Let me introduce the Jack Spann Band. If this sounds vaguely familiar, it is probably because Jack Spann’s first CD Time, Time,Time,Time, Time was reviewed in the space early in 2016 (specifically April 5, 2016). At that time, Daystorm Music guru Gary Tanin added Time X 5 to the growing list of CDs he had already funneled our way. Gary had mentioned sometime last summer that Jack was working on his next project, so I was anxious to see what he was up to. Time X 5 was such a strong album, I did not think he would have to worry about the dreaded ‘sophomore jinx’ that some artists run into on their second outing.
What he was putting together was The Jack Spann Band and a new full length recording entitled Beautiful Man from Mars. The title track is a reference to Spann’s work with David Bowie and his long time producer Tony Visconti on what was to be Bowie’s final record project Black Star. After Spann had spent time working on the Black Star project, the original plan was to have Visconti produce Jack’s debut record. Unfortunately, it took Spann longer than he had anticipated to get his material together. By the time he was ready to roll, Visconti was engaged in another project. Visconti referred Spann to Gary Tanin and that is more or less how WOAS got into the pipeline to receive Time X 5.
In the wake of Bowie’s passing, I haven’t heard a more fitting tribute than Spann’s Beautiful Man from Mars. The CDs title track doesn’t really begin as much as it approaches from afar.
It arrives as a sound collage that could be taken from any number of “aliens come to Earth” movies (and it would be a safe bet that this was exactly their intent). The lyrics and structure paint a portrait that says “BOWIE” with Jack Spann’s name scripted nicely in the lower corner.
I have to categorize hearing the lead and background vocals weave in and out of the mix as more than just listening to the song. It equates more as a “wonderful, immersive listening experience” similar to how I felt the first time I donned headphones to lose myself in Jimi Hendrix’s work on Are You Experienced. In the end, the song departs similarly to how it arrived leaving one to think, “How very fitting and Bowiesque”.
Spann reworked three of my favorite Time X 5 tracks with his new band. The first track reimagined is Time and true to his first recorded version of this track, he uses both his vocal inflections and piano tones and rhythms to great effect. Vocally, he can wring more emotion from a single word or phrase than many singers could from a whole song. On Time, he drives much of the tune with a percussive two note, metronomic piano pattern. The actual percussion on the track isn’t shabby either and it compliments the driving piano riff.
Lies big piano/vocal introduction offers a glimpse of and a tip of the hat to Spann’s Billy Joel influenced arrangements. Like Joel, Spann writes great stories and then tells them from beginning to end in most interesting ways. Lies segues nicely into one of the greatest songs Joel may wish he had written, She makes pornography on the weekends. Enigmatic title aside, She makes . . . has lyrical imagery that plays out like a video in my mind. If it were a Joel song/video, one would see Billy pounding the keys and Liberty Devito bashing the drums but in this case, we need to substitute Jack Spann and Rob Medcalf.
Songman and Fear or Loyalty are the other two Time X 5 tracks presented on BMfM. Songman gets an upbeat delivery with a jazzy piano/bass/drum groove. Fear or Loyalty is another fine example of Spann squeezing every ounce of emotion in his lyrics with his vocal phrasing. I loved this track on Time X 5 and I like this version as well. It is just a great song and the full band arrangement will send new fans back to hear the original version. I will give you fair warning: this is a tune that gets stuck in one’s head!
Deep inside employs another Spann arranging trick: Start with a big vocal over and equally big music bed. This gives way to a quieter vocal bridge that then gears up to a more rock oriented tempo. Jack Spann uses these change of pace tactics very well, thereby making these tunes even more interesting than they would be if played at only one tempo.
I’m not sure how much time Spann has spent in the New Orleans to Austin music interchange, but I’m a bird rocks like Dr. John jamming with Elton John at the after party for a Marcia Ball CD release party.
Snooty Acres kicks off with a harp and a megaphone sounding vocal that throws the clock back to Winchester Cathedral. I’m not sure what inspired this track, but I like it.
Mars in Twilight is a 48 second string interlude that connects the fun of Snooty Acres with a light and jazzy Just another version of you. These two tracks contain so many interesting sounds and textures that you will just have to hear them for yourself; I don’t have the vocabulary or skill to describe them. Imagine that! Music that makes one think about what is being heard.
Jack around is a whimsical tune featuring whistling, clavinet, claves, and perhaps even the kitchen sink. It then morphs into a polka speed noodle fest. The drummer in Spann’s band must need to caffeine up before performing because the twists and turns in this song must require
110% attention span. I find myself again turning to a one word description: Fun!
The album closes with Beautiful Man from Mars Reprise. The piano again approaches from afar, this time without the spaceship. Chimes, calliope sounding piano and some spacey effects bring you back to where the album began. An open invitation to hear track one again? I feel obliged to go back and listen to it again and end up playing the whole record.
The bad news? This album is being prepped for delivery in 2017 so I can’t actually share it with our listeners yet. I assure one and all that it will be worth the wait. Kudos to Jack Spann and Gary Tanin for crafting what is already shaping up to be one of my favorite records in 2017.
Top Piece video: This clip goes back to February of 2015 – I just wanted to give you an idea of how versatile Jack Spann is – he has a new band and we will be airing his new Beautiful Man from Mars just as soon as it drops!