If you’ve not yet caught on to the music of Big Head Todd & The Monsters, the new album the band is set to release on Tuesday might just hook you.
I’ve been following this band since my freshman year at the University of Colorado at Boulder (those of you who know me know I finished my undergraduate degree as a Nittany Lion, but that's a story for another day).
This week BHTM are releasing their new effort, "Rocksteady."
Singer Todd Park Mohr, bassist Rob Squires, keys player Jeremy Lawton and drummer Brian Nevin have made some changes with their ninth album.
Fans may remember them for their record "Sister Sweetly," a hit with the college alt/rock scene after its debut in 1993. The record went platinum a few years later. But BHTM’s 1990 release "Midnight Radio" is the most memorable for me. And not for "Bittersweet," the ballad they reprised in "Sister Sweetly" a few years later — but for the whole shebang. "Midnight Radio" songs "Vincent of Jersey," "The Leaving Song," and "City of Fire" are some of my all time fave songs. "Sister Sweetly," which reprised "Bittersweet" and made it a radio favorite, had more a commercial feel - and response.
Mohr recently told a Denver Post blogger that he feels, well, bittersweet, about the song so named.
"I hate the feeling that I'm only still around because people want to hear 'Bittersweet' again," Mohr said earlier this week. "I've always wanted to have a large body of work that was all good and have people want to see the band to see what we're doing next."
And "large body of work that is all good" is a deft description of "Rocksteady." The album is hard to classify. The songs are a mix of soul, rock, blues, R&B, even Caribbean-influenced music.
Another Mohr quote from Friday’s Post:
"This album is the Caribbean, R&B and soul record," Mohr said. "I don't know that we've ever done such a narrowly focused album before. Soul and R&B have always been a part of our sound and what we do … I've had a few trips down there to the Caribbean, and I've always been a lover of the music — it's an enormous influence in contemporary music."
Getting radio play from the new album already is the catchy, poppy-sounding "Beautiful." Check out how you can download this song for free at the end of the blog.
Here’s a YouTube clip of Big Head Todd & The Monsters playing "Beautiful" at Studio C: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXQvMGJ9bP4
Mohr, in my opinion, has a voice like no other. This is my favorite band, if you hadn't guessed. This is the band that sounds like Colorado to me. I've seen them play live more times than I can count, more times than any other band, for sure - over two decades. Suffice to say, I'm a fan.
From the new album, "Rocksteady," I've been digging a song called "Back to the Garden" that's got a Caribbean flavor and Mohr doing a little freestyle rap.
The melancholy ballad "After Gold" makes be sad, but I love it. Kept hitting replay for a while while I was getting to know the album.
These lyrics may not be exact, but you'll get the point:
You hide your gold beneath the surface
And your shimmering light
You say you've never loved someone
And you need to survive
Baby I just want to know you
I can see the real you
I can see the real you inside
Need to see the truth
Need to see the true you tonight
"Smokestack Lightnin’" is a cool authentically bluesy tune on which Mohr actually howls like a wolf (in a good way) . My point it, there's a lot of variety here.
The only track I’m not thrilled about, so far, is the cover of the Stones’ "Beast of Burden." I’d rather hear an original BHTM song. And I'm not really feeling the "Muhammad Ali" tribute. But I admire the band for taking some risks with this and previous albums.
BHTM’s last release, 2008’s "All The Love You Need," was also a bit of a departure for a band unafraid to step into new territory, more than two decades after their debut.
They issued free copies of the CD to 500,000 folks on their mailing lists (including me!) — who just had to sign up on their website. The Post calls that move "one of the boldest music industry experiments in recent memory."
The band plays Philly once a year or so, usually at the TLA or Electric Factory around February. This weekend however, on Friday, July 16, they were among the lineup in Camden at WXPN's XPoNential Festival. It pains me to say I missed it. I may catch the Cowboy Junkies at the end of the 3-day festival tonight.
To learn more about Big Head Todd & The Monsters, check out their website. Tour dates for the winter and a possible Philly stop haven't been scheduled thus far, but you can check out all their albums, buy funny T-shirts and other cool stuff, and download some song mp3s, including "Beautiful," for free.