CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (Nov. 10, 2022) — The opening lyrics from “Still”, the sixth song off Joshua James Jackson’s new album, “Livin’ the Dream,” encompasses a lot of what makes this album such an enjoyable listen:
“Hey man, how ya doin’? Looks like you’ve been playing a lot! What’s your new band called? I’m sorry I haven’t caught it yet, but it’s so inspiring you’re out doing your thing…still!”
It captures the casual plain-talkedness you might find with folk storytellers like Kris Kristofferson or John Prine. Like those iconic songwriters, Jackson uses this casualness – the seemingly innocuous, one-sided banter between old acquaintances – as a thin veil over an unspoken discomfort. In this case, the discomfort is the disconnection some musicians feel with peers who live outside of the artist world, which is worsened when feigned interest is expressed for the sake of small talk. The seemingly insincere apology and underhanded compliment from the person speaking suggests some emotional distance, and the 4-second silence gap and response confirm these individuals are living in two different worlds:
“Yeah I’m doing fine! I just keep towing the line…been right here the whole time…and I don’t mind.”
Those are just the opening lines of one of the dozen songs that make up “Livin’ the Dream.” The colorful 42 minute record has elements of soul, folk, funk, country, 70’s groove, blues, and even a bit of Dixieland boogie. As trite as it may sound, this album has a little bit for everyone…at least anyone willing to step into the honest, funky, silly, wonderful dream Jackson’s been livin’.
Fans of claymation will surely enjoy the video for Livin’ the Dream’s title track, which was largely shot in Oakland.
Joshua James Jackson and The Dream Team will be performing at the Stork Club in Oakland on November 18th. Information and tickets available on his website.
Maximum Security Prism – Rose Haze
The latest offering from Oakland-based psych-rock band Rose Haze is a delightful peek into the colorful, imaginative mind of songwriter Kate Ramesey, who invites the listener to walk with her and her band through an introspective journey into a world of shimmering refracted light and metaphysical wonder.
“Hello, what’s your name? Would you like to go out on a sunny day past the fire clouds? In the East Bay, where I can sing a lot; where I can feel some light in the aftershocks,” Ramsey sings on the track “Moon Virgo.” Her voice is an excellent guide through the 28-minute trip through hypnotic beats, swirling synthesizers, and psychedelic soundscapes. While much of the album is shoe-gazey music to zone out to, some of these dream-pop beats will keep you bobbing your head or even dancing a little bit. Other songs like “Posers” and “Hours” offer driving guitars and overall terrific space rock energy.
“Maximum Security Prism” is a gorgeous album that I’d recommend to anyone who spends time really listening to music, although it makes for great background tunes too! Headphones recommended.
Tiger – Matt Holdaway’s Army
If you’re the kind of music enthusiast who sifts through obscure releases looking for something different, you’ll likely find it in “Tiger,” the latest release from the Berkeley project Matt Holdaway’s Army. “Tiger” is an entire album of spoken word storytelling, told over a diverse range of improvisational rock jamming. While this concept has been done before, it’s rare, and even more rare to be executed so well.
Originally released in 2013, “Tiger” was widely released in May of 2022. The album clocks in at just under 40 minutes, offering eight separate tracks of spoken word by Matt Holdaway, paired with complementary moody jams by his “Army” of musician friends.
Holdaway’s stories recount memorable moments throughout his life. Told in first person, he captivates the listener with vivid narratives about connecting with nature on a snowy mountainside, being nearly mugged at a BART station, outrunning the law on Halloween night, and dancing on a boat with strangers on the Nile.
He employs humor and compassion throughout these stories, reminding the listener that despite the cacophony that often surrounds us, we’re all living human beings in a world full of surprise and potential delight.
Uniquely Inanimate – Oxide
The cavernous intro of the opening track “Stoic” sets the mood for this largely instrumental – often extremely heavy – album from Oxide. That mood is a mix of impending doom and dread, counterbalanced across the album with a sense of do-or-die determination that a hero might discover when facing an impossible situation. This vibe is delivered through an impressively mixed sound that is both huge and disciplined.
For a number of reasons, I’d hesitate to call “Uniquely Inanimate” a metal album, although that might satisfy most reader’s curiosity of whether or not they’re interested in checking it out. Yes, it’s got the hallmark judd-judds, head-banger moments, and even some hardcore screaming, but it also offers introspective ethereal moments, some tender vocal work from Berkeley singer-songwriter Ash Powell, and perhaps most surprisingly, an alto saxophone solo.
For folks who don’t care for heavier stuff, “Uniquely Inanimate” might sound like the soundtrack to a suspenseful horror film. For fans of harder sonic rock and doom metal, this might be for you. Expect elements of Neurosis, ISIS, Earth, Sun O))), and the kinda stuff that used to play routinely on 90.5 The Edge the last couple decades (and still now, albeit late at night).
FrankenClime – Jim Ocean Band
Most locals know Jim Ocean as the guy who has been bringing live music to downtown Concord’s Music & Market series for over 30 years. Those who are familiar with Ocean’s music understand that he’s known to be crafty with word-play and sarcasm, and that he’s passionate about climate change awareness. Both signature traits are on full display in the latest offering from Jim Ocean Band, the full length album “FrankenClime,” released earlier this summer.
The album is at times playful, as Ocean sings about metaphorical monsters in songs like “Plastilla” and the title track “FrankenClime,” but his message is clear: the “monsters” we face with climate change are real, and we’re running out of time. The well-produced reggae song “First to go Under” somberly paints this sense of urgency through the idea of rising water overtaking entire communities, while songs like the “The Invisible Obvious” remind us that we’re choosing to look the other way.
Despite the dystopian imagery he paints, Ocean’s careful to remind us that all is not lost. He believes these “monsters” can be overcome if our species can manage to confront them head-on. To quote “The Invisible Obvious:”
“…all of the monsters that prowl around in our minds / we can defeat them / we can release them / if we just look them in the eye.”
Jim Ocean Band will be performing on January 14th at “Party for the Planet,” a benefit show for Sustainable Contra Costa. Tickets and information at JimOceanMusic.com.
Dave Hughes is a local music advocate with an extensive network of independent artists. He produces and hosts a local music program on KVHS called The Beat of Diablo, every Sunday at 7:00 PM on 90.5 FM. Dave also catalogs local music releases at ConcordRockCity.com.