catching him during a transition period.  I am digging his solo music  to death.  4A.M. and Absinthe’s A Good Day To Die both move and excite me.  But hearing old BoDeans stuff, again, reminds me of what I missed out on all these years, but also thrills me to know Llanas has far from dried up.

If he only reaches the same audience demographic as he did with the BoDeans or less?  More for me…

A moody intro with huge drums and muted harmonics from guitar, a ringing bass and droning violin notes set the mood for  “4 A.M.”, the track.  The verse comes in, they traverse over an ascending bridge to a slide solo with delay.  This is over a verse to bridge structure.  A verse and bridge come around again.  The closing chorus of ‘4A.M.’ repeated closes the song.

This version broods more than the recorded version.  The story of a lovelorn wanderer of the night has that much more detail to the description.  The production on this is utter for a live (what do we call it in the digital world now-a-days, there is no truck out back with 128 tracks on 2-inch tape?) ‘capturing’…

“Sad Eyes” leaves me at a disadvantage again.  While not listed as a BoDeans song, perhaps this track is a preview of Llanas’ forthcoming studio album yet to ‘drop’ (as they say in the hood)?

Congas, bass and a punctuating guitar solo start off for an intro.  A verse and what may be a bridge (quoting song lyrics from 70’s AM radio) gives way to a build up with full drums.  That yields to a very nice melody bridge with Loveall’s violin leading the way.  The verse returns with more 70’s AM revisits, then the bridge with a repeat of those originally stated 70’s AM quotes, the melody bridge goes into a slightly braggadocios guitar solo (in a good way) back into a verse which Schiedermayer puts some drive behind by accenting on the high-hat.

I’m surprised I haven’t been more preferential to Schiedermayer.  I had the good fortune to chat with him in person after the Llanas Rockwood solo show in NYC last September.  Affable, personable, knowledgeable (points awarded for knowing who Bill Bruford is) and a down-to-earth, nice guy.  From what I have heard on this disc, a consummate performer.

More 70’s quotes, leaking into the 80’s with the mention of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”.  At which point Llanas stops the band and asks the audience ‘Is that true?’  This must have been written after 4A.M. as Llanas covers Lauper’s “All Through The Night” on 4A.M.

It feels sorta redundant mentioning anything about 4A.M. as I reviewed it last year on the syndication.  One of the last ones I did for the syndication.  It might be time to resurrect it for the Friday Flashback series.

He returns to the chorus.  They build up as they did before, but Schiedermayer has the wherewithal to build the dynamic up for the soaring solo without over-powering the track.  Until the ending where he shows his agility with a tremendous flourish ending.

The lyrics on this are about (from what I gather, mind you, always a precarious slope interpreting lyrics) reminiscing about situations sparked into memory by the replaying of classic 70’s AM hits.

Parked by the levy, but the levy was dry, you know, when cars didn’t yet have FM radio.  Gawd I’m old…

“Go Johnny Go” is not what you think it is.  After a multitude of 70’s catch-lyrics, this is a Llanas original, not a bastardization of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny Be Good”.

A count in introduces a sprightly, slightly latin intro into a verse about someone who dirties his rep by dealing.  He’s on the run too, like Mary!  The second verse finds our subject getting in with some ne-er-do-wells and Johnny wanting to see Marie just once more time to say ‘see ya’.

Caddish, but clever.

The verse and chorus give way to a plucked staccato lead, that is followed with a second go-round of the solo structure, but the second time around the solo is good old rock and roll.

The third verse finds Johnny robbing a Stop And Shop.  He finds himself surrounded in a building, lights and sirens.  They return to the chorus and end with the ever popular ‘cha-cha-cha’-style ending.

Tough to analyze this as it must be new.  Nothing to compare it to.

“Nobody Luvs Me” is an old fave from 4A.M.  This one broods too.  Intro, to verse, to chorus, into the hook bridge.  Not necessarily a disparaging song, like the title would imply, it’s a love song.  Williamson punches phrases in the second verse and chorus, then the bridge with Llanas’ vocal ad-lib.

Williamson picks up at the end of the ad-lib bridge with a picked and delayed solo.  Verse three comes around describing attraction in a slightly truncated arrangement, into another chorus.  All the while, Williamson volume swells behind Llanas’ lyrics and the ad-lib bridge which has come around.  It is answered with a chorus and an eight beat solo to a graceful end.

“Something’s Telling Me” is another BoDean number.  This version starts off with a guitar solo intro.  The first verse details someone learning though physical interaction that their love has gone South.

Like you’ve never been there…

The bridge that follows serves as the woman’s retort that it’s ‘all in your imagination’.  But the chorus which comes next serves as the voice of the uncertain party by repeating ‘Somethin’s telling me’ which serves as a great rejoinder into a the verse, bridge and a half-chorus.  Cut in half to let in a change that leads into an understated guitar solo.  The last verse is a break down for the first four beats of the next two lines into a bridge with a different flavor for a change.  Another solo runs over the structure to a modified chorus.  A truncated solo and ending.

“617” is another BoDeans tune, bass and drums start off with Llanas’ trademark Taylor acoustic accenting until the verse starts up.  When they get to the bridge, the full band picks up the song.  Mostly about a guy hoping he haunts his ex’s dreams.  The chorus reveals a great lyric: ‘Well you have to sleep with your decisions’.

So true.

A verse returns to that wise chorus.  The title, “617” refers to a street address.  The third verse is bass and drums again.  The bridge is full, and the chorus gives us his address right down to the apartment number.  After this, the chorus’ wisdom, then Llanas ad-libs over arpeggiated guitar the second time this repeats, it is a guitar solo with Turner underneath filling in at all sort of available spots.  They refresh the riff with six note hit accents, then it ends with a flourish by my percussion pal, Ryan Schiedermayer.

So far, none of these BoDeans tunes have been objectionable.  Not helping me not want to get me some…  Let’s try another!

The last BoDeans song on this disc is “Brand New”.  Llanas starts it off by tapping chords out on acoustic, with some volume swells by Williamson.  After the intro, Llanas speaks of love within proximity.  Right around the corner.  Another verse  leads into that open chorus proclaiming ‘brand new’ again.  The bridge leads to an understated slide break.  The verse returns and there is wonderment if our protagonist will ever feel brand new love again.

A full-on slide solo plays into a break down for a vocal primary verse into the chorus.  The chorus repeats and another slide solo visits.  Llanas ad-libs behind the pluckier parts and the solo and another chorus sneaks up and ends on the last word.

Another new tune, “Seize The Day”, this has a tight rhythm section and up front harmonic guitar notes.  The verse and chorus sing of empowerment.  The title is ‘Seize The Day’ afterall.

A ‘hey-hey’ bridge rejoins to an intro break.  A verse returns but Llanas makes this verse distinctive by altering the melody with a few falsetto notes near the end.

Beautiful.

The empowered chorus returns.  The ‘hey-hey’ bridge is back.  It repeats with no vocal to allow the slide to play it once straight then to solo the second time the arrangement repeats.

The next chorus is unique as Schiedermayer and Turner pump up the rhythm section and build into a dynamically powerful chorus-bridge structure, to back up the psycho slide which takes over the speakers.

Now that’s playin’!

The ‘seize the day’ and ‘hey-hey’ parts are fused together to bring the song to a close as well as the disc. Schiedermayer pounds the song to a close.

I stopped talking about the production halfway through this review as it became redundant.  Each of those songs sounds like studio takes.  You can hear the audience at times, and you can hear Llanas let out some musical director cues at changes in the song.  Remove these elements and you could have a ‘best of’, studio package.

The band?  Forget about it.  It was refreshing to hear a violinist who wasn’t attempting to outplay Jean-Luc Ponty on every track.  Loveall knew how to fill without spilling.  Williamson?  Consummate, tasteful, cognizant player who can augment but not step on toes.  Turner?  One of the best bassists to watch.  To paraphrase another bass player, Nick Oliveri, ‘he’s coming up!’.  I’ve already droned on about Schiedermayer (Ryan, you need to send me your solo CD).  Llanas?  One word:  Class!

Sam Llanas and his trusty Taylor guitar play to the good folks of Berryville Virginia.  Photo courtesy of Gary Tanin.

Sam Llanas and his trusty Taylor guitar play to the good folks of Berryville Virginia. Photo by Michael Hobert, courtesy of Gary Tanin.

Now as a super-duper bonus, here is a solo (as in by himself) performance from the same venue at around the same time as Four/Five Live – Volume 1 was recorded.  I found this YouTube performance of “Far, Far Away From My Heart”.  It should give you an idea of the passion that Llanas brings to each and every song he performs.

Just how classy is Llanas?  Only someone with a real sensitivity to the human condition could have the musical premonition for the second portion of our review, that being the play A Day For Grace which has begun its second run, this time to new audiences in new cities on its current nationwide tour.  First, let’s get this before your eyes:

While this is for the Milwaukee shows which have played, as well as the Virginia show, which was sold out and had audiences on their feet with applause, you can get more info at the the sites listed for the remaining shows of the national tour.  Courtesy Gary Tanin.

While this is for the Milwaukee shows which have played, as well as the Virginia show, which was sold out and had audiences on their feet with applause, you can get more info at the the sites listed for the remaining shows of the national tour. Courtesy Gary Tanin.

If you are interested in seeing perhaps one of the most poignant performances to grace the stage (see what I did there?), get some information at the sites listed at the end of this review.

As you can see from the poster, I am not the only one who feels this show is worth checking out.  It has been recognized by the group Road Recovery who deals with at risk people.  Another organization to recognize A Day For Grace is MusiCares.  You’ve all heard of them, they strive to maintain music education in public schools.

I will hold my tongue on that topic for the good of the show.

So let’s get you some more information so you can see how good this show is.  Let’s start with what was published in the Winchester Star from Laura McFarland:

A Day for Grace is a reflection on some of the best and worst moments in Vincent’s life, including some that took place while he was growing up in Berryville.

Although he already has been performing the show for about a year at locations across the country, he believes doing so in Berryville will add a new dimension to the performance.

‘It is all part of the healing process in some powerful ways that are unexpected for me,’ said Vincent, 43, of Longmont, Colo. ‘I think it will be a good cathartic homecoming.'”

You can further investigate the show at these links:

http://www.adayforgraceshow.com/

https://www.facebook.com/DougVincentADayforGraceShow?directed_target_id=0

Should yours truly be of sound body when this rolls into New York City in September, I will be at Stage Left Studio for the homecoming of this show.  I am not sure if I will review it (there are new portions, so revisionism may be required) or just sit back and let Vincent take me into his world.

After much discussion with Mr. Vincent, we have concluded his world and my world are and were parallel universes.  The topics are tough, the story heart and gut wrenching, the music is superb and intricate to the show.  I say again, this show is not to be missed.

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