CD Review of Santiago’s Vest by Gary Reynolds and the Brides of Obscurity
Recommended if you like
John Lennon, Julian Lennon, Badfinger, Oasis
Label
Electrokitty
Gary Reynolds and the
Brides of Obscurity:
Santiago’s Vest

Reviewed by Michael Fortes

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G
ary Reynolds and the Brides of Obscurity were known simply as the Brides of Obscurity on their last two releases, but the Seattle quintet hasn’t changed much. It’s still the same five guys, playing hooky pop-rock with a singer/songwriter whose voice reminds just about everyone who hears it of John Lennon. That nostalgic but always cool-sounding electric piano is still there too, and it’s even further up in the mix than before. If anything, the addition of the frontman’s name to the official band name just ups the nostalgia factor even more. First ‘60s reference point that comes to mind: Gary Puckett and the Union Gap. Need I say more?

Well, yes, actually. Santiago’s Vest, the band’s second full-length disc and third overall, is a slight departure from previous releases, despite basically retaining all of the band’s hallmarks. More or less, some of the good-time pop flavor of last year’s Extended Play has been replaced with a darker feel.

Part of what made Extended Play so enjoyable was the fact that it was so short, and every song played like a potential hit single -- or at least a potential hit single from another place and time. (Would that “Wall Eyed Girl” could volley for access to the Top 10 with Chris Brown or Rihanna.) But anyway, Extended Play left the listener wanting more. Santiago’s Vest does deliver more, but it’s less a Beatles-like “more” than a Neil Young-like “more.” And when I say Neil Young, I mean the idea (not the distortion-laden sonic assault) of Year of the Horse –era Neil Young, circa 1996, when that guy in the audience at the very start of the recording shouted, “it all sounds the same!” to which Neil retorted, “it’s all one song!”

This is exactly how Santiago’s Vest plays out – like a 36-minute long, multi-part, dark-but-not-too-dark pop song.

“Wall Eyed Girl” is the best example, and the highlight of the disc. With that electric piano and Reynolds’ voice isolated at key points throughout the song, occasionally augmented by expectedly Beatlesque background vocals, the song about a girl who’s “soon to be erased” has a repeated melodic guitar solo and a tone that places the song in line with Beatles for Sale, though the record was mixed with Abbey Road in mind and definitely bears the stamp of its influence.

The amped-up guitars in the chorus of “You Are What You See” are perhaps the best manifestation of the darkness that pervades Reynolds’ new music, with an honorable mention to the falsetto vocals and light stomp of the chorus to “Who Do You Love.”

And then there’s a reflection of the time in “Where Do We Go from Here” – particularly the lyric “I get up and read the news / Making me so confused” – that, sure, could apply to any time, but gives the record some listener identification. And another good zinger – “I think I’m better in bed,” from “Sleep” -- that’s bad and good all at once. After all, the song is about just what the title says, but our minds are dirty, yes they are.

All this makes Santiago’s Vest the somewhat difficult but wholly impressive ‘serious’ outing from a pop-rock band that really does know how to have fun. It might take some getting used to, but it shouldn’t be too difficult.

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