Review of Jacob Moon’s “Fascination” album

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Nov 012013
 

Being a partner in a crowd sourced funding projects has its benefits. I just received the pre-release download for Jacob Moon’s upcoming “Fascination” CD release. The album has 11 tracks, most are covers of fantastic prog rock anthems plus a few original tracks as well.  I’ve now had a week to listen to the album and here are my thoughts on a song by song basis.

Limelight: From the very first strum of the strings in the Intro we know this will be different. For those of us who have listened to the last few releases from Mr. Moon, it is immediately apparent that this is not the same fare at all. Joining Jacob for this track are the fantastic Dave Barrett Trio. Drum and bass on this rendition propel us forward and hold down the bottom so that Mr. Barrett can put down some exceptional guitar parts. Jacob’s lyrics are cool and laid back making the track sound more like the version you want to hear at the end of a long day, with maybe a nice Speyside scotch to sip. When the group steps up and brings the energy up just a bit (2:57), we accept this and join them on the journey. I’ve listened to several other versions of this song, all of them by Rush, and this one sits more in the pocket and is much less over the top than any other. This is the version that Rush would have done in an acoustic set, you know – if they were singer/songwriter types.

Is that All You Got: This song has undergone several evolutions since Jacob first imagined it. I was lucky enough to hear the first demo version, the first soundcloud release and the live performance at an Ottawa concert. This version is even more powerful in its delivery because of the backing of the Dave Barrett Trio. On this track the bass is what stands out the most and gives the song the punch that you feel while listening. Well done Jason Farrar. The interplay between Jacob’s acoustic guitar and Dave’s electric antics is musical manna from heaven. The use of effects and overdrive propel the listener along all the way to the end of the song. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself singing along to the strong lyrics.

Let Down: This is a song that I was not familiar with at all as I’ve had very little exposure to Radiohead. Listening to the original I am amazed at how close Jacob came to replicating the song, yet making it his own. I must say I even prefer this version. The lyrics come through with a lot more emotion and feeling than the original. Lisa Winn’s angelic voice on background vocals really helps to fill the song in and plays well off Jacob’s lead. Jacob’s superb performance in the front almost overshadows the addition of Gord Stevenson on drums and Mark McIntyre on bass. Those who take the time to sit and critically listen to this track will be rewarded with some really well thought out rhythm parts. “Let Down” was a great surprise for me due to my lack of exposure to the song and has quickly become one of my favourites on the album.

Kaylee/Lavender: Covering this combination of songs from the Marillion repertoire takes a staggering amount of bravery. This could quite possibly be the most loved tracks of Marillion fans. None the less, Jacob takes on the challenge and kicks it big time. We’ve heard an earlier arrangement of this by Jacob that was performed when he opened for Marillion at their Montreal concert weekend in 2013. This version is breathtaking in the way layers are used to move the song forward. It starts out with a simple acoustic guitar line laid down with Jacob’s typical finger style finesse. In comes Dave DiRenzo’s subtle percussion (sounds like Cajón). Then a few seconds later in comes a more electric guitar sound followed by silky smooth vocals. This builds slowly to the chorus where the fuller sound is fleshed out and the volume comes up. Suddenly you are jarred out of a slow trance with the addition of some electric licks on Jacob’s trusty Godin, all the while feeling the backing percussion, which never leaves our side. The track comes down from the high volume and we start to focus on the lyrics again. Then when we thought it was all done, Jacob brings up the volume again and tugs us along for the rest of the ride.

For true Marillion fans, these two tracks must flow from one to the other, it’s the only way we know. It’s the way we’ve always heard, and Jacob does not disappoint us at all. We get tugged into Lavender as Kaylee winds down. This track layers in some bass lines and synths to fill in the sonic landscape in a very similar way to the original. In several portions of the song we hear echoes of the burrs Fish’s vocals from distant 1985 (go listen to Misplaced Childhood as soon as you are done this album). The guitar solo on Lavender is truly masterful and again reminiscent of the past, yet contemporary in feel. You know immediately during the solo that Jacob was shaped by this song those many years ago when wearing out the vinyl copy he surely owned. Yet he’s made the song his own in ways that are subtle, yet very clearly in his style of playing. Truly a wonderful romp through past memories on this track, but it leaves us Marillion fans wondering: which track will he re-invent next?

Owner of a Lonely Heart: Now we come to a track that has always had special meaning for me. I grew up listening to a lot of prog rock and was able to see Yes on tour for the “90125” album. If any song on this album represents the misspent hours of my youth sitting in the basement listening to music, it is this one. But what a surprise we get from Jacob. Imagine if you will that Yes had started not in good ole Merry England, but in Jamaica. Now imagine Chris White with a haze of smoke around his head and that Trevor Rabin had dreadlocks. With that picture in your mind we let the track start. The first thing that jumps out at you is George Koller’s phat bass line (yes that’s how it is spelled), then comes Jacob on electric guitar and liberal wah pedal use, then Rob “Beat Down” Brown’s driving drum beats. The smoky feel to the lyrics continue to keep us rooted in a Jamaican beach side bar and prompt us to do some chair dancing. To make sure we don’t drift too far away, the boy start a bit of a jam session at just past the 2:30 mark. These boys are so far in the pocket I’m sure there’s lint down there with them. Once the fun subsides, Jacob reigns in the song with some judicious electric guitar licks and takes us to the end. Quite possibly this is the standout track for me on this album.

Bend and Break: Toning down the fun a bit, Jacob brings us this wonderful ballad. This is another track that Jacob has introduced me too, as I’d never heard the original by Keane. We have heard previous takes and arrangements of this track, most notably on “Landing 2” which was recorded live. I was present for that recording and have to say it was one of the most powerful and emotional moments of the evening. Jacob’s take on this song really slows down the tempo from the original and usually simplifies the arrangement with purely guitar and vocals. However, on this release Jacob chose to fill in the soundscape by adding a string arrangement with Mark McIntyre on double bass, Michael Schulte on violin and viola, and Rebecca Morton on cello. The addition of strings really helps the track to hit home and supports Jacob’s soulful vocal interpretation. A really beautiful gem on the album.

Revelation: Chilling, that’s what the beginning of the track feels like me each time I listen. This is not your typical Jacob Moon vocal intro, it is a strangely eerie departure. Yet…the song has an energy to it that lifts you up. This song was originally recorded solo for a looping competition earlier in 2013. It has come a long way in a short time and has a bit more feel to it now. Mark McIntyre’s pulsing bass line really makes the song move forward, and is anchored by Gord Stevenson’s drum beats. All this leaves Jacob free to explore the polyphony of guitar parts that have been added in. Some great acoustic bits, some amazing tapping on an electric guitar, and fills with other assorted sounds and effects. And the vocals, probably the best song on the album vocally for Jacob. He pushes himself throughout and we feel it along with him. Shout out to Mark on bass for propelling the track to awesome heights.

Pony: We’ve heard Jacob play this song before (see the YouTube video). This release is identical to the video and is truly an epic re-interpretation of the Tom Waits original. The electric hollow body guitar intro is airy and ephemeral and sets the stage for what is a more breath taking interpretation of the song. Personally, I find Tom’s gravelly voice is not always suited to slow songs, and I feel Jacob does this song more justice than the original. In fact, listening to the original tires me out, while with this version I listen avidly to the end. Also, the use of simple guitar parts really showcases how well Jacob plays and showcases his imaginative fills that are used throughout his arrangements. I really love the sound of that guitar throughout.

Subdivisions: If you are Jacob Moon fan it is likely because you saw the roof top video shot for this song on YouTube. That video was completely brilliant and shows why Jacob is such a great artist and why Rush asked to have him perform at their induction ceremony (see link). Continuing on this journey of re-imagination, Jacob takes the very strong foundation laid down by the video and adds new elements. Specifically, the addition of Dave DiRenzo’s percussion to fill in the rhythm loops from the guitar, the reappearance of Neil Peart’s sampled “Subdivisions” vocals and electric guitar layers. I used to think that Jacob’s original two acoustic guitars version was the pinnacle of what the re-imagination of this song could be. However, this new versions makes me take pause and listen to it over and over, usually at elevated volume levels :D. There are so many new subtle additions to the sound that it takes on new meanings and emotions. I won’t tire of this track any time soon.

In Your Eyes: When Jacob first mentioned he would try to cover this song my immediate was “whoa…this is probably one of the top 10 Gabriel songs ever made, recorded by powerhouse musicians”[1]. I shouldn’t have worried. Once again Jacob manages to be quite faithful to the original, even coming close to Peter Gabriel phrasings at times, but still manages to make the song his own. Adding Lisa Winn on backing vocals, Mark McIntyre on bass and Dave DiRenzo on percussion makes the track pop. Heck he even manages to harmonize with himself, can’t wait to see how that translates to a live show. The vocals on this track really are the shining element though. Beautiful harmony, clear tones and lots of emotions come through the big speakers in the listening room. To finish off, Jacob and the other musicians get to have some good fun on the track’s last minute and a half. All good Gabriel covers should let the musicians loose at some point. Mr. Gabriel, this man treats your music with dignity, respect and amazing talent.

This is truly a tour de force release from Jacob and definitely worth the time to purchase and add to you collection.  If you want in on this awesomeness check out http://jacobmoon.com/albums.php

[1] Check out the amazing 11:35 long version on Secret World Live Disc 2.
Musician Credits:
Limelight: David Barrett: 12 string electric guitar, Jason Farrar: bass, Alexander “Sachsa” Tukatsch: drums, Jacob Moon: acoustic and electric guitars, vox
Is that all you got: same as above.
Let down: Gord Stevenson: drums, Mark McIntyre: bass, Lisa Winn: vocals, Jacob Moon: acoustic and electric guitars
Kaylee/lavender: Davide DiRenzo: percussion, Jacob Moon: guitars and synth
Owner of a lonely heart: George Koller: bass, Rob “Beat Down” Brown: drums, Jacob Moon: vocals, guitars, keys
Bend and break: Jacob Moon: guitars, Mark McIntyre: standup bass, Michael Schulte: violin and viola, Rebecca Morton: cello
Revelation: Gord Stevenson: drums, Mark McIntyre: bass, Jacob Moon: vocals, guitars, keys
Pony: Jacob Moon, recorded live on location ( see video)
Subdivisions: Davide DiRenzo: percussion, Neil Peart: voice, Jacob Moon: guitars and vocals
In your eyes: Davide DiRenzo: percussion, Lisa Winn: vocals, Mark McIntyre: bass, Jacob Moon: guitars, percussion, vocals

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