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MP3 Greg Mahan - POP: Folky Pop

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MP3 Greg Mahan - POP: Fo
Download MP3 Greg Mahan - Greg Mahan
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A subtly dazzling gem of Americana Pop.

12 MP3 Songs
POP: Folky Pop, ROCK: Americana

No, Greg Mahan's fourteen word album title doesn't even approach the longest ever. I believe that honor still belongs to Fiona Apple's ninety word poem-as-title disc from a few years back. With my tendency towards the verbose I thought chances were good that Mr. Mahan's music would connect with me, even before I listened the first time. That was three, maybe even four months ago. I've listened to the disc several times every week since and can report that I was right. It did connect. I enjoyed the music from the first time I played it. That's easy. Explaining why is another story. Since I assume none of you are psychic, I'll try.

Mahan is the latest in a string of Cincinnati musicians I've reviewed over the last year for Rockzillaworld. Comparing the names in credits and band histories from Pike 27, Len's Lounge, Messerly & Ewing, and Mahan's album gives the impression that Cincinnati is a tight-knit, incestuous musical community. Mahan and his brother Brian played on Messerly & Ewing's The Last Twelve Hours. Brian Ewing and Mark Messerly both put in appearances on I Row My Boat, Brian Lovely (yes, lots of Brians in Cincinnati) co-produced this disc and also shows up on Messerly & Ewing's disc. Pike 27's Dave Purcell used to be a member of Len's Lounge; Mark Messerly recently joined Pike 27. You get the idea. With so many of the same musicians, some similarity between all of these acts might be expected, and close listening reveals some, but each act is dominated by one or two people with the others acting in the role of sidemen. Pike 27 rocks the hardest because Dave Purcell likes to rock. Len's Lounge's Jeff Roberson would seem to be a laid-back guy of few words. And then there's Greg Mahan.

Like Purcell, Mahan can rock, but where Purcell prefers the straight-ahead, blues-based rock of the Stones, Mahan experiments with unexpected sounds and textures, not unlike what the Beatles did thirty-some years ago. No sitar, but keyboards, accordion, flute, sax, and trumpet. Mandolin, violin, and banjo too. Pick any popular musical style from the last thirty or forty years. Memphis R&B. Power Pop. Psychedelia. New Wave. Folk. Greg Mahan has heard them all and at some point incorporates each of these influences on I Row My Boat, even a glimmer of The Tijuana Brass in the horns and percussion on "All Is Grace." The flute and strings-filled "Song For Brenda" is almost a New Age love song.

Lyrically Mahan's influences are more limited, or at least less apparent, with one obvious exception. Starting with the opening track, "Well I Know I Figured It Out," there are strong hints that Mahan studied Dylan's in his personal songwriters school. The lyrics are evocative, yet the meaning not always obvious.

It came to me yesterday night
Struck by a bolt
So may volts
I tell you it was mighty bright
That's one good way to see the light

And I know I figured it out
I've got no money
But I do without
I know I figured it out
You know I figured it out

After back rent
And favors lent
I never ask myself where it might have went
Just build a fire
Then I pitch my tent

"New Noah" makes liberal use of religious imagery yet isn't overtly religious. The opening lyrics, "I had a dream, it was such a fright," allow the possibility of interpreting some lyrics as metaphor ("New York City is under the sea/Wall Street and the Village looking up at me/saying he was neither wrong nor crazy") while other lyrics can be taken literally.

Here I am at the top of the world
Two bottles of wine
And two pretty girls
And my favorite double album "Blonde on Blonde"

Like Dylan, Mahan has surrounded himself with an excellent group of musicians and won't be boxed into the parameters of a single musical style. Unlike Dylan, the vocals are comprehensible. At times his lyrics may leave you as confused, hearing the words but working hard to understand their meaning. Other songs, like the folk-rockish "American Farmers Song," are more overt in their meaning.

I moved to the left and I moved to the right
And then they tell me that everything's fine
They tell me that everything's fine

Can't work my hands and I can't work the land
See it everyday, I don't understand
See it everyday, I don't understand

If you believe music should be mindless noise in the background, then buy a white noise generator. Everyone else might consider Greg Mahan's I Row My Boat Gotta, Get It Afloat, I'm the Man With the Plan . . .

-Al Kunz
Rockzilla World Magazine

Featuring one of the longest album titles ever (or that we've come across at least - the full title is "I Row My Boat... Gotta Get it Afloat...  I'm the Man with the Plan"), the album from the guy who was nominated for three Cincinnati Entertainment Awards is nothing if not different.  With a distinctive sound and hints of Steve Earle and John Hiatt's voice, along with some accomplished and excellently produced string picking, "I Row My Boat..." sounds much more mature than its years, but that's not a bad thing. The arrangements of tracks like "Blue Ocean" and "New Noah" are innovative without being over-experimental, still retaining the acoustic essence of each track - indeed sometimes he hits the mark so well (take the Mark Knopfler-eqsue "Burn Down Sal's" for instance) that you can tell Mahan's talents aren't limited to performing.  He's an A Class singer-songwriter to boot,  with lyrics that are both biting and bracing in equal parts.  "I Row My Boat" is evidence enough to suggest Mahan will be around for some time. MW

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