09.02.2008

Wheel, Jona Lyons

Posted by AJ Harbison at 1:58 am

About two weeks ago, my good friend, former college roommate and current co-worker Doug sold me a CD by his good friend Jona Lyons. Lyons is an independent singer-songwriter from Fullerton who self-recorded and self-released this album, entitled Wheel, just recently. So, since I had an early listen, I thought I’d share it with all of you. Six songs from the album are on his Myspace page (linked above), so apart from my general comments I’ll focus on those songs so you can hear what I’m writing about.

First off, I have to say that recording and releasing an album on one’s own is a laudable feat and I applaud him for it–especially an album with a full band and 13 songs. So hats off to Lyons for succeeding in this.

Unfortunately, my first impression of the CD was not a particularly enjoyable one. The main problem the CD suffers from is a lack of quality production–understandable, certainly, considered it was recorded and produced in his house without the aid of a studio or engineer; but still disheartening. There are three primary things that particularly troubled me. First, the mixing is a little subpar: the voice doesn’t always stand out the way it should, the bass is too boomy, and the other instruments aren’t always mixed so that they come through clearly. (Similar to my complaints about Elton John’s CD that I wrote about here.) Second, there is little reverb used, and often the voice sounds somewhat flat and dry, where reverb would have filled out the sound a bit more. Third, and most troubling, is the fact that the crash cymbals seem to exceed the capacity of either the recording mikes or the sound board, and during big, loud parts of some songs (notably “Sorry” and “Tomorrow’s Up”), the sound of the cymbals actually cuts in and out a little. Added to a slightly unclear mix of the electric guitars, this creates a patchy and messy sound which almost ruins otherwise good songs. I also have to say that I am not the biggest fan of Lyons’ voice: he’s not always fully in control of it, nor always fully on key. But hey, he can sing a heck of a lot higher than I can, and those readers who know me know how picky I am about voices.

On my first listen through the CD, I found it hard to overcome these shortfalls. However, as I listened through it again and listened more closely to the songs themselves, I found myself enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would. “Wow, these songs are actually really cool!” The lyrics are not always as deep or well-written as I’d like them to be, but they’re good, and the music (while reminiscent of others) is pretty original and well done.

My two favorite songs on the CD are both on Lyons’ Myspace page: “Shining Knight” and “Six Years Ago.” Both have good imagery and insights in the lyrics and poignant, primarily acoustic music, and I’ve listened to them a whole bunch of times since I got the CD and I definitely haven’t grown tired of them yet. “Maybe Then You’d Love Me” (also on the Myspace page) is also simple, acoustic and enjoyable. “Sorry” and “Tomorrow’s Up,” despite their technical faults, are energetic and rockin’, as is “Honey” (another of my favorites). The second half of the CD, which contains the rest of the Myspace songs (“Every Daughter Is Defiled,” “Fullerton Boy” and “Wheel”), is not as enjoyable to me as the first half, with a few notable exceptions. “Saturday” is an ironically fun song–akin perhaps in some ways to my song “Coastin'”–and I like the Coldplay-esque progressions of “Something’s Not Right.” I’m not very fond of the song “Wonderful”; but in some way or another I enjoy each of the songs on the CD.

Lyons’ friend Jon Neal, whom I have met and jammed with before, produced the CD but is also listed in the credits as the performer of the “piano/organ/tympani/orchestra” as well, and his contributions to the CD make it stand out. He hasn’t had any formal musical training, to my understanding, but is very talented and very musical. His keyboard solo in the middle of “Shining Knight,” starting at the 3:10 mark, is the highlight of the whole CD for me; and his solo in “Six Years Ago” (at 1:58) is very reminiscent of Coldplay (in a very good way).

There is also a random moment in which Eric Whitacre makes a surprise appearance–at 1:39 in “Maybe Then You’d Love Me,” the front and background vocals suddenly break into a very Whitacre-like progression, complete with a diatonic cluster chord (a cluster using only notes from the major scale of the song). Very random, but very awesome.

Lyons classifies himself on the Myspace page as “Acoustic / Folk Rock,” and I think it’s a worthy appellation. Parts of his CD remind me of my own music; others of Coldplay, as I’ve mentioned; others of the Beatles; and others (quite a few) of the indie acoustic rock sound of groups like The Shins.

Would I recommend this CD to you? Yes (especially if you like what you hear on Myspace). Would I add Lyons to my list of favorite singer-songwriters? No. Would I go to another show of his (I’ve been to one before, prior to hearing the CD)? Yes. Would I sing along to the songs I now know? You bet.

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