Musician, songwriter, composer and producer Rob Birdwell's set of original songs, "Blue Macabre", explores a variety of themes and emotions; namely the usual suspects: love, loss and longing.
"How Many Times" opens the set and features Rob on vocals and all instruments. After the first verse, Rob plays a flugelhorn solo and then after another verse he switches over to take a tenor sax solo (a relatively new instrument for Rob and somehow almost rivals his flugel solo). Then we hear a bit of musical development and into a short flugelhorn/tenor sax soli. Rob wraps up the tune with the question: "How many times will we close our eyes and ears / to all reason and compassion / see only shadows and not the tears / how many times will we read that sad headline? / looks like one more time..."
"Swimming Upstream" is another blues inspired rocker. The lyrical analogy should be clear - life is frickin' hard! Our dreams are never easily realized. Still, we must "kick that can" and "stick it to the man." The horns are once again featured (Rob playing trumpet, cornet, and tenor sax) and then the talented Creighton Lindsay delivers a stellar slide guitar solo. (For more about Creighton Lindsay, checkout his site: http://creightonlindsay.com/) While the desire to "surf that tide and get high to a Love Supreme" may be whimsical folly (yet careful listeners will catch the Coletrane quote at the end of the song) the sentiment is universal: follow your dreams, even if it means swimming upstream, going against the grain, against the wind, or over the river and through the woods. Do your thing with everything ya got! Rob heartily thanks Creighton Lindsay for his amazing slide guitar work - he is an artist with great depth his contribution to the track was an incredible gift. Here's a pre-mastered/mixed version of the tune with an animated fish that help illustrate the song in a different way.
"My Muse" is a fanciful reflection on that spirit or force that inspires our creativity. The muse, in this case, is personified into a siren of sorts - an imagined romantic object of affection. "My muse is hard to find / can hardly call her mine / where she goes I never know / Playful as the breeze / she walks away with ease / to love her is to let her go..." And of course what could better showcase romance than a flugelhorn solo? This song is one of Rob's favorite to sing and play on - the chords are jazzy, the vocal melody soars to heights that are challenging, the horn lines flow like butter without trying too hard, and the whole track is ultimately intoxicating. Love, loss and longing are all present and accounted for in this one.
"Nobody's Business" features the multi-talented Nick Rivard on slide and rhythm guitar. Rob's vocal has a slight "telephone" or "can" tone to not only sonically evoke a retro and bygone age, but to shoot a lyrical arrow squarely at the 21st century digital age (i.e., privacy concerns, marriage inequality, etc.). Rob actually played/constructed the drum parts from his own kit, played bass (with a pick, which was something new for him), keys and the plunger-inflected trumpet solo. Nick Rivard's guitar contributions were an indispensable icing that finally made the track sound bonifed. "Why do you affect me so / raising up my pulse, you add a flush and a blush to my skin tone... / well that's nobody's business / nobody's business but my own."
"Long Way To Go" paints with lyrical imagery of a time long since past. There's mention of "Mulholland wind in our hair" which should be familiar to long-time L.A. and Hollywood days friends. There's a subtle string arrangement to sweeten things (just like Rob learned to write while at the Grove School of Music) and the middle section features Rob on all brass (Trombone - an instrument he'd just started playing, and colored with Flugelhorn and Trumpet for support). Finally, the tune states that "we still have a long way to go." Yes, we do!
"Harry and the Mannequin" is inspired by the movie Lars and the Real Girl, but only partially. The story in this song has a different cast and completely different plot as Harry actually meets his object of affection at a department store (where she "works"). He asks he her out, they start "hooking up" and the town starts to talk. The horns on this track are intentionally quirky and eventually we come to learn that Harry really can't live without her - it's due to her "perfect body" and "bank account." But how the heck would a mannequin have a bank account? Hey, it's a song - anything's possible!
"Where U At" was inspired by stories Rob read about some fatal accidents that involved texting while driving. Browsing the internet, Rob came across an article from a while back about a young woman, heading off to meet a new friend at a baseball game, who texted "where u at" while driving - sadly, it was that single act that caused her to be distracted just for a moment, crash, and lose her life. The second verse is based on another incident where a young man texts while driving. Featuring Rob's vocals and horn work, he's playing every instrument here. You can reference the article Rob read that inspired this song here.
"Them Bones" is all about bones. It features Rob's vocals of course, but also him on just about everything else. His tenor sax dubs echo in a bone-chilling way and his plunger muted solo trumpet work paints around the skeleton of the tune. Meanwhile, the one-and-only Dave Storrs is featured on "bone" percussion and drums as the track builds. Dave Storrs was a major source of wisdom and inspiration throughout this recording and production process. The recording process for Dave's contribution was not only spontaneous, but spot on. Dave played the set just one time and stopped at the end of the tune abruptly with track even though he was hearing it for the first time! Dave Storrs is one of the true giants of music - a prolific and creative force as a composer and leader. Rob has been working and collaborating with Dave Storrs for several years now on various projects - here's to many more to come! Read more about Dave Storrs here.
"Beautiful Moments" features a live "duo" recording with Rob on vocals and the absolutely terrific Dave Leslie on piano. The two performed this track "live" in Dave's West Linn studio. The song pays hommage to the past - past love, friends, mentors and special times, particularly those prior to this so-called "social" era. "I can google your name / but I won't find a trace / of those beautiful moments / from another time and place." Dave Leslie's piano playing on this track is exquisite - performing a live vocal and piano duo was something new for these two and Dave's sensitivity and musicality helped to make it all gel. Rob offers no apologies to the Bing search engine stating "Bing just didn't sing as well...maybe in another song someday." You can watch and listen to the live performance that this track was mastered from on YouTube here.
"Love the Most" is a deeply personal song and seldom has Rob ever written and performed with such raw honesty. Recorded in a single day, Rob played real drums, bass, piano, vocals and added the haunting flugelhorn solo lines as the track fades away.
"Swimming Upstream (unplugged mix)" is offered as a unique insight into how a track can take on a very different character once all the baggage of production layers are stripped away. The track consists solely of Rob's vocal and Creighton Lindsay's fine guitar work. While mixing Rob noted that it sounded complete that way and sort of demonstrated the heart and soul of the song without all the bells, whistles and bunting. Rob did indulge in adding an intimate plunger trumpet solo to take the place of the "power horn section" soli - still, it's Creighton's fabulous guitar playing (and a single take too) and Rob's vocal that carry the majority of the track.
Rob Birdwell: lead and backing vocals, piano & synths, trumpet, flugelhorn, cornet, tenor sax, trombone, bass, drums, melodica, percussion.
- Creighton Lindsay plays guitar on Swimming Upstream
- Nick Rivard plays guitar on Nobody’s Business
- Dave Storrs plays drums and percussion on Them Bones
- Dave Leslie plays piano on Beautiful Moments
Mixing and mastering thanks go to Jed Irvine and Dave Storrs for their ears and suggestions.
Credit and Notes on the Album Cover Art
The typeset titling on the cover art actually stencils Rob bought from the Fred Meyer "art department" in Corvallis, Oregon. Rob traced each letter with black pen on white art paper then scanned and reversed the image so the lettering was white.
As for the cover photo: the idea of solo flight - with all of it's romance, bravado, ingenuity, successes and tragedies - seemed to fit Rob's overall theme for "Blue Macabre" and this photo of German aviation pioneer Otto Lilienthal was found by Rob on Wikipedia. The image is in the public domain and was taken sometime in 1895. It's a fantastic photograph, showing Lilienthal not on some tragic crash, but rather him flying free as a bird when virtually no person had ever done so before quite that way. Rob spent a fair amount of time Gimping the image by cleaning up some of the dust and smudges, applying a "blue" tone, and then adding some "flash" to depict a sort of sun or "star" shining on Otto as he soared from his man-made hill. Rob found it interesting that one of Otto's final and haunting quotes was: "sacrifices must be made." Strange and sad to think that for all the good that has come out of man's pursuit and mastery of flight, it would only be a short generation after Otto's own final flight that men would be using the technology he helped to advance as a weapon. Oh, how many times? Here's a link to the original Wikipedia photo.
All songs written, arranged and produced by Rob Birdwell and Copyright © 2014 Rob Birdwell