San Francisco’s Big Light recently swept into The Saint for a quick lesson in how to squeeze everything you’ve ever learned into your music and make it sound like you’ve done it in your sleep. From the beginning, the band stood way out as something extraordinary. Of course I had expected a jam band centered on peace, love and free love and what I got was a pleasant dose of analog warm 1970s rock and roll cut with a gram or two of slick and polished songwriting.
These West Coast warriors have spent every waking moment since 2007 getting things right and it’s paying off. I’m a fan of the smart arrangements and composition styles used here. Big Light throws everything from Beatles tongue-in-cheek double entendres to the two-guitar mêlée of groups such as Cheap Trick and Mott The Hoople into their mix. Speaking of those great bands, singer/songwriter/guitarist Fred Torphy has a very cool Robin Zander/Ian Hunter delivery that works well among the musical action. Picture the eye of a tumultuous storm and that’s where you’ll find Torphy with this band. And Big Light is becoming the perfect storm.
Fred Torphy launched Big Light primarily as a springboard for his own material and he enlisted drummer Bradly Bifulco as well as bay area fixture Steve Adams (who also has played with Jack Johnson) on bass. 2008 saw the addition of New Jersey guitarist Jeremy Korpas (Days Awake, Green Tag Sale) who came in and really just lifted this band into a professional status. His aggressive style and melodic lead work cleared the way for Torphy’s colorful visions.
With the key players in place, Big Light set about moving through unchartered creative courses and getting material together for a recorded project. This work has culminated with Animals In Bloom, a crossbred directive that moves from groove to punkish snarl and beyond. The new disk demonstrates that Big Light actually puts their money where their mouth is when it comes to presentation and compositional forethought.
Head tunesmith Fred Torphy knows what he’s after on Animals In Bloom and puts out trippy aural gems like “Monster,” a summer hot composition that lobs heaping helpings of hook laden chorus at your ears. Melodic vocal lines launch their Valley Of The Dolls psychedelia into a T Rex and the 1910 Fruit Gum Company harmony tirade. Waterfall wet guitars echo through the melody and the middle as Torphy wrangles this wild tune into radio land.
“Panther” dances precariously along the Bowie/Hoople edge I had mentioned earlier. Great vocals and creative guitar gymnastics keep this tune in the keeper pile. The melodic and soulful guitar solo slides right back underneath Torphy’s vocals with Harrison and Lennon panache. This is an interesting composition. Simple in form, complex in the layered build that reaches that Phil Spector proportion by the end.
“Superfuzz Fine” is a cool combination of everything we love about rock and roll. Kiss, My Morning Jacket and Degeneration all raise their influential heads at one time or another here. Harmonies are sugar sweet and the guitars have just the right grit and snarl to get you going. Torphy’s knowledge of pop melody rules the roost and when he lets finally lets Korpas off the leash, the guitarist wastes no time blowing across the musical spectrum and ripping into the back nine of this rowdy number.
With its dark, Smashing Pumpkins tones, “Departed” is another song that has radio all over it. I especially dig the in the pocket half time rhythms of Adams and Bifulco, who keep this tune bouncy as Korpas and Torphy weave six string complexities and Beatle-esque effects in between double downed vocal harmonies.
Torphy stands toe-to-toe with any contemporary writer with his smart lyrics and different look at all things of topic. I’m also glad to see that Korpas is contributing to some of the writing duties with “Good Time Of The Year” and “Triceratops.” Korpas is a gifted player that plays without sounding like every other six-string whore for hire and it’s an asset in this band. Bradly Bifulco and Steve Adams are stable anchors that make this band unstoppable.
All told the new CD Animals In Bloom holds 10 songs of interest to fans seeking new music that encompasses rock and roll tradition while at the same time embracing the future of lush, experimental direction. For more information on Big Light go to biglightband.com.
Robert Dunbar: New Jersey’s Monster, Inc.
Robert Dunbar writes unapologetic horror. He writes in the scary vein of Stephen King when King kicked ass in the 1980s. That’s about as close to a real life comparison as I can get. Otherwise, this guy is in a class all his own. His detail-oriented writing style literally pushes the imagination, traveling to destinations and scenarios that he creates especially for the readers hidden fears. And most times it can be a very scary place to end up. The two books he sent me were simply titled, The Pines and The Shore. When I asked Robert why he ended up writing horror he said, “I was so sick and tired of novels about vampires and werewolves. There had to be something American, truly American that was just as scary as all those European myths. And there was—right in New Jersey.”
The Pines explores a legend that is as old as fear itself, and Dunbar manages to whisk you into the strange, half hidden shacks filled with secrets so terrible that even the state police steer clear of these isolated locations. Roughly based on the Leeds legend and the Jersey Devil, The Pines brings you face to face with the horrible possibility that perhaps there is something out there—and its right in our own backyard.
As you submerge yourself in The Pines, you can smell the hot sand, and you can see the black spattered blood of the unfortunates. You can hear the screams and the heavy-footed things that you never want to see up close at any time of the day or night. And scattered thru the woods you see the broken remains of abandoned factories, foundries and villages. Where did they go? Why did they leave? Only The Pines can give you that dark answer.
The Shore is just as powerful albeit in a more subtle way and is filled with the stark and unforgiving imagery of Mother Nature on steroids. Taking place in a resort town that’s seen better days, The Shore releases its own dark beasts inside back lots and city blocks of a sleepy, decaying shoreworld and hiding terrible secrets deep underneath jagged boardwalk stoops. The ocean is a thematic player here, bringing havoc and a destructive storm that shields an unrelated evil in a town that doesn’t understand their true role as parasitic host. Exploring the mutational macabre and all the fears gnashing jaws can muster, The Shore will have you locking your doors and windows up tight.
Dunbar has developed an original style that stays with you for a long, long time. I see all these flowery descriptions from journalists and critics like “poetic” and “classic,” but the truth is that Robert Dunbar has come up with a formula that doesn’t tread lightly with your deepest fears and he has changed our very thought process when it comes to entering these otherwise innocent places that we’ve taken for granted. He also told me that we should expect a part three in this ongoing trilogy that will be set in Camden, NJ.
One thing is for sure, you will never catch me under the boardwalk or out in the New Jersey Pine Barrens alone or with friends—ever again. For further information on places that you may never come back from, go to dunbarauthor.com.