There are eternal questions that beg for answers. Why is the sky blue? Why does gravity always pull down? What is a record producer? Okay, in my line of work, I can answer the first two but it has taken years of listening to records and making acquaintances to get a handle on the last one. The bigger an album hits, the more one hears about the producer and there are some legendary names that even casual music fans recognize: Don Was, Phil Spector, Rick Rubin, Jeff Lynn, Mutt Lange, Rick Derringer, George Martin, Alan Parsons – this is truly a list that spans the entire history of recorded music. My short list doesn’t even scratch the surface, but you get the idea.
I have been lucky enough to correspond with, and in some cases, sit down and chat with, some very talented folks who would be best described as ‘producers’ or ‘artist – producers’ (musicians who have also served as producers). Whether they are producing themselves or other musicians, hearing the likes of Al Jacquez and Mark Tomorski (Measured Chaos, Savage Grace) or Lindsay Tomasic (Trees) talk about the magical process of making a record album is fascinating. Some find their way to the producer’s chair directly, but more often than not, they work their way there from either the performing musician end or recording engineer end of the studio spectrum.
Reading Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes introduced me to Denny Cordell. Cordell and Leon Russell founded Shelter Records together although it eventually became Cordell’s baby. Hearing both Petty and Cordell explain in minute detail how Petty’s earlier band Mudcrutch evolved into Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers answered a lot of my own questions about the role a producer can play in guiding a band into the big time. Cordell comes off pretty close to a “5” compared to some of his contemporaries who can range from ‘genius’ (“1”) to ‘nutjob’ (“10”) on the old normality meter.
In 2014, I was introduced to Gary Tanin of Daystorm Music via one of my favorite CDs of that year, Sam Llanas’ The Whole Nite Thru. When I sent Gary the review I wrote for a From The Vaults article, he asked if he could use some of it on their web site and I said, “Sure, knock yourself out.” I did a little information mining and found out that Tanin cut his teeth both as a musician and recording studio apprentice while attending the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee in the early 1970s. In the 1980s, Tanin began a lifelong journey marrying studio and computer technology with his passion for music, which in my mind says, “Innovator, not a follower.”
Credentials, you ask? Not only has he won Wisconsin Area Music Industry (WAMIs) Producer of the Year Awards in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2010, he has produced albums for Sam Llanas (formerly of the BoDeans, now carrying on with his own band), and Daryl Stuermer (Milwaukee’s contribution to Genesis and Phil Collins solo work, but also a well known Wisconsin music legend in his own right). These are just the tip of the iceberg.
The list of albums he has mastered for artists like Stuermer and ex-Violent Femmes drummer Victor DeLorenzo is also long. I was so impressed with his work with Llanas, that none of this came as a surprize. He also labors as a freelance writer, consultant, and driving force for his new partnership Planet Green Productions with partner Ric Probst (who is the consummate recording engineer with a major label pedigree).
I got an email from Gary recently asking if I had received a copy of the CD he recently produced for a Milwaukee band called The Young Revelators. I had to admit that I have been trying to cure our latest round of website server ills for a couple of weeks and ended up with a very large box of mail sitting in the studio. I concluded that more than likely, it was somewhere in that box, but I promised him I would get right on it and get back to him.
I sat down to open mail and take a listen to All I See and I got so caught up in the music, that is all I got done in that sitting. When I popped the CD out of the case, I buried the cover and the artist promo sheet that came with it. I tend to listen to a CD before I read up on the band. I am not sure why I started this little routine, but in that I don’t multitask all that well, it forces me to listen to the music without distraction. It took one listen for me to write Gary back and tell him, “You have another great CD in your pocket”. Once I read up on the band and checked them out on YouTube, I was more impressed with The Young Revelators than ever.
The first thing that popped out at me was the crunch of the guitars. Gritty lines and rhythms dominate the tracks. The song structure, vocals, and arrangements made me think of Mato Ninji’s work with Indigenous and the Garzas brothers of Los Lonely Boys. They reminded me of a lot of blues based bands I have liked over the years (Foghat, Free, Savoy Brown, Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac) but they aren’t just a copycat band. The sound is familiar, yet very original. Classic guitar tones and vocals permeate the album. I went so far as to dig out some Foghat live tracks and found that although singer-guitarist Alejandro Martinez’s vocal range is a bit higher, his voice and phrasing remind me a lot of the late Lonesome Dave Peverett with a dash of Free’s Paul Rodgers mixed in. The guitar reaches back a bit farther and offers up some psychedelic tones to color the crunchy rhythms.
The opening track Worms got my attention and by the end of the second (Times is Hard) I was grooving to the solid bass-drums bed that Benjamin Michalski and Frankie Martinez were laying down. They don’t sound like a three piece band on this record and I made a mental note to find some YouTube clips to see if the same could be said about them playing live. I pressed on and the title track (All I See) changed the pace a bit with a rollicking beat and lyrics that transcend the Baby Baby Baby school of blues rock. Just A While brings back the guitar crunch and I’m a Fool evokes the slide boogie of Rod Price and Kim Simmonds. If Todd from the WOAS-FM west coast bureau in Eugene had sent me this CD on an unlabeled disk and said it was the new Noel Gallagher and the High Flying Birds album, the strum and lyrics of Here for the Ride would have made perfect sense to me. The Los Lonely Boys like arrangement and vocal vibe reappears on Sausalito. Night After Night gets right back into the soulful Lonesome Dave vocal and the Rod Price type of slide boogie that makes you want to get up and dance. The Young Revelators touch a lot of bases here but the track ordering just feels and sounds good. Each track makes you wonder what is coming next and you are never left with that, “Ho Hum, same old, same old” vibe.
About the time I thought I had them pegged, the instrumental track Martin came up and I had to ask myself, “Who ARE these guys?” If you can take prog rock and fuse it with poppy jazz, then it would come out sounding like Martin, not unlike some of the jazzy excursions that Alex Liefson and Geddy Lee take with Rush from time to time. The Garzas brothers couldn’t groove any better than the Martinez brothers do on Lend Me Your Ear. Lookin’ is vocally a nice country-funk ride that lets you sit back and catch your breath. It moves along and the keys and background vocals drive the song along with Gary Tanin adding ‘organ’ to his other list of talents.
The CD concludes with Killin Time and Tired of Love Songs. Neither of these tracks would be out of place on a Gary Clark, Jr album. The last tracks bookend the album in such a way that you feel like you are back home where you started this whole bluesy, funky adventure. The Young Revelators have a great sound and will make waves in the music industry.
I have had the pleasure of hearing Gary Tanin’s last two albums and I am already excited about what he will do next with Daystorm and Planet Green Productions. The last eternal question I have is this: How long will it take before we see The Young Revelators up north? They would be a wonderful band to see at the Porcupine Mountain Music Festival next August.