Once A Day

Nick West's reviews for Bucketfull Of Brains and Rock'N'Reel

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Location: London, United Kingdom

Co-editor and publisher of Bucketfull Of Brains since 1996.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Jeffrey Dean Foster

Million Star Hotel

Angel Skull ASR –0818

Million Star Hotel is like a multi-faced diamond reflecting light into a hall of mirrors. It’s full of shimmers of sound floating phantom-like through the ether, suddenly becoming corporeal, solid, robust, and then as quickly bursting again into slivers and insubstantial after-sounds, then turning into before-sounds again.

A classic pop album from North Carolina, in the lineage of How Men Fail and Travels In The South, that unashamedly mines the tradition, the glories, of the greats. This is a record made by someone who grew up in the 70’s, whose teenage years must have been spent in cars with radios. You can hear late Beach Boys, Neil Young, Marc Bolan, Glam Rock, and you hear of a time when music and romance were inextricably mingled.

Put together over a number of years, as and when locale allowed, it’s a large project and a large album; 14 songs and nearly 70 minutes. They’re all real big songs, full of diversity, adventure, and surprise. Well-made songs of the night illuminated by those million stars but created like sculptures or collages; there’s always something more. Be it atmospherics, distortions or add-ons, there’s always another teasing little sound in the corner.

There are friends here too. Lynn Blakey, recently of Tres Chicas, sings, notably on ‘The Summer Of The Son Of Sam’, Don Dixon and Chris Phillips take brief turns, Mitch Easter plays guitar and steel and helps produce. But it’s Foster’s album and it’s his persona and his strengths that define it. His tender, warm tenor voice is always entrancing. He writes a good and memorable lyric: “bet her heart on a bobtail loser”, “can’t even count on losers anymore”, “you’re on the road but I’m on the street”. He can take classic lines and make them new; we know where titles like ‘Long Gone Sailor’, ‘All I Do Is Dream’, ‘When Will I Be A Man’ come from, and we smile with recognition and it helps us, but it wouldn’t change a thing if we came completely fresh.

The start is gentle. First an ambience, a little breaking whisper that gradually grows into the tale of a ‘Lily Of The Highway’. The major motifs are all here gathered; girls, cars, growth, loss. And its questing and its variance are the promise of what’s to follow. A promise absolutely redeemed almost immediately by ‘The Summer Of The Son Of Sam’. That summer was 1977, when Elvis and Skynyrd both fell to earth. Over six minutes the song rises from a quiet meditative night with cicadas, lit only by a dying star, into an epic.

Memorable moments persist; there’s a splendid twist in ‘Little Priest’ as it begins like glam rock, with echoes of T.Rex, and becomes a California surf ballad. ‘Don’t Listen To Me’ with its After The Gold Rush piano, might be channelling Danny Whitton. ‘Long Gone Sailor’ seems at least part-written under the influence of Holland, and if ‘Lost In My Own Town’ doesn’t allude to Big Star then I’m a Dutchman.

Yet every second of this remarkable album cries out to be listened to, experienced, and cherished. Everything here is always doing its part; it’s down to the careful listener to find and explore that everything. For these songs will never let that listener down and never stale. Always they’ll inspire, and always they’ll reward.



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