Clubland: Lonesome Brothers’ new CD reflects on passage of time
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It’s not a concept album of Pink Floyd proportions, but the new Lonesome Brothers record, “Check Engine,” has something on its mind: time. Measuring how much is left. Making the most of how much you have.
In 2006, Ray Mason sang, “Daily planner and a big old clock / two best gifts that I ever got,” but on the latest Lonesome Brothers CD — which, as always, features Mason and Jim Armenti taking turns with the songwriting — Mason’s jaunty country tune about the calendar “running his life” (“Twelve Pieces of Paper”) has some angst under the shuffling rhythm. “Glancing at the month ahead / can I just stay in bed? / Will there ever be an end?”
For some, it’s already ended: Later in the song, Mason matter-of-factly mentions he’s “Going to a wake / my friend is dead.” Elsewhere, on the album’s title track, a punchy but melancholy waltz, Armenti has his own beautiful way of describing the end: “Sometimes tomorrow is only a wish / with the penny stuck fast in my fist.”
In an interview earlier this week, Armenti said that he and Mason didn’t plan an album theme ahead of time. “We just both write honestly about what’s happening around us and there is always some overlap,” he said, highlighting one area of commonality: “We are getting old.”
“Devastated while contemplating the outcome of this foolish life,” goes the chorus of Mason’s minor-key soul-pop track “Devastated.” A horn section in the background (arranged by guest Tom Mahnken) is almost like black comedy, impish grim reapers tip-toeing around).
Another sunny-on-the-surface swinging song from Mason warns of the health dangers of “Cigarettes and Cell Phones” (“All that contact with your skin / it’s gonna wreck your brain!”).
Mason and Armenti have been good friends since 1985 — that’s when they started the Lonesome Brothers, after playing together in a Tuesday night cover band for over a year — so they know each other well. When I suggest that on the “Check Engine” songs, Mason generally seems like the worrier while Armenti seems more at ease, Armenti replied, “Ray is a much bigger worrier than I will ever be. If Ray writes about worry then I write about contemplation, being perfectly willing to consider disaster, loss and ennui. Where we come together is that I think we are each always expressing our current reality and the details of our lives. I just camouflage mine a little more than he does.”
Armenti’s tunes include a galloping song about making the most of right now (“Wild and Wayward”), and another celebrating the meditative moments in life, whether it’s a long walk or “Sitting by the water and waiting for the morning moon.”
The album ends with Mason having his own kind of meditative moment on “Night Tripper.” It’s a soulful rock tune singing the praises of what for him is a singularly soothing time of day: late-night. So late that everyone else is asleep except him and an alley cat.
“I’m a normal bedtime skipper,” he sings, a great example of his quirky way with an honest observation. “Stayin’ up e_SSRqtil dawn with that dew on the lawn.”
“Check Engine,” the Lonesome Brothers’ eighth CD, is the first one to be recorded by Armenti himself. The basic tracks for all 14 songs were done in one three-and-a-half hour session — although the band had spent months working through many stages of demo recording and tune learning. By the time Armenti hit the record button on that big productive day, they really knew the songs.
Once the basics were done, Armenti spent a few more months adding fun musical details, like the fiddle and accordion at the end of “Puddles,” or a beeping e_SSRq80s-ish synth during “Night Tripper.”
Appropriately enough for an album recorded at home, it sounds homey and relaxed. On “Twelve Pieces of Paper,” Mason sings “solo, solo, solo” during the part of the song where Armenti is supposed to play a guitar lead. It’s something left over from an earlier demo of the tune, where Mason was alerting the rest of the band (which includes Tom Shea on drums) when the solo was supposed to happen. Armenti loved it so much he made Mason do it again on the final take.
“Check Engine” is currently available at Turn It Up in Northampton, online at CD Baby and iTunes, or at a Lonesome Brothers gig. The trio next plays at the Great Falls Discovery Center Coffeehouse in Turners Falls on July 12 at 7 p.m., and on July 13 at 6 p.m. at the Black Birch Vineyard and Winery in Southampton.