Field Music - Open Here

by Bill Golembeski Rating:10 Release Date:2018-02-02
Field Music - Open Here
Field Music - Open Here

It’s tough being a band that cares about progression.

So, it must be nice to be Roger Earl, Foghat’s drummer and the sole remaining member from the band’s halcyon boogiemeiser days, who (now with a bunch of younger guys), still makes a record from time to time under the band’s moniker. But it’s Slowride all over again. And aging concert goers love the memory. They now have cell phones in their hands instead of lighters, but, all the same, they just love it.

But Field Music makes challenging and ever-changing music. This new album Open Here builds upon their last album Commontime by adding flutes, trumpets, piccolos flugelhorns, strings, and the kitchen sink, which create a lot of new color that replaces, perhaps, some of the funk of that last record. But they still pick up the mantel of a band like Steely Dan (circa Aja) and continue to produce rock music that is well-crafted, literate, melodic, adventurous, and just plain clever. 

Actually, the first song, “Time In Joy,” is a big production that recalls the wonder and complexity of Gentle Giant and Hatfield and the North (two of my favorite bands). And with all the woodwinds, it also rekindles the memory of Canterbury’s Caravan, with their Jimmy Hastings assisted classic For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night. It’s six minutes plus of pretty fine stuff.

There’s no avoiding the obvious conclusion: This is modern day prog.

Quite frankly, the tunes are all over the place. Oddly, “Count It Up” sounds like a homage to The Talking Heads with its jerky David Byrne-like vocal. But the harmonies are pure Brewis brothers. Then “Front of House” adds the drama of heavy strings and flute. “Share a Pillow” is just more direct rock, with funky horns and huge drums. Now, the title track, “Open Here,” is pure Paul McCartney in his Ram prime. There’s an urgent vocal set against the orchestral backing, that sadly ends too soon.

There is no avoiding the other obvious conclusion: This is modern day pop music.

But you know, just for the record, I still really love Foghat. And if they were to play at a nearby Wisconsin bar in support for their great revival record Last Train Home, well, to quote The Jackson 5, “I’ll Be There.” Now, I don’t own a cell phone or a lighter, and I seldom clap or yell, but if they were to play “Slowride,” I wouldn’t even miss the flutes, violins, and clever complexities that make this Field Music album so great. And I’d have in my possession a vinyl record of Fool for the City in hopes of a Roger Earl signature.

That’s just the way it should be.

Rock ‘n' roll is a pretty big and ever-expanding universe. It’s large enough for pop and prog and everything in between, which, oddly enough is pretty much what this record manages to contain. Think about all the reference points: of course (the before-mentioned) Caravan, Hatfield and the North, Gentle Giant, The Talking Heads, and Steely Dan. Then add the masters of skewed rock (and Swindon’s finest), XTC. But also mention The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Left Banke, and music that includes bits of funk, jazz, and light classical.  

And there’s more. There’s a lovely wacky guitar solo in “Goodbye to the Country.” Then “Checking on a Message” is bluesy in a John Lennon “Revolution” shuffle sort of way.  

There’s no avoiding yet another obvious conclusion: This band manages to evoke the spirit of The Beatles.

Many of the songs are actually quite short, but they all work to create a pop music tapestry. The funky “No King No Princess,” is punchy soul with horns and a flute solo. It’s the type of “Wonderful Day in a One-Way World” tune Peter Gabriel once wrote before he became so serious. “Cameraman” is back to pretty great Paul McCarthy territory, and it includes a rare acoustic guitar interlude that yields to a piano, vocal, and percussion finale. But “Daylight Swing” is pure Field Music: This is simply sublime pop music as harmonies flirt with a sax solo and then the violins enter to end the tune.

And finally, the music is released to freely roam in a big cinematic way with the last song, “Find a Way To.” This one has everything: It begins with a quiet passionate vocal piano bit, and then it swells into an up-tempo piano with dramatic violins, horns, flutes, heavenly choirs, and, well, every vegetable and spice that needs to be in the concluding soup of a great and stirring soundtrack.

So there.

Now, if Spinal Tap’s “Stonehenge” is the litmus test for rock music, this album will never pass the audition. But, as stated, the rock ‘n’ roll universe is a pretty big and generous place, and this album includes more galaxies than most vinyl grooves. I mean, I love Foghat and “Slowride,” but there’s also room to enjoy the expanse of a record like this one. Field Music simply creates clever yet accessible music. And, yeah, that’s almost an oxymoron. But this album manages to defy gravity as it hovers with high harmonies, funky basslines, quirky guitar bits, lovely songs, and most of all, the contrary spirits of both thoughtful progressive rock as well as the melodies, catchy hooks, and all the fun, of simply great pop music.

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