Typical radio pop music can be quite easily listened to in the background and still sound just fine. If it’s got a good beat and is easy to work to, that’s usually good enough. However, truly excellent music cannot be background to anything. It demands undivided attention. This is particularly true of acoustic music. There is innate subtlety in acoustic sounds that require mental focus. Boho Chapeau, a Los Angeles band fronted by Kevin Quinn, is just such a subtle act. These 15 songs on Shadows of another Time may not all be soft and gentle, but they mostly feature excellent acoustic guitar work from George Keller, good singing and memorable songs.
At times, Quinn’s voice sounds a bit like David Bowie’s, which is unexpected because, while Bowie has recorded a fair amount of acoustic music, his closest association is with rock. Adding to the Bowie comparison is the fact that one song, titled “Pieces”, speaks about a man on the moon with a broken heart. Boho Chapeau leans toward science fiction with “No Sign of Intelligent Life.” But this song is more about disappointment with mankind in general, rather than any sort of space exploration. In a turn, “The Big Commotion” is more Earth-bound and specifically California-centered as it wonders aloud about a potentially big and damaging earthquake on the west coast. The lyric also reminds us that you can’t fight Mother Nature, so what’s the point of worrying? Another one titled “Desert Town” may allude to a natural disaster, this time a brushfire. Then again, it might merely be a metaphor. It’s a fine song, no matter how you look at it.
Big commotions, whether they are physical or emotional, can many times make us react in unusual ways. “I Had to Laugh” is a song about those emotional atmospheric interruptions. When his girl leaves him, Quinn just has to laugh. Not because heartbreak is intrinsically comedic, but because sometimes we as humans laugh to keep from crying. And when his girl returns to him, he finds himself chuckling again. Oftentimes, laughing is all we know to do. We can’t always explain why we do this; it just seems like the best thing to do at the time. “Lullaby in Loveland” also rides on a humorous reaction to love and romance. Its lyric finds Quinn trying to understand the very mysterious world of love. His voice goes from smooth to rough, and the guitar work is about as aggressive as Boho Chapeau gets. There’s a few lightning fast acoustic guitar solos, too, and the arrangement goes into a call and response vocal section at one point. Quinn can be heard happily whistling as the tune fades out.
With “Waiting for the Equinox,” Boho Chapeau truly rocks out. Over a propulsive groove that hints at James Brown-esque funk in parts, and aided by accordion and a female vocal assist, this must certainly be the song the group closes its concerts with. The group keeps the rock going with “What’s on the Inside,” which also has a bit of an acoustic groove, although it’s not nearly as hard rocking as “Waiting for the Equinox.” “What’s on the Inside” also throws in female vocals for a little extra color.
There was a time when MTV’s Unplugged was all the rage. That, of course, was also when MTV still regularly programmed music videos. Fans couldn’t wait to hear what their favorite songs, created by their favorite bands, sounded and looked like without all the electronic bells and whistles. In some cases, these new versions of songs were a revelation, in a good way. In other instances, they were a severe disappointment; those bells and whistles were what made those songs good, more than anything else. Boho Chapeau, in contrast, is a group that doesn’t need to build up and then strip its music down again. Rather, this act constructs its sound almost entirely with folk-oriented elements. But you’ll never fully appreciate what this band can do until you simultaneously power yourself down. Once you do so, you won’t regret it. It’s just not every day that you can experience music by masters of acoustic instrumentation, which also have solid rock & roll instincts. Go to a quiet place and let this excellent CD wash over you.
Review by Dan MacIntosh
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)