CD Review of Palaces by Bart Davenport
Recommended if you like
Harry Nilsson, Paul McCartney,
Ron Sexsmith
Antenna Farm Records
Bart Davenport: Palaces

Reviewed by Mojo Flucke, PhD


ormer Loved Ones frontman Bart Davenport hasn’t gotten much publicity, and that's not likely to change: He's in tune with the best elements of 1970s AM rock, he channels Harry Nilsson and Paul McCartney (Wings era), and espouses to appreciate the virtues of being a gentleman. In the old, true meaning of the "gentleman" – as in "opposite of boor," as opposed to such gentlemen as the allegedly reformed Adam "Pac-Man" Jones and his "gentlemen's clubs." Davenport's fourth solo album, Palaces, catches a little of Neil Young's softer side, a lot of McCartney, and nothing of the cheesy prefab hip-hop-soul-pop-metal-aggro-garbage that the charts claim is popular today.

It's a dangerous genre to perform in, because when you start with potentially cheesy source material, you're never too far from sounding like something suitable for the Super Hits of the '70s: Have a Nice Day, Rhino Records' positively putrid 25-CD assemblage of one-hit wonders, most of which generate groans when they come over the radio. Ben Folds hits this groove with powerful abandon, but his quirky sense of humor helps us forgive his Elton John fetish. Matthew Sweet is a hit-or-miss proposition, sounding like fake nostalgia at his worst but slamming down wonderfully memorable soft-pop at his best.

Davenport's in another 1970s devotees' general ballpark, that of the Lightning Seeds. The sound's an American answer to Ian Broudie's paean to British melody makers, replacing some of Broudie's synthy effects with down-home country guitar and the occasional ripping, soulful B-3 solo. In fact, you could argue that Broudie and Davenport could perform each other's songs, and one would be hard-pressed to name who wrote what. The album's closer, "L'il Bunny," is a dead ringer for the Lightning Seeds, a midtempo song about a girl with a lovely jangly-guitar rhythm line that’s iced with ethereal synths and what sounds like sampled drum fills. The title track skates on the thin ice over the Great Lake of Elevator Muzak, but Davenport's delicate, jazz-tinged delivery saves it from certain doom. The cutesy "When My Dream" taps into that same wry-funny vein that Ben Folds mines, at once self-deprecating and light.

There's some rock here ("Born to Suffer" kicks up echo along the lines of Gary "Dreamweaver" and "My Love is Alive" Wright) and some 10cc ballads ("Freeway Flowers"), which put together with the above make it sound like a nightmare from dad's box of 8-tracks that you couldn’t give away at the last garage sale. But Davenport's songs work. They're a welcome respite from the pounding drums and re-sampled wailing Fergie pussycats on the radio. It's a nice record to play in the car or on the phones at the end of a long day – after the email, the rush hour, the instant messaging and cell phone's gotten the best of you. It's a record for people who like songs, not just mood music to pump a couple more hours out of a party.

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