Passerine Dream takes flight

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

In a previous life, Dave Tanner and I worked as reporters at sister newspapers in suburban Kansas City. He always had a positive spirit and was eager to talk out about music whenever our paths crossed.

When another friend and reporter suggested we drive across Missouri to see Ringo’s All-Starr Band at the Fox Theater in St. Louis, Tanner and I jumped at the chance. The three of us drove to the show, drove home afterward and were back at work the next morning, because we were young and could do things like that back then.

Since then, Tanner has become one of the best Paul McCartney stand-ins in Beatles tribute bands across the country. When the pandemic halted his touring – Tanner estimated he played 155 shows and was gone for 200 days in 2019 – Tanner turned to his backlog of songs and decided to record an album of his own material.

The album (and band) name Passerine Dream came from a songbird Tanner kept running across in his hobby as an amateur birdwatcher and bird photographer. (Those are his photos on the album.)

Tanner was kind enough to talk through each track on the album with The Daily Record during a break while performing in Georgia with the group Liverpool Legends. In the spring of 2022, the Liverpool Legends will set up shop in the Andy Williams Moon River Theater in Branson, Mo.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

“Be Together”

“The first complete song of words and music that I ever wrote. I wrote it on an acoustic guitar, which was tuned to the tuning McCartney uses on Yesterday, D standard. It is that way because I had that guitar sitting around from my live shows. I added bass to it for demo purposes. Another band I was in called The Depth and Whisper recorded it and played it live quite a few years ago. I used it as an icebreaker to break in the new album.”

“Little Dreams

“I had a little guitar lick that I’ve been messing around with for a couple years. I don’t know what exactly came into my head other than those first couple of lines when I was sitting there with a guitar. The first verse about came about through conversations with other birders, about how suburbia creates a completely unnatural ecosystem for wildlife. Cutting down grass helps sparrow, starling and robins survive. There are billions of these birds we have enabled to fill up our back yards. They are at war, but there is hope in everything that waits. Everyone wakes up thinking today could be the day I catch a break.

“When I took the thumb drive containing these tracks into the first mixing session, the files were corrupted (laughs). I had a sort-of, almost buried piano part on there so (producer) Paul (Malinowski) said let’s make this a piano ballad now. He started taking the covering off this amazing baby grand and started miking it up. He told me, you’re going to play that (song) on this (piano). I was like (deep breath) OK, here we go. Steve Davis from Liverpool played the slide solo.”

“On and On

“’On and On’ is an old song I’ve had kicking around in my demo files for a long time. The roots of some of these songs go back pretty far. I knew I had an acoustic guitar and multi-layered vocal breakdown recorded years earlier. Eric Voeks arranged that middle part, where he and I each sing multiple layers.

“It was going to be really stripped down, just acoustic guitars and voices. I sent it to my boss with Liverpool Legends, Marty Scott. He said it needs drums and that it had R.E.M. and Jellyfish written all over it. I just went with it. I didn’t want to talk myself out of it.

“I wrote the lyrics on an airplane flying to and from a gig. The hum of the aircraft gave me a melody and I started writing them down as fast as I could. They came flooding to me pretty quick. I’m amazed at how that song went from stripped-down demo to a 12-string (guitar) and rockin’ drum beat.”

“Driver

“I wrote ‘Driver’ in one day, music and lyrics. I started it, say, maybe, 10 in the morning. By 2 in the afternoon I had a five-and-a-half-minute demo cut.

“The well-intentioned narrator in the opening few lines, he wants to do what’s right. He’s also at the mercy of life and substance. Something happens to him. I had more stanzas, but I edited them down. It was becoming too (Bob) Dylan-esque for me, getting too long and laborious. What got cut out leaves it open to as to what happens to the narrator. He has a moment where he triumphs – his willpower and the love of his life win the day.”

“Hometown

“’Hometown’ is based on a few phrases and things my dad told me when I was leaving home. I grew up in a small town in Ontario, although I’ve lived in Missouri for quite a number of years. He basically said, if things don’t work out, my door is always open. Go into the world and do your thing. Without that confidence, I would have stayed in Ontario.

“My dad passed in 2014 and I had some of (the song) written then. I finished it for this album. It was an emotional song to sing. I know it’s a peppy kind of a song, (with a) driving beat and guitar riffs. When I was trying to lay down the vocal tracks, it took me quite a few days. The first couple days I tried to do it I couldn’t make it through.

“John Perrin, the current drummer for NRBQ, plays drums on this. On backing vocals is my friend Erik Voeks. I was stuck on what kind of vocal harmony use and it was starting to interfere with the melody. I sent the song to Erik and he was kind enough to send a suite of backing vocals. I wanted to see what others could do because I was hitting a brick wall.”

“Path of Least Resistance

“This one came from a couplet in an old notebook. I had a vague melody going and it came together pretty quickly during the recording process. I thought to balance the album, I should have another rocker and so I kind of wrote it that way, to drive a little bit. I sent the tempo and chords to Marty and he pounded out a great drum part in his home studio. He sent that back to me and I layered a few more things on here. It’s my own voice, rhythm and creation, but it does harken back to right about 1980 or ’81, something that might have been around then. It balances out the album pretty well. I couldn’t think of the album without having that rocker.”

“Breaking Through

Dave Tanner

“This song was written during the period of 2020 when I was fighting with self-doubt and depression. I started asking myself when are we going to break through? Even as humanity, we’ve got to break through somehow again. The next revolution has got to be in our minds, to look forward and break through all the monotony, hate, self-loathing and rancor out there.

“People started asking if the song is about coming out of the pandemic and I guess it kind of is. We’ve gone to the edges, the highs and the lows. We can psychologically put ourselves anywhere, we can go down or give ourselves hope.”

“Feel/My Heart

“It comes from an original demo called ‘Feel.’ I had that opening guitar hook and verse and chorus. The melodic part just came to me – something to lift the chorus. Without that, the song is at one level. It shows the narrator is affected and uplifted by how the other person makes them feel. Sometimes you can’t do it with words.

“When I was laying down the groundwork, I had two minutes left on the click track after I was done with the song. Rather than just erase it, I thought I’d try to write another two minutes, so I wrote the poem ‘My Heartbeat,’ where the narrator actually finds the words. I was pretty proud of that, because the first part of the song sounds unrequited, not necessarily finding the words, but then there’s a love poem at the end. The words were there the whole time. Marty Scott played drums and I did the rest.”

“Opened Your Eyes

“I had a demo called ‘When You Opened Your Eyes Today.’ It had some guitar chords and asked some questions. It pointed inward a little bit: Who are you going to be today? Musically it’s almost a little haunting. Lyrically, it is about looking at one’s self and asking the question, when you step out into the world, what’s the deal? Where are you going? What are you going to do with your life?

“If you listen closely, there’s sort of a secret when those haunting background vocals enter in the second half of the track. Those are the attempts to answer those questions. In the first half I’m asking when you open your eyes, who are you going to be? The answer in the second half is myself. I’m going to be myself.

“The reason this song is last is that I had the other eight songs done and I saw if I was going to put this album out on vinyl, I still had some time to spare on side two. I went into my notebooks and pulled out these lyrics. It’s the last one on the album because it was the last song I worked on and I already had how the album was going to be in my head. It’s my own bonus track without being a bonus track.”

To purchase the Passerine Dream album or follow Tanner on social media, visit the band’s website.

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Review: Ringo Starr (at Starlight Theater)

Social Distancing Spins – Day 61 (Fab Four edition)

Making Movies is making waves

Social Distancing Spins, Day 1

By Joel Francis

The coronavirus pandemic has taken a lot of things away, but one thing it has provided me in abundance is plenty of extra time at home. I decided to make the most of my social distancing by doing a deep dive through my album collection. As the turntable spun, I was inspired to write about what I heard.

My intent is to provide brief snippets about each day’s albums. I understand that many of these classic recordings deserve lengthy posts on their own, but since we will be covering a lot of ground here I will try to remain brisk and on point. Ready? Let’s get to it.

Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell (1980) Sabbath’s first half-dozen albums are rightly canonical. Heaven and Hell isn’t as groundbreaking but every bit as enjoyable as those classic platters. Sadly, the Ronnie James Dio era of Sabbath is mostly remembered by headbangers these days. This is the only Sabbath album I own, but I look forward to someday adding Mob Rules to the collection.

Hot Water Music – Light It Up (2017) – Playing the most recent album from the veteran Florida rock band was intended to wet my whistle for their concert at the RecordBar, scheduled just a few days away. Alas, like everything else on the horizon it was moved forward on the calendar until a hopefully calmer time. With a name swiped from Charles Bukowski and a sound like gasoline arguing with barbed wire the show is guaranteed to be a winner whenever it is held.

The Hold Steady – Heaven is Whenever (2010) This was my least-favorite Hold Steady album when it was released and I confess I haven’t played it as much as the albums that preceded and followed it. I thought the departure of multi-instrumentalist Franz Nicolay left too much of a hole in their sound, though the band sounded great when I saw them on this tour. Playing it now, I don’t think I gave Heaven is Whenever is enough credit at the time. It’s not a masterpiece on the scale of Boys and Girls in America and not as fierce as Teeth Dreams but there are some freaking fine moments, including “Our Whole Lives,” buried at the end of side two.

Bruce Springsteen – Born in the U.S.A. (1984) What can be said about this landmark that hasn’t been said before? To be fair, this album was a request from my five-year-old son who loves “Dancing in the Dark” thanks to E Street Radio. “Dancing” is the next-to-last track, meaning he exposed to 10 other great tunes while waiting for his favorite number. Hopefully a few more of them will stick, although I’m not sure I want him singing “I’m on Fire” quite yet.

The Yawpers – American Man (2015) This Denver-based trio fits in well on Bloodshot’s roster of alt-country acts. Songwriter Nate Cook’s early 21st-centry examination of the U.S. of A. plays like a road trip. On songs like “9 to 5,” “Kiss It” and “Walter” they sound like Uncle Tupelo being chased through the Overlook Hotel by Jack Torrance.

The Highwomen – self-titled (2019) I toured the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville a few years ago. I was fascinated by the museum until the timeline reached the late 1980s. After Dwight Yoakam and Steve Earle came on the scene, mainstream country and I quickly parted ways. The four songwriters in Highwomen are trying to reclaim popular country music on their own terms. Many, many great artists have tried to bend Music City to their tastes only to retreat exhausted. The best of them found Music Row sucking up to their pioneering sound only after it became popular. My guess is that the Highwomen will follow this same route, but they are so good you can’t rule out they will be the ones to finally break the stale, chauvinistic stockade.

(I say this and then notice that I’ve namedropped two male country stars in this piece without mentioning any of the female members of the Highwomen. Sigh. Please forgive me, Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires, Natalie Hemby and Maren Morris.)

Jamila Woods – Legacy! Legacy! (2019) The Ivy League-educated neo-soul songstress focuses on the small to show us the large on her second album. Each of the thirteen tracks focus on an important black artists – Nikki Giovanni, Eartha Kitt, Jean-Michel Basquiat – explore what it means to be black in America today. What sounds like an academic thesis is actually a good dance album, thanks to a soundscape that slides between jazz, soul, hip hop, Afro-beat and even touches of EDM.

Jeff Tweedy – Together at Last (2017) Thanks to the film “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” Jeff Tweedy’s bands Uncle Tupelo and Wilco barely made it into the mainstream before the monoculture collapsed and the entertainment world splintered into a million micro-genres and sects. The eleven songs performed here are stripped of all wonky production and distilled to voice and guitar. They are still amazing.

Joni Mitchell – Ladies of the Canyon (1970) Joni Mitchell’s work in the 1970s is every bit as good as Neil Young’s and even better than Bob Dylan’s. This album finds Mitchell branching out by adding more instruments to the guitar-and-voice arrangements found on her first two albums. The jazz clarinet solo at the end of “For Free” gets me every time. Three of Mitchell’s biggest songs are tucked at the end of side two. “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Woodstock” set up “The Circle Game,” a look at mortality than never fails to leave me feeling deeply blue.

Ian Hunter – You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic (1979) Ringo’s All-Starr Band isn’t the place for deep cuts, so I knew when Ian Hunter was listed as the guitar player for the 2001 tour I held a ticket for, I knew I was going to hear “Cleveland Rocks.” The only problem was the show was in St. Louis, so it didn’t really work. That’s Hunter’s catalog in a nutshell for me. All the right ingredients are there on paper and I get excited about hearing the albums when I read the reviews, but they never fully click with me. His releases are so plentiful in the used bins and priced so cheaply I keep giving them a shot hoping the next one will be The One.

Bear Hands – Fake Tunes (2019) Another play anticipating a performance that was cancelled. They descending keyboard part on “Blue Lips” reminds me of a good appropriation of Vampire Weekend’s first album (that’s a compliment). The overall vibe sends me to the same place as Beck’s “Guero” and “The Information” albums.

Thom Yorke – Susperia (2018) I’m not sure we needed a remake of Susperia, the 1977 Italian horror classic, but I’m glad it gave us Thom Yorke’s moody score. Trading his laptop for a piano, the Radiohead frontman provides 80 minutes of spare, melancholy instrumentals. The few vocal tracks make you wish there were more.

Yorke performed in Kansas City, Mo., less than two months after Susperia’s release, but ignored his latest album until the final song of the night. His performance of Unmade alone at the keyboard was the perfect benediction for a skittery night of electronic music.

Jack White and the Bricks – Live on the Garden Bowl Lanes: 1999 (2013)

The Go – Whatcha Doin’ (1999) These albums both arrived courtesy of the Third Man Records Vault and were recorded around the same time. Jack White was always a man of a million projects. When Meg was unavailable for a White Stripes show he grabbed some buddies – including future Raconteur Brendan Benson and Dirtbombs drummer Ben Blackwell – for a set including a couple songs that would become Stripes staples, a pair of Bob Dylan covers and a song by ? and the Mysterians (not 96 Tears). The sound is a little rough but the performance is solid.

The debut album from The Go, Whatcha Doin’ is hefty slab of garage rock guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Jack White plays guitar and co-writes a couple songs, but this isn’t his show. He left the band shortly after the album came out, but there was no animosity. In 2003, The Go opened several shows for the White Stripes in the United Kingdom.

Syl Johnson – We Do It Together (compilation) This is the sixth platter in the amazing Complete Mythology box set released by the Numero Group in 2010.The material starts in 1970 and ends in 1977, omitting the time Johnson spent with Hi Records. Never lacking in self-confidence, Johnson frequently claimed he was every bit as good as James Brown and Al Green. Although he doesn’t have their notoriety, Johnson’s albums could easily slip into a DJ set of those soul masters.