Fourth Coast Entertainment -

By R O Donnell
Staff Writer 

Bee Children Veranophonic...CD Review

 

Last updated 4/29/2015 at 4:03am

Bee Children In The Studio

Bee Children Veranophonic Fluttering Wisdom...

Billing themselves as a pop band with strong folk influences, the Bee Children have recorded and released their first album titled Veranophonic. They have been together for over a decade in one form or another. Their transformations from an original duo fronted by John Collins with Traci Fordham to a trio to a quartet to a full-fledged band is a journey shared by a lot of musicians nestled along the extreme northern frontier. Holding a band together in this neck of the woods is as vicarious as saving snowballs for next year's Winter Carnival. What isn't typical, however, is the winning product of their patient collaborations.

John Collins is the keeper of the flame, a somewhat blazing sound influenced by some pretty heavy songsmiths. Billy Bragg, the English singer, songwriter and left-wing activist with his fierce blend of folk, punk and protest songs is mentioned in the same sentence as 80's alternative pop-rocker, English singer, songwriter Lloyd Cole. And then there is Joni Mitchel, Neil Young, and Woody Guthrie added to their eclectic scope of inspirations. These are all stellar song writers with an emphasis placed on "lyric" and according to John, an inspiration for the Bee Children's musical imagery.

Veranophonic, with its motto "Keeping your hoping machine alive" is not your typical Northern offering by any stretch of the imagination. The catchphrase which refers to Woodie Guthrie's personal dogma that, "The note of hope is the only note that can help us or save us from falling to the bottom of the heap of evolution, because, largely, about all a human being is, anyway, is just a hoping machine, a working machine..." is where the heart beats in this pop opera that is Veranophonic. But the polyester age is also evident, winking here and there, and swirling all about. It lounges on such lilting tracks as Unfrozen and Vinegar which certainly sets the album apart from regional releases less complex, alternative, and daring. Not unusual since Bee Children's champion Lloyd Cole's own influences comprise of everything from Burt Bacharach 70's instrumentals to 60's British balladeer Scott Walker, these sounds also pepper their honey brew.

The title of the CD Veranophonic is also a wink and a nod to the frigid province in that "verano" is the Spanish word for summertime and "phonic" is the technical word for sound, hence, summertime sounds. I like that. This is an album that doesn't take itself too seriously. And again, with the Bee Children's wings fluttering around the likes of Billy Bragg and Lloyd Cole, that's a good thing. Tracks such as United Colors lampoons everything from Benetton (a global fashion brand, based in Ponzano Veneto, Italy) which markets the oxymoron "mass individualism" to social media's covert adverting practices all pondered while sipping themed coffees from Starbucks certainly holds a bright light up to our commercialized tainted American principles. And it is a toe-tapper, too. Then there is a "fe, fi, fo, funny kinda feeling," expressed in the groove Funny Kind of Freedom where once again the guitar licks are fun and fancy free. It is just an addictive mix to say the least but the lyric keeps whispering the angst of contemporary living. As is Righteous Man warning, "Tables gonna turn on you, righteous man," that harken back to the ominous blend of otherworldly verse penned and sung by Jim Morrison as fingered by Ray Manzarek of The Doors, a real psychedelic experience. Or Unchartable Places, a bittersweet sounding protest song sung in both English and Spanish, a gesture to migrant workers, the rallies, and sadly, a world of "disposable people." This is the eccentric flickering of the Bee Children's wings, their Northern gathering of pleasant-sounding souls that exposes a world that still sorely needs a Woody Guthrie crying to the masses "keep your hoping machine alive!" With that, there is something quite strange about this light and airy album with its many darkened corridors.

The cover art is spectacular and was created by bandmate Shane Rogers. A bee hovering near the speaker of an old 1920's Victrola is certainly an exquisite image. What one needs to imagine is that the crackling and hissing music pouring from the painted metal speaker is probably Guthrie's 1940's hit "This Land Is Your Land." At least that's my story and I am sticking to it.

The Bee Children brood is comprised of the extremely gifted John Collins (acoustic guitar, bass, vocals) whose lyrics and vision keep the bees buzzing away. Sarah Gates (acoustic guitar, vocals) is an experienced singer-songwriter fashioned in the Boston area, her voice and lead guitar are quite a tuneful tally indeed. Singer Sarah Todd, a native of Vermont, delights with her voice on two of my favorites Unfrozen & Vinegar. Her vocal techniques are reminiscent of a young Astrud Gilberto from The Girl from Ipanema fame. Jon Dufore (electric guitar) is a native of Norfolk, NY and a graduate of Musician's Institute in Hollywood, can be heard electrifying such tunes as Veranophonic, United Colors, and Righteous Man. Shane Rogers (keyboards, percussion, vocals) has played in a wide variety of bands throughout the North Country including Love Insurgency and Raven. Terry DuBray (bass, vocals) spent several years touring the countryside as a musician and Don Burlingame (drums), inspired by Buddy rich, has been hitting the skins for over 40 years. All of this seasoned talent rounds out the innovative Veranophonic sound and their talents as musicians are quite evident in this heterogeneous studio wonder. Bright, innovative arrangements are brilliantly captured at the studios of North Country Public Radio (NCPR) and mastered at Treelady Studios in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Veranophonic also features contributions from original member Traci Fordham, Miguel Hernandez, and NCPR's David Sommerstein, host of the ever popular "The Beat Authority".

Veranophonic is available for purchase locally, at all Bee Children gigs, and through online retailers such as iTunes, Amazon, and CDBaby.

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