Saturday, August 31, 2013

Music Reviews-Sonia Dada, Journey

Sonia Dada
What do you get when you combine a socially minded Chicago area billionaire guitarist/songwriter/philanthrophist, some competent but not flashy soul/pop/R&B/rock musicians, and three singers who channel Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and Muddy Waters, including one who has a seven octave vocal range? Well you get Sonia Dada that's what you get. 
Sonia Dada is (was?) a musical group that was memorable for its singing and songwriting and to a lesser extent its soloists. I think that was by design. There are hardly any Sonia Dada songs where I think you're going to drop your jaw in amazement of the guitarist's skills or unheard of chops. But there are lot of songs where you will hardly even notice until you think about it how well the music fits the lyrics and how seamlessly the band accompanies the singer. And for Sonia Dada the singing and the groove are definitely where the band places the most emphasis. Of course like any other group the guitarists tend to play a little more live where they take some extended solos but that's pretty normal with most bands I think. Sonia Dada was formed when the aforementioned guitarist, one Dan Pritzker, heard Paris DeLane, (of the seven octave range) Michael Scott and Dan Hogan singing in the subway and invited them to become the voices of the band he was putting together.

Musically the band owes a lot to The Beatles, Motown, Stax, and maybe a few people like Billy Joel and Springsteen and of course numerous jazz artists.

You ain't thinking about me is my absolute all time favorite song by Sonia Dada. When I first heard it I liked it but it wasn't until some (ahem) highly unpleasant experiences years later when I realized they must have looked into the future and written the song about me. Hmm. Well I guess everyone feels that way sometimes. It's certainly a song I like to sing along with on my commute. It's crammed to the brink with by now hoary lyrical cliches but it still works for me. Maybe that's because my back's against the wall and I've got one more card to play before I make my last stand, roll the tumbling dice and head on down the road like a good man should. Indeed. I live alone is about a man who's not quite a player but doesn't want to get married either.

Crazy Lady channels Creedence Clearwater Revival and Howlin Wolf to tell the story of a woman every man hopes to meet. Anna Lee uses a Bo Diddley beat to paint a picture of desperate love between a Bonnie and Clyde team. River Runs Slow is a song I'm not crazy about. It seems to be something that would sound good on a soundtrack though. Lester's Methadone Clinic is a place you might visit and find yourself staying longer than you intended.

Deliver Me shows their familiarity with gospel. We treat each other cruel is bluesy.
Lover (You don't treat me good no more) is a bouncy tune that later became a country hit for singer Jerrod Niemann. Listen to  The Jungle Song and hear what a real bass voice sounds like. Planes and Satellites (Live) revisits the Bo Diddley influence. It's a very optimistic song. Screaming John is a rare piece by the band where I like the music more than the lyrics.

As far as I know the band has not released any new studio music since 2004 or so and Paris has sought out other interests. Pritzker has become a socially conscious filmmaker. Still I don't think they've officially broken up so it would be nice to hear new things from this group.

When Carlos Santana invites you to join his group as second guitarist at age fifteen you are probably a pretty damn good guitar player. When your other option was to play with Eric Clapton you are probably a great guitar player. And when you hook up with one of the most distinctive tenors in rock music you're probably Neal Schon, founding member of the band Journey, its only consistent member and possessor of the best Caucasian Afro during the seventies. Journey was sometimes considered to be a "faceless" band. This could be both a compliment and an insult. Not counting their concert attendees the band members were not all that recognizable by the general public. Generally their album covers did not feature their pictures. And by the late seventies and early eighties the band had become synonymous with what critics called bland corporate album oriented rock.

On the other hand isn't it a good thing to be known as it were for your singing and music and not for which actress you're dating or how many times you were on the cover of Rolling Stone or Spin. And even though you could argue that their later music was pop, frankly it was pretty good pop. And I don't see anything wrong with that. Though you may or may not recognize Steve Perry when you see him, you would certainly recognize his voice.

For a period of time in my childhood and early teens it was literally impossible not to turn on the radio any time of day and not find a Journey song playing somewhere within ten minutes or so.
Journey was originally founded by Santana veterans Neal Schon and keyboardist Gregg Rolie. According to Santana they had decided to play simpler more lucrative rock/pop rather than the jazz-fusion-latin Santana was into at the time. Maybe so but both Schon and Rolie still had some talent in jazz inspired music which was expressed in some of their earlier releases. Rolie was the initial singer. These releases didn't sell so well and the band came under label pressure to find a better singer, one who was out front and gave people a focal point. Enter Steve Perry and multiple decades of worldwide platinum success. Perry's voice was (is?) a special thing. He's able to easily sing at the highest pitches of the tenor range. I think he was one of the defining voices for the eighties. Steve Perry has claimed Sam Cooke as an influence. I never really thought about it but some of the phrasing on "Sweet and Simple" is similar to what Cooke would have done. "Loving, Touching, Squeezing" also has a resemblance to some Cooke stuff. Journey had pretty good harmonies as well. Like the group Queen, Journey would double and triple track vocals to give a very full sound in the studio.

Eventually this came to an end as all good things do in various personality conflicts and arguments over money and physical ailments. Band members rotated in and out over the years. I think officially there have been over a dozen different members for what is usually only a five man band. As Journey usually had very prominent keyboards along with such an amazing singer, Schon did not always dominate every song. In fact he usually didn't. He became a great example in my opinion of someone who plays for the song. His solos usually leave you wanting more instead of getting bored and zoning out. Listen to the cuts "Mystery Mountain" and "I'm Gonna Leave You" from their earlier releases (before Perry's arrival) to see just how much the band (and Schon in particular) changed after Perry came onboard. After The Sopranos used "Don't Stop Believing" in its finale the band (without Perry) reconstituted itself with new singer Arnel Pineda and surged forward to new levels of financial success.
"Don't Stop Believing" is a great song but just for the record there is no such thing as "South Detroit". Just saying. If I were to have a soundtrack of my life, Journey would certainly be prominently featured.

Lights  Opened the Door  Feeling That Way  City of the Angels Sweet and Simple
Who's Crying Now   Faithfully  Open Arms Loving Touching Squeezin'
Mystery Mountain  I'm gonna leave you  Any way you want it  Lady Luck
Don't Stop Believin'

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