ARTIST: Frank O'Brien
Frank O'Brien Jr. is a musician with an apparent goal - to surprise. His 1999 release "Found" tends to do just that. The album begins with an upbeat, country sound, instruments dancing; then his voice and lyrics burst in with a surprise. Counteracting the country sound, O'Brien's voice is high and throaty, much like the vocalist from Counting Crows. The lyrics are as unexpected as the sound, starting with the entrance, "Butch had a drug problem and he also pushed ice cream."
Despite the surprise, O'Brien's voice is soothing and friendly. As the album progresses, the music and vocal sound fall into place with each other.
Though his voice sounds as if it belongs with electric guitars and mass amounts of percussion, the fiddle, mandolin, acoustic guitar, bongos and other countrified instruments accept his voice gradually as one of their own.
The first tune can take the listener off guard with its all-out country dancin' sound combined with the aforementioned lyrics and vocal style. But as the album moves on, things settle in. The next tune, "Mating Cry," is gentler, with an acoustic guitar and bongos dancing around each other as O'Brien sings with gentle passion. Following that tune is another surprise: The song "Some Things You Just Know" is almost Irish-rock, with a mandolin playing gleefully over an accordion's solid chords. The Gaelic sound carries over into "Ol' Lady Luck," where a fiddle wails wistfully, bringing to mind a strong breeze blowing through the grasses on the Cliffs of Moor, Ireland.
A sad lullaby, "Isle of Sorrow," follows, gentle and heartrending with an acoustic guitar and fiddle joining the vocals in sorrow; then a straightforward country-rock song, with a simple-steady rhythm and a solid format; then, in "Good," the Gaelic sound disappears into an easy-going, foot-stompin' sound with an enjoyable story.
In the title track, O'Brien moseys in like John Wayne sauntering into the old West. Spurs and all, the mysterious song strolls along, telling the story of a man's thoughts, as he lies trapped in a mine.
The album goes on, with more stories, and a few more surprises. But the overlying feeling of "Found" is honesty. The uniqueness comes from a willingness of the musician to go in the direction he feels in his gut, instead of listening to outside voices. "Found" is refreshing, interesting, and sincere.
"Found" is available at Rockin Rudy's and Budget Tapes and CDs. Frank O'Brien Jr. will be playing at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 31, at the Crystal Theater in Missoula.
ARTIST: Thomas Schmidt
RECORDING: "Listening to Lewis and Clark"
Even as a native Montanan, I have rarely associated Montana with Lewis and Clark.
Montana is the mountains, the creeks and rivers, the animals and the people I love. Lewis and Clark are people I studied in seventh-grade Montana history. Yes, they were a part of Montana, but they are not the core of Montana's history. Yes, they lived in Montana on their trek. They experienced the wilderness here in a way many Montanans have never done. History runs far deeper and farther than that one crew of explorers. But to many people in other parts of the nation, Lewis and Clark are a major reason to visit Montana.
Thus the creation of the two-CD compilation of journal excerpts of Lewis and Clark, by author Thomas Schmidt. This recording was made as a detailed story of the journey. Schmidt narrates the tale, with vocal characters stepping in as Lewis, Clark and various birds and creatures. A flute, guitar, and violin trickle in and out between passages.
After an introduction to the crew, the story begins on the date of the explorers' departure, May 14, 1804. Thoughts of Meriwether Lewis on the impending journey are spoken and a violin starts them on their way. Details of the grueling labor it took to get them along the Missouri river follow. Water splashes in the background while voices in French shout orders and the boat crashes into a snag. Each detail is given a sound effect, and the story moves on. Even the narrator gets excited.
Fast forward to June and the story moves into camp life. We hear about trouble with bugs, lack of provisions, and men drinking too much whiskey on their post. Schmidt talks of scalding feet, as voices in the background make noises of pain and a mischievous guitar dances around. The crew moves on.
Throughout the album, there are meetings with American Indians, burials of men lost on the journey, encounters with annoying bugs and poison plants. There are introductions to animals, such as prairie dogs, and an antelope hunt. There are descriptions of vast grassy fields of bison, elk and antelope, then stories of hunting them down. There are seasons, floods, bears, hunger and fights.
But it's not just a story of what happened to Lewis and Clark. Schmidt tries to re-create the journey. With sound effects and journal entries, one can almost feel the mosquito bites. It is entertaining and believable. However, because this story is written from the point of view of Lewis and Clark, it is also one-sided. Almost every story of Lewis and Clark has been written from this point of view.
"Listening to Lewis & Clark" is enjoyable, but it is not for background music. It is meant to be listened to as a story. Details and delivery make it interesting and easy to follow. Or, instead of listening to the CD, climb a mountain or float a river - after all, that's the best way to find Lewis and Clark's Montana.
- "Listening to Lewis & Clark" can be found at your nearest bookstore, museum, or off the Web at www.bridgerpress.com.