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Published: 2009/04/15
by Brian Robbins

Moonalice – Moonalice

A Minor Label

Dear Mr. B: The last thing I ever expected to be doing was writing to an advice column, but this is what my life has come down to. I need help, Mr. B. I just got a copy of the debut album from the band Moonalice, okay? (You know the band, right? G.E. Smith, Pete Sears, Barry Sless, Ann and Roger McNamee, Jimmy Sanchez and sometimes get this Jack Casady!) Hey with a lineup like that, how can you go wrong, right? The problem is, Mr. B, I was waiting to be blown away and I’m not. I mean it’s not a bad album, but it’s lacking something. And now I feel so damn guilty, I can’t stand it. I mean, come on: I love all those guys have for years. What’s wrong with me, Mr. B?

Sincerely, Bummed In Boston

Dear Bummed: Well, I’ve got good news and bad news, my friend. The good news is I agree with you. The bad news is, well, I agree with you. I’ve been listening to Moonalice and have to say I’m a little let down myself. Cynics have cracked that financial wizard/guitarist/vocalist Roger McNamee has put together “the best band that money can buy,” but hey can you blame the guy? He’s doing what any of us fellow freaks would do if we had the wherewithal: invest in a great bunch of musicians that we get to play with ourselves! Cool! And for the band’s debut effort, who would you get to produce it if you could afford anybody you wanted? Well, there are a number of great people out there, but T Bone Burnett’s gotta be on anyone’s short list, right? Exactly.

So now you’ve got a group of killer players being herded by one of the best studio shepherds in the business sounds like a recipe for success to me, Bummed. The problem is, the album never takes off the way you expect it to. Were the Moonalices harnessed too tightly? (I know, I know: what kind of a nut would second-guess T Bone Burnett? I agree. But in this case, would this assemblage have been better off policing themselves?) The album is recorded beautifully (love that bass the heart of the Moonalice legend), but it’s what was recorded that’s the issue.

Blame it on YouTube and the Internet Archive, Bummed. Maybe if none of us knew what this band was capable of live, we wouldn’t feel the same way about the album. There are moments that sound like a plodding Cowboy Junkies track (“Bleeding Of Love”) or a Fleetwood Mac outtake (“Blink Of An Eye”). For some reason “Listen To Those Eyes” makes me think of Iggy Pop and Kate Pierson singing “Candy” without the drama. Ah well. The truth is, I’d trade any one of those cuts (or a couple, if they needed the room) for their pass at “Whiter Shade Of Pale”. (Go ahead, look it up.)

But there’s some good stuff too: Moonalice tears into Steve Earle’s “I Ain’t Never Satisfied” like they’re the last act in a Battle of the Bands. Or how about when they channel the Beatles on “Unspoken Words” (all I-Am-The-Walrus rhythms and trippy backwards-sounding guitar warbles) or the album-closing “This Changes Everything” (pretty steel guitar glides and big walloping drums with a chorus joining in at the end)? For my money, the best cut on the album is “Eileen Aroon”: your heartbeat has to make room for Jimmy Sanchez’ drums and the center-of-the-earth bass, to start things off. You can’t help but smile when Barry Sless and G.E. lay down a pair of beautiful cascading solos on pedal and Tele, respectively. Follow that up with a little bit of classic Sears keyboard – nice.

So there you have it, Bummed. It’s not a bad album and maybe it’s not fair to judge the band by the sum of its parts, but it coulda been great.

Your ol’ buddy,

Mr. B

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