Pop Factory Records Presents The Debut of An American Underdog

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Local Music, Artist Feature,   From Issue 734   By: Robert 'Bo' White

20th October, 2011     0

Andy Reed is an integral part of the Great Lakes Bay music scene. It's not easy being a major player when the economy has tanked and our society is unhealthy. It requires a balance of our mind, body and spirit and some heavy acceptance to remain sane in our insane world. I suppose there are multiple and competing truths no matter how we slice it, especially when you're a working musician.
 
Music and Art are the engines of truth and allow us a means of expression - an alternate rebellion that is quiet and thoughtful. No middle finger is extended. Reed is the olive branch that offers sustenance for the soul through rich and layered melodies and soaring harmony. It is manna from heaven.
 
Reed has expanded his musical reach as a member of the seminal turn of the century rockers Verve Pipe. Indeed, The Verve Pipe is a fine tuned engine that can rock with the best of 'em and yet create beautiful music for children - a loving and childlike quality of rock & roll that was mined by Lennon and McCartney as well as the Small Faces and the Beach Boys. This is the hopeful side of rock & roll that represents a deeper longing, a return to the nest.
 
Reed's overarching achievement just may be the success of Reed Recording Studio and his ascendance as a highly regarded producer. He brings out the best in whomever he records, whether it is Mandi Layne, Brett Mitchell, The Tosspints or Arthur Autumn. Reed can jump genres, intuit themes, conceive structural solutions and expand upon an artist's vision to produce a warm and richly cascading sound.
 
In a recent development Reed joined forces with Shawn MacDonald to form Pop Factory Records, a full service one stop record label and recording studio with a marketing and design department. Reed does the music; MacDonald handles the artwork and graphic design. Time has come today.
 
Reed conceived American Underdog as a full band project. It's only been ten years since Reed's alter ego The Haskels blasted onto the scene and kicked it out with the most melodic and hard rocking music since the MC5 released Back in the USA in 1970 (despite producer Jon Landau's compressed sound and muffled production). 
 
American Underdog just completed the production of their debut CD Always on the Run - and it is a complete package. The cover is a throwback to the days and times when album art mattered. Reed conveys colorful images with an eye for detail like the vertical stripe on the left side of the cover - a replica of how LP covers looked like during the rock & roll era of the fifties and sixties. The music is even better…
 
Your Reign is Over is a majestic opener; orchestral with wordless soaring harmonies that changes directions with a pounding 4/4 beat like the Dave Clark 5 on steroids. Reed's smooth as silk tenor soars over the big beat and then a sweet four-note guitar riff introduces the verses. The lyrics betray considerable umbrage that is almost hidden behind Reed's strong vocals.
 
Drawn into a place you must create all on your own
As the king and queen are overthrown
You are drawn into a part you never practiced for
But she'll still get you, leaving you wanting more
Talks in tongues about a crown you may never see
And you're the one who knows what to believe
Your reign is over
Nice to know you
 
Reed switches gears in Portland, a wistful song infused with an island-girl feel that is helped along with what sounds like a flamenco guitar. The longing and loneliness is palpable:
 
You try to be happy - drove you out to sea
As you wear your heart on your sleeve
When your own daydreams become reality
And create your own history
And I'm packing up for Portland, a place I visit often
And I never have to leave my rocking chair
When you play along and sing soft-spoken
To the words you can't repeat, “It isn't fair”
 
Beautiful Dreamer opens with and echoed piano riff and a strummed acoustic. The vocals are run through a vocoder plug-in or a filter further accentuates the dreamlike quality of the music. Reed is singing in an inner voice creating a dialogue with memories of core wounds from a difficult past.  Reed's lyrics create an internal landscape that is both painful and liberating:
 
He waits alone in his chair
Clutching a paper he left folded
In the home he made for her so long ago
It's hard now to see her
You stumble around
Tryin to walk a straight line
It's a love undefined
It's a love undefined
 
A quiet but insistent piano trill sets the mood for Always on the Run. It ambles along quite nicely but then a minimalist guitar comes up front and center and hits you like a punch. This is a song about friendship, the slippery elusive kind like a fan to a musician:
 
Take a walk outside
Yes we could be good friends
But you are always on the run
You push me out
Can't you see the best intent
 
The Day the World Was Lost opens with a galloping percussive tempo. The Spartan arrangement helps create a sense of ambivalence:
 
The day the world was lost it all went up in flames
Had I reached all the roads I crossed
'Cos they all just look the same
When I need you don't forget my name, don't wear it out
'Cos you're the reason I'm competing in this game
So don't ever change
Will we ever be the same
When I leave you, don't forget my name
 
Nothing I Can Do is a flat out rock engine that stomps and moans like Jerry Lee Lewis beating up his piano and setting it on fire. It has a funky guitar line that would make Steve Cropper proud. I love the simplicity of a common drum break - the music stops and the drummer just keeps that funky beat - no rolls or syncopation just that magical 2/4 beat. This is foot stomping music of the highest pedigree and a tongue-in-cheek tour de force. Dig the lyric:
 
I wanna play guitar in my own symphony
And write a melody
Join a traveling show for all the world to see
Sorry if I'm not your style
Put me in a back-up file
I guess there is nothing I can do…for you
 
Put Out the Fire is a mid-tempo ballad with Brian Wilson charm and Beach Boys harmonies. Reed's vocal range is impressive and his use of falsetto is imaginative yet economical. The Penny Lane trumpet arpeggio is a tip of then hat to the Beatles undiminished influence over popular music. It's a spectacular performance.
 
I'll Miss You Girl is a goodtime romp back to Chicago's Vee Jay label. It has a rock solid backbeat with an old fashioned thump and whack that recalls the most charming tendencies of British “Beat Music” in the sixties.” This tune would fit nicely along side Please Please Me, an early hit from 1963 that found its way to the Introducing the Beatles album - the very first Beatles LP in America, released on January 10th 1964!
 
The sixties references are appealing and tactful. Reed skillfully sidesteps the retro label by making his own kind of music. He doesn't really sound like the Beatles, Oasis or Big Star. He creates a synthesis of all his various influences that provides the scaffolding for well-written pop music that tells stories within a concise framework. This is testimony to his genius. He just may be a modern Burt Bacharach!
 
Parades a mid temp ballad with great lyrics, sophisticated vocal arrangement and a compelling background of breathy ahhs and oohs sung in perfect harmony. A five note piano trill introduces each verse. This is a song about Reed's career - his stubborn solo achievements that were more satisfying but paid less than his sideman role as a Jedi master. It's not always good trip. The lyrics tell the story…
 
I used to be the one that they all looked to
I used to be the one who wrote all the rules
That's why I try to listen carefully as parades go by
I used to be then one who walked on his own
I used to be the one whose punches were all thrown
That's why I try to listen carefully as parades go by
 
World of Make Believe is another slight of hand with Queen guitars and Beach Boys harmonies without ever sounding like either group. Paying homage to one's influences is a double-edged sword. Through emulation you may discover your own true musical nature or you may simply become an imitator. The limitations of power pop bands such as the Raspberries or Badfinger is that no matter how hard they tried they were not the Beatles. Big Star fits the above category but actually transcended the pop tag through innovation and some pretty heavy themes. Andy Reed is on that journey now. World of Make Believe is a lucid take on the decline and fall of the music business - loud digital production, vocodors, samples, and disposable product. The rot has set in…
 
Train - a perfect metaphor for loneliness, desire, danger and a million other things. Reed is holding a royal flush but he's not revealing his hand. The song opens with the chug-chug/click-clack sound of the train on the tracks, coming home. Reed's slide sounds like a pedal steel and segues to a nuanced and plaintive vocal. The interplay between the guitar and synthesizer colors the music in sepia tones. Reed just may have created a classic with timeless music and a deeply felt sense of love and longing that's wrapped around childhood memories. Man's best friend
 
That old fashioned sound
When you buy another round
You know I'll always love you
I know you'll always come through
When I was a boy
You were my favorite toy
Now I'm a man and I easily understand
Train, Train

You know I'll always love you 
 
 

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