The release earlier this summer of Songs From The Back Of The Shop is one of the best new collections featuring 11- tracks of original, divergent, cohesive, compelling, and refreshing musical material to emanate from the Michigan music scene in 2022.
Created, composed, and performed by veteran respected rockers Mick Furlo (guitar & vocals), John Cashman (drums & vocals), and Sean Drysdale (vocals, bass, guitar), and featuring guest performances from guitarist Scott Vandell and vocalist Tony Furlo, the album is flavored by the George Martinesque pop sensibilities of producer Andy Reed, who also ties things together with his talents on keyboard & guitar.
Despite a group name (Cashman, Drysdale, Furlo) that like that of CSNY (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) that bespeaks individual talents, everything about this project is a group effort where egos are retired at the door. All songwriting credits are equally shared, and the entire sensibility of this formidable musical alliance is that the sum is always greater than the individual parts comprising it.
Two years in the making, initially this album began back in 2020 and was going to be the fourth album of their band The Savior Machines, who came together when Mick (formerly of The Jitters) and Sean (formerly from The Banana Convention) joined forces with former Radio Therapy members Cashman and guitarist/vocalist/ and songwriter Rob Atha. Following a much-lauded 2019 release and with a couple songs in the can, according to Cashman the band broke up when they became victims of the pandemic due to personal differences on how things should have been handled.
“After it became apparent that Rob wanted to leave the band, the three of us started recording without him,” he explains. “Mick and Sean are consistently writing new material, so we kept going with it. “This album definitely marks a departure and I think the sound is more funky and more mature. The three of us are more like-minded when it comes to musical sensibilities and we mesh together well.”
“One thing led to another and we kept plugging away,’ he continues. “It took a long time to complete, as the studio kept closing because of Covid and somebody would end up testing positive, but I’m ecstatic about how it came out. Personally I feel it’s some of the best work I’ve done with any band.”
While an annoying trend in most contemporary music released in 2022 is witnessed by an all-encompassing urge to pack as many different styles and genres of music together in a calculated mish-mash of tribal funky hip-hop beats that may suddenly bash against the tender bonnet of lush orchestra strings in any given moment, none of the tracks contained on this release are set to click-tracks or bank upon the notion that success is predicated upon being something for everybody.
Whether it’s a catchy hook-driven rocker like the track Take Me Down, featuring a passionately soaring and joyous vocal as only Mick Furlo can deliver it, elevated by tight vocal harmonies from the other two members, and driven by Drysdale’s inventive walking-bass lines; or if the focus is on funky R&B as witnessed on the track Vintage Curtains, replete with a tasty guitar solo courtesy of Vandell - the musical focus is always rooted upon shared sensibilities that are free of gimmick and artifice.
When asked about the evolution of his songwriting, Mick explains that many of the songs came together during those isolating days of 2020-21. As for the diversity of the material, he says he isn’t content to get stuck in any one particular stylistic bag.
“I’m all over the place and sometimes will notice similarities in the songs I write and don’t want to record two songs that sound similar, so don’t think I really have a ‘style’ when it comes to songwriting,” he explains. “I like Rock ‘n Roll and Funk and Jazz, if that makes sense - but ultimately it all comes from the Blues. It’s what I know and it’s not a steady 1-4-5 progression, because I try to weave some different chords into the mix. I’ve got a certain vocabulary, but Sean helps a lot because he’s really good with building different chords and accents into the material. I love his guitar playing as much as his bass work.”
As for Sean’s songwriting contributions, his economical approach reflects his New Wave sensibilities. “I’m not really prolific lyrically and prefer to leave ample space to say the things I want to say,” he reflects. “I don’t force myself to write, so when it comes out it comes out.
“I grew up as a New Wave kid in the 1980s and mid-90s and bands like XTC never put the same album out twice, nor did The Cure or REM. On Kiss Me Kiss Me The Cure would throw in sax solo and then in the late 90s got into some Big Band stuff, so all those groups influenced me. There was never a forced similarity between the songs. Each is self-contained and I think our goal was to write a Variety album, which I don’t mean facetiously.”
“I think while we have a wide range of material, we each have our own individual sound and the way we play sounds like us - there’s a cohesiveness in terms of the musicianship, but a variety between the songs stylistically,” he continues.
“Each song is different which makes it fun. We didn’t want to have a central idea and turn the project into a concept album, because when that happens you might have two strong songs with the rest of the album sounding like filler. Not only is making each song self-contained more fun, but that way you don’t end up with a bunch of Old Sad Bastard music. Beauty is ageless and you can find beauty anywhere you go, so I like the dichotomy of material on this album in that sense.”
Certainly these sentiment are reflected on some of the more ambitious and unpredictable tracks such as The Seam, All Stand Up, and Lesson In Love, which while built upon that foundation of Blue-Eyed-Soul Philadelphia Sound R&B, suddenly will break into a bridge of tightly fragmented jazz-type chord progressions highly reminiscent of the elevated flourishes pioneered by such band as Weather Report.
“Each song is unique, but you can still hear each of us collectively,” states Cashman. “Mick is our primary vocalist and we stack a lot of the vocal harmonies, Both Sean and Mick write great stuff. I’m not really a songwriter, but I’m good at working up solid beginnings and endings and setting tempos, as any drummer worth his salt should be.”
““When I look at the songs on this album it’s almost like deciding who’s your favorite kid. I like them all.”
Another point of discussion surfaces around the nature of albums themselves, and whether or not they even carry any relevancy in today’s digital world of downloads and musical streaming. “As far as making music, are people even looking at albums anymore, or are they led by the song?,” asks Mick. “That’s one of the advantages of creating a release with so many different styles, because it widens the net in terms of audience appeal.”
Another striking element that stuck out to this reviewer is the level at which Mick’s lead guitar playing has improved over the years. Each solo on this album is tightly defined and melodically memorable, which can often be difficult to replicate unless you think of the instrument as an actual voice speaking its own language in a manner that can be universally understood.
“If I want to do a guitar solo I’ve got to write it down,” notes Mick. “I’ve got to know what I’m going to play before going into the studio, so will break it down into 8-bars and practice that so it helps me remember things. I have to be prepared to do a solo. In contrast, vocals are so much easier for me. When we do back-ups or harmonies it takes each member 30-seconds to do their part, so we’re firing on all cylinders in that department.”
Right now Songs From the Back of the Shop is only available on CD, which people can purchase at Cashman’s Comics in Bay City, and also at their live performances; but the band is working on getting it out there for digital downloading.
“We’ll probably do a fractional distribution and put it out on all the streaming sites at once,” explains Sean. “We’ll definitely have it out there soon because there’s so many people who don’t own a CD player anymore. Usually they’re younger than me.”
CDF will also be performing live at Scotty’s Sandbar on November 19th.
“We’re ecstatic with this album and comfortable working together,” concludes Cashman. “This is the coolest band I’ve worked in. We like each other on purpose, rehearse seriously, and follow a game plan that creates a respect for each other.”
16th November, 2023