CD Review of Tangerine by David Mead

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Released: 2006
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That David Mead is not some sort of pop superstar nothing short of tragic, and I’m not just saying that because he and I got reallllllly drunk at Schuba’s in Chicago after his set opening for Ron Sexsmith. (It should also be noted that it is not a lack of objectivity that leads me to say that Mead absolutely took Sexsmith to school at that show, and likely every other show on that tour.) His voice is pure as a bell, his songs are better than anything Sir Paul has put to tape in decades…and he can’t hold on to a record deal to save his life. His three albums, plus one EP, are on three different labels. It’s like moving your favorite TV show to a different night of the week every three weeks; even if the work is top notch, it’s moving around too much for anyone to grab onto it.

So huzzah to Tallulah! Records (his fourth label) for not only giving Mead’s fabulous new album Tangerine a home, but arranging for Mead to cut the record with superb producer Brad Jones (think Jon Brion, only slightly less eccentric). The results are magical, the kind of thing that Bacharach would give his right arm to call his own. Indiana, Mead’s stripped-down acoustic album from 2003, was nice and all, but Mead’s songs should be wearing three-piece suits and wingtips, not a T-shirt, jean shorts and flip flops. This is what makes Tangerine such a treat; it shows Mead at his mack daddiest.

The instrumental title track starts things off, a pretty, piano-driven bit with a refrain that pops up with all sorts of bells and whistles later on in the song “Hunting Season.” Perhaps the most fascinating sequence of songs begins with “The Trouble with Henry,” which sports a chorus straight out of a Dionne Warwick song circa 1968 and a string section that floats as if carried by butterflies. “Chatterbox” follows, with Mead pulling a vocal line from Earth Wind & Fire’s playbook, and “Reminded #1” is a spooky a cappella. Give Jones credit for expanding Mead’s horizons considerably beyond his trademark bouncy guitar pop. While those moments are indeed here (“Fight for Your Life”), there are also nods to soul (“Hallelujah, I Was Wrong”) and a sweeping ballad (“Suddenly a Summer Night”) that is equal parts darkness and light.

Too many people have taken for granted that bands like the Beatles and the Stones, along with songwriters like Carole King and Burt Bacharach, will forever influence pop music. News flash: they won’t, and the ripple effect of their waning relevance is already upon us. The current generation of music fans either has no idea who those people are or doesn’t care (Destiny’s Child, when pressed about their favorite Beatles song, could only remember “I Want to Hold Your Hand”). Worse, the few musicians left who hold themselves to those standards – Mead, Aimee Mann, Elvis Costello, Neil Finn – don’t sell records. There are two futures in front of us: one where a kid goes through his parents’ CD collection and finds Yellowcard, Matisyahu and My Chemical Romance, and one where he finds the New Pornographers and Tangerine. You know what to do.

~David Medsker