Religion, politics, hypocrisy, war, terrorism, death… Ernest Senecal certainly isn’t the only person walking around in that disturbing swirl with a question kicking his brain: what is going on in this world? Or, in the parlance of our times, “WTF?”
That’s the title of Senecal’s latest CD, released as always under the moniker I. B. Sometimes and recorded with the help of his longtime friend and collaborator, Jim Weeks (a multi-instrumentalist with whom he’s worked since 1980).
“WTF?” isn’t officially a concept album, but it does deal heavily with what Senecal called “hot button issues,” as he explained in a recent interview.
“So much of what is going on in this world is because of religion and politics. I have no qualms about saying what’s on my mind regarding these topics though I know it can ruffle some feathers. I just felt some things needed to be said.”
The quick ten-tune album is sequenced for maximum mirroring, with the songs’ subjects reflecting on each other. It starts with a snippy soft shoe about religion (“Easy When You Know You’re Right”), then a jaunty sad song to death himself (“Hey Mister”), followed by an epic track about what happens (or doesn’t) when you die (“Rather Be Here”).
“Why Can’t We All Just Get Along” finds its titular question answered immediately by the next song, which blasts out of the gate with the line, “Because someone out there’s trying to destroy ya.”
“The narrators in the songs are not necessarily me,” Senecal said, mentioning how Randy Newman also uses that technique. “On some of the songs the lyrics can have very different meanings to the listener depending on their world view.”
Senecal sings about how “Good Microbes” in your gut keep you healthy, before launching into a fed-up rocker about the sickness that’s taken over the powers that be in Washington D.C. The song is called “Pile of ****,” and at one point it borrows the “hunka hunka” refrain from Elvis Presley’s “Burning Love” to compare the government to a flaming bag of dung on your doorstep… which is now all over your shoe.
“I stand by every word of that song,” he said. “I’m a lifelong Democrat who at present is sickened by the hypocrisy of both parties.”
Eventually the chaotic course of the album comes to rest on its prettiest tune, “So Damn Beautiful,” a simple, longing song about two people.
Senecal and Weeks have a unique way of working together. Senecal brings a tune in to Weeks’ Cloud Cuckooland Studios in Northampton, singing and playing an acoustic guitar part to a foundational click track; Weeks then has free rein to add any instrument or effect he wants, producing a finished song that might be a heavy rocker, or an electronic dance number, or a country lope…wherever the inspiration takes him.
“I give Jim a lot of latitude because things just seem to work magically between us,” Senecal said.
Weeks agreed: “We seem to be on the same page after twenty years.”
Weeks’ pop touches make the album musically diverse, like the peppy horn section on “Hey Mister” (and the Cockney-like shouts of the title, which have a kind of Broadway vibe), the wide-horizon, reverberant wash of sounds on the verses of “Rather Be Here,” and the melancholy strings and dreamy harp strums of the final track.
Senecal said he’s always had a degree of political commentary in his songs, explaining that he’s been a political junkie since he was a kid. “As a very young person I followed the 1960 election and remember watching by myself the 1964 Republican Convention at the Cow Palace in San Francisco! None of my friends were watching that stuff.”
“In some ways I have always had an angry young man element to me that would probably have gotten me in a lot of trouble if I was somewhere else,” Senecal said. His new album isn’t afraid to provoke with prickly material.
As he described the new album online, “This is not dinner music!”
“WTF?” by I.B. Sometimes is available online from iTunes, Amazon and CD Baby.