In the old days, when an album (Yes, I’m old. Sue me.) came out, the album would have “liner notes” – descriptions, song-by-song, written by a friend or a critic who was also a friend. These lined the vinyl as a sleeve and protected it from the rough cardboard that was the album cover. I thought I’d give it a try with my sister’s first CD – but not just because it’s my sister’s, because it’s good and she deserves a wider stage for the music on this album.
(My credentials – I did college radio for two years, had a license to be a DJ for awhile, worked a third year at a college radio station in Geneva, NY, loved music and still do. Oh, and the most widely read blog piece I’ve written is about the top 100 songs of all time. It’s not much, but it’ll have to do for now.) So here goes.
My thought, when I first heard the album, was where did this girl come from?! You know how you know somebody, but they have a secret part of their personality that you never knew about? That’s Beebs. I know her, but apparently I don’t. How does a white girl from the Space Coast of Florida get so funky? Where does a white girl hear a Hammond B-3 (here played by D. Mahler) ? The superhero stuff on the cover and in the video for one of the tracks “Handout”, seems appropriate because the music on this thing is from another planet. In a world of pop crap and electronic dance music, “Welcome to Barter Town” is like nothing else out there. It’s a tight, musical band putting out a variety of genres, each with equal levels of skill. In others words, it’s music – all kinds of music – performed by musicians.
The first track on the CD – Ms. Captain Kangaroo — draws from Beebs’ inner Janis Joplin while the guitar and song melts like it’s on LSD, making your head hurt This turns into some type of equal parts country and 70’s rock to sooth its way back, before the melting returns, all the while the drummer (Jeff Carruth) plays this punchy beat that pops, highlighting the tightness of the band.
Next up is “Voices”, which starts with a funky, funky beat and Beebs’ singing about voices in her head, telling her she wants to live. The bright horns highlight the mood while tough-sounding rap comes in and also sings a message worth hearing about the world and purpose. The sax player kicks it and the whole thing comes off like a song should– indebted to the song, rather than any individual ego. Everyone shines and the song makes its own statement– that “musical” thing happens again.
Next up is the song from the video, “Hand Out”. While the video features 1960’s “Batman”- esque, “Biff”s and “Pow”s immediately endearing itself to my whole family, the song is a ska rave-up. You’d have to know here that I don’t like ska. At least on this side of the pond, it’s usually white surfer conservative Christians full of themselves trying to sound tough to their peers in California or Florida – vapid and tough, two of my least favorite stances. Having said that, Beebs’ solo on kazoo sets this song apart, and – again – the musicality, the tightness of the band, the wildness of the video, separates this song from the pack that I usually associate with American Ska.
After this, jazz and soul merge in perhaps the best song on the album to my old ears – “Beautiful Gloomy”. It’s as though Laura Nyro has come back from the dead to arrange the beautiful flute and jazz guitar that opens the song. The light touch of the hook – Ra-ai-ai-ai-ain – is immediately sing-able and gets stuck in your head. One can easily picture the Fifth Dimension in their heyday (look ‘em up, if you don’t get the reference) doing this song.
“You Don’t Owe”, the next track, is – as Beebs says – “not kid friendly”. The lyrics of the chorus punching like a verbal brawl, “You don’t owe me…. —-“. The database that iTunes uses labels the entire CD “blues” and this is the closest thing to it on the CD. Beebs plays her part as a tough broad in one of those arguments real adults have when they’re really mad at each other. Beebs proves she’s not a kid here while the drum pops the beat and the sax player goes off like Clarence Clemons. This is definitely not Teen Beat pop. This is Justin Bieber getting his — kicked.
Returning to funky jazz, “These Days” tells the story of growing up as one thing and becoming something else. The male rapper BTrue is smooth and sensitive with his words, while Beebs lets the song be itself as a background singer, a voice to compliment the lead, while the sax player wails. An incredible sax solo completes the song while the drummer plays straight-out jazz drum. There is a Sade-influenced groove here and the song is made for love.
“In This Love”, the final song, returns to earlier ska stylings – more like The English Beat ska than American Ska, a more easily digestable form — and features Beebs singing blues lyrics. Dave Wade, the bass player, works the groove here while the juxtaposition of bright, happy dancing over words about “coming home to nothing else” lets the musical expression fit the lyrical expression as the CD closes.
“Welcome to Barter Town” a great CD by a tight, musical band, with its themes and influences showing all around – underground currents of Afro-stylings everywhere. How Beebs got that funky, I don’t know. About her band: I do know that she has a very low tolerance for BS, and – like her brother– knows what she likes. She will settle for nothing less than great players and will weed through the great number of people out there until she finds ones that have that professional sound she is looking for. The band here is top notch in many styles and deserve their props for just being all-out funky and tight. Both sax players (Mahler and Cestero) are just great, giving the album a great horn section. Both guitarists (Jeremy Lovelady and Craig Cobb) drive right along with the rhythm.
With this impressive CD, Beebs joins a long line of Zoller/Bibeau women with musical talent. . Her mother’s aunt was a professional musician who played with, among others, Gene Autry, and a host of other people at the top of their game – also in a variety of genres and specializing in musical inventions. Her mother was a singer in clubs in Miami in her 20’s, who – while she loved “standards”, was just as comfortable with country and classical. They would be proud of her. I know I am.