SAM LLANAS RETURNS AND ROCKS “THE WHOLE NIGHT THRU”!!!

This wise owl knows what's good.  Llanas' new disc is a no brainer, it's great!  Photo courtesy Daystorm Music

This wise owl knows what’s good. Llanas’ new disc is a no brainer, it’s great! Photo courtesy Daystorm Music

Sam Llanas has returned to the market place with his newest effort, The Whole Night Thru. His last album, the live compilation 4/5 Live was merely a teaser as to what Llanas and company were up to. That company is comprised of some vital, undiscovered talent from the Wisconsin cheese belt. I have personally witnessed the soul and expression drummer Ryan Schiedermayer puts into Llanas’ music, having seen the duo live at the Rockwood Music Hall in NYC a couple of years ago. But this album features a full band, not just the duo of Llanas and Schiedermayer. Joining them is lead guitarist Sean Williamson, and bassist Matthew “El” Turner.

With the release of The Whole Night Thru, Llanas bids a mournful good bye to the BoDeans, a move that, as Llanas mentions in a recent press release, is a recalcitrant one. Llanas clarifies the situation: “I think people have this misconception that I left The BoDeans to pursue a solo career, but that’s just not the truth. I never wanted the break up of the BoDeans. It broke my heart.”

Been there…

But as a recent convert to Llanas’ music, and only having heard small snippets of BoDeans tracks, I can tell that even though it was not Llanas’ preference to have the BoDeans disintegrate, he took with him the heart, the soul, and the spirit of his music.

Let’s check out some of that heart/soul/spirit…

Llanas starts off his fourth solo effort (including the overlooked, brilliant Absinthe ‘A Good Day To Die’) with “Deja Vú”. This track is being distributed as a single, for the record.

The disc opens with a volume pedal, distorted guitar. The first line is the unique paring of Williamson’s guitar and Llanas’guitar. Schiedermayer pounds the rest of the band into joining for the verse.

Llanas’ vocals (a distinct instrument in and of itself) are loud and proud (for most of the disc) as he describes his hunger for another go ‘round, even giving a nod to Fall Of The House of Usher by Poe.

The chorus structure is brief, two lines, with the second chorus doubling up for four lines. Arrangements that are easy to follow, melodically and musically make sense with no jarring, rhythm-disturbing changes. That is not to say, there are no changes, like the change bridge that comes up in “Déjà Vu”, which precipitates a nice build that leads to a guitar solo.

Williamson offers up something distorted and even jittery for a period, but concise and tasteful. Two more chorus lines rejoin to a new bridge and what sounds like a verse structure, yet is somehow different. We fade out at that point with Llanas lamenting ‘Whoa’ all the way out.

Next up is “Cold n’ Clean”. Ryan Schiedermayer opens this on up on his snare drum and as the band responds, Llanas adds layers of ‘doo-doo’ to the intro which turns into a reoccurring theme in the song in the form of a defacto bridge. For the first verse, the band settles back in the dynamic to allow Llanas’ vocal to take center stage. At certain points, Williamson swells a couple of notes up to meet the mix. That tight rhythm section really punches through in this track whenever Williamson pulls out of the mix.

Llanas recalls sending various denominations of coinage into a wishing well, seems like he’s spent a fortune down said well…The end of the verse is arranged so well it flows effortlessly into that defacto bridge. This allows Williamson to hold his last note before adding tasteful notes at appropriate points in the vocal. This all leads back to another bass and drum verse. The chorus is unique in that Llanas is wishing for nothing in some very deep ways.

I find this as pure irony given the whole BoDeans situation. Llanas is now out there as a solo entity and is viewing this ’solo career’ thing as starting over.

A change comes into the song with Schiedermayer thundering on the toms, and ushers in a change that resolves into the chorus naturally, and this whole section is embellished with some fiery Williamson solo notes. A verse resurrects with a touch more acoustic guitar in the bass and drums. Speaking of drums, through these songs, Schiedermayer has been pounding those Pearl drums for all he’s worth on this disc. Especially bringing the dynamic to meet his level of fury and flurry. Llanas reflects upon his reflection in said well. How many wishes lay down at the bottom? Egads that’s deep. Pun any way you like, I never thought Llanas could get more philosophical.

To meet him, Llanas is a laid back, easy-going guy. Guess he’s one of those types who only lets his pain out through his art.

Like Robin Williams. The more he hurt inside, the harder he worked to make the audience laugh.

The blend of ‘doo-doo’ vocals and ad-lib vocals constitute the end, complete down to the guitar notes ringing out.

Feedback fades “Everywhere But Here” into a crescendo to all disappear for the a cappella first line, then a reasonably polyrhythmic verse joins in just in time for Llanas to make reference to his earlier solo album. ‘…Searchin’ for ya, ‘till 4.A.M.’ and I don’t think it was coincidental that he dwells and harmonizes on that line.

While Llanas searches for his romantic mirage, Turner is filling up some audible space quite nicely, and Schiedermayer is upholding the accents. They all fall into line for a bridge that brings them into a solo with Llanas’ vocals backing it up.

Llanas’ pipes show no sign of letting up as he’s hitting high notes, filling backgrounds and is still as impassioned as ever. With that, a distorted/feedback chord take us out.

With “Dangerous Love”, Tanin and Ric Probst dust off the effects processor and treat Llanas’ vocal to some decaying echo to open this track up.

Before I get into descriptions, let me let you into my mindset about this album; I adore his Absinthe A Good Day To Die, I identified deeply with the concept within his 4A.M., which was my introduction to Llanas. His 4/5 Live was good, but in the long run, it is turning out to be too little and too many questions unanswered. I guess I was spoiled by the 70’s and 80’s with double live albums. Titles like Peter Frampton Frampton Comes Alive, Genesis Three Sides Live (which was four sides live if you bought the U.K. version, Bill Bruford plays live drums on the U.K. version side four) or, more quintessentially to me, Todd Rundgren Back To The Bars, 4/5 Live just made me want more. So when The Whole Night Thru came out, I was literally blown away. I do reviews of all styles of music, or at lease those styles that I have at least a working knowledge. It would be fool hearted to attempt to decipher a classical piece.

I can see how Llanas and company could be accused of continuing the concept of 4.A.M., but only in lyrical content. Musically, this is a harder, distortion-driven style that fits Llanas’ thick, soulful vocal well. If there was to be an exception to the 4.A.M. lyrical rule, it might be ‘Dangerous Love’, as in the second verse grouping, he finds a ‘Dangerous Love’.

For some reason, the flow from verse three to the chorus is a touch odd, like it was a bad edit. My trusty player’s tray may be on its last legs… After that chorus we really get to hear Williamson’s voice as a soloist. We find a truncated verse chews us up after Williamson spits us out. This verse detailing the pratfalls of a dangerous love. Then some accent strikes to end with the word ‘love’ echoing out.

Acoustic guitar and piano pave the way for “I’m Still Alive”. Llanas portrays a widower who loses everything to “Katrina” in NoLa. Deeper reflection (read: verse three) is symbolized audibly by the addition of strings to the arrangement.

The chorus reaffirms Llanas’ survival instinct. Verse four, one of gratitude is not as embellished until the second stanza, before the bridge and chorus. I’m glad Llanas is still alive… A harmonica and more string keyboards fill the fade. Rumbling bass and storm-warning whistle guitar parts meet with filling drums to from the intro to “Somethin’ Comin’” and musically, they could not have replicated and translated the sound of an on-coming storm more accurately.

The storm of instruments builds to let Llanas proclaim his premonitions. For literary effect, the bass drum is artificially big. All the better for Llanas to warn of a sense of trouble on the horizon.

Then the drums bring the entire band to attention and the chorus is met with great precision. But as it turns out, Llanas’ premonition is the chorus. The next verse is vocal and guitar effects and bass and drums punctuate until the structure and dynamic return to take us out. Much like that premonition.

Again, leaves me wanting more…

Acoustic guitar and percussion start off “Addicted To The Cure” with Llanas’ big vocal with verses detailing the raucous adventures with a seductress treating her love as a commodity, much like street drugs. Or Seboxin. The title sort of alludes to that. Then after the first verse and chorus, the drums get big. Conceptually, it makes a good follow up to “Dangerous Love”. Llanas has different lyrics for the second chorus. Always changing things up. Just in time for the big drums to lead the fade out.

I still want more…

Buzzing, swirling synths build up to a rocking tune, “The Best I Can”, which builds into Llanas’ vocal, both equally powerful. Albeit some times the musical din overtakes Llanas’ vocal. Normally a bad thing, in this case, that human touch. That vocal take was a live interpretation at the time. More likely, several takes of emotion. Llanas even laments in the opening verse about how his past love and he called a purple night ‘Hank William’s Sky’.

In the break-bridge, Turner throws in some really nice under-melodies in the higher range of the bass. But the chorus still amounts to Llanas doing ‘the best he can’. This was all designed to bring in a really tasty guitar solo. The song breaks down for more tasty bass and drum verse, with another verse details what Llanas is hoping for. More bridge-break effects, then a revisit to the solo which bring us to the end of the song. A chorus opens “To Where You Go”, a short but clever tune. When the verse comes in, the dynamic strays a bit, but by the time the second half of the verse makes the dynamic reach pop-perfect levels for the chorus.

Verse three refers to New Orleans again. Llanas recounts an evening’s audience while Turner fill up the sonic space with some firm high-end notes.

The outro chorus takes on a minor voicing as it fades accompanied by shaker, vocals, vocal adlibs, and as it has been all throughout the album, guitar notes.

Perhaps the unsung hero of this album is Matt Turner on bass. He manages to put more tasteful, perfect playing in all the right spots during tunes, more naturally than some of music’s seasoned players. Along with mix master Gary Tanin (Google him, or search for him in this blog, he’s done way too much to mention here) on various keyboards and such, Turner and Schiedermayer make a rock solid rhythm section upon which there is enough room for Llanas, Williamson and Tanin to decorate, adorn, manipulate, etc., the overall sound of the disc.It’s only natural that Llanas would depart from what he’s done to where his head is now. Enabling him to do so are the capable team of Tanin and Ric Probst (if you read this blog with any regularity, you know that name from the Rob Fetters St. Ain’t CD review that was posted in April).

This is a lineup Llanas has worked with repeatedly in the past few years, playing solo songs from the above-mentioned albums as well as songs that featured in the up-and-coming Spoken Word/Musical A Day For Grace. So they know the feel, they know the groove of most of Llanas’ catalog.

As you read on, each and every one of the following titles offer no less than 100% musicianship. This band is here to rock. What about Llanas’ roots identity, the Americana identity?

Gone!

Replaced with what can only be described as power rock. You know, familiar arrangements so as not to qualify as prog rock, too polished to be garage rock, not vapid enough to be pop, better to just say power rock, as that’s what the sound is now!

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