Hailing from Lawrenceville, NJ, The Beagles recently celebrated over half a century of live and recorded music that got its start in the Garden State. And their Jersey-style encompasses a wide variety of sounds and styles including power pop and roots-driven rock that feature catchy tunes, infectious hooks, and high live performance energy as well as some jazzy and sultry tunes spotlighting their new singer. The Beagles can tailor their lineup to suit a wide range of functions, from outdoor electric gigs to acoustic performances as either a quartet, trio or a duo for smaller settings.
Lon Van Eaton (a former Apple Records recording artist and Beatles collaborator) produced 17 tracks on The Beagles’ debut album: Bed of Roses. The Beagles’ striking line up pairs dominant male and female lead vocalists — in the style of Fleetwood Mac, Jefferson Starship and The Mamas and The Papas — enhanced by a strong harmony singer who doubles on sax. Their sound melds composer Rob Freeman’s rock-edged vocals with the great purity of Vanessa’s voice (she is classically trained and a talented jazz singer) in a power pop package that spotlights their harmony, hooks, and sultry seductions. They also show their range with tracks that lean in country and jazz directions. Freeman also produced a couple of the tracks, and the disc was engineered by Peter Gregory.
The Beagles’ work on Bed of Roses will be the subject of upcoming stories several writers including this one, and their early progress towards recording the album was covered by the Lawrenceville Main Street Blog. Rob’s love of catchy classic rock sounds was previously spotlighted with his reinvention of the song “Just One Victory” for the album Still There Is More…A Tribute To Todd Rundgren Part II on Third Lock Records. Reflecting on his experience working with The Beagles, producer Lon Van Eaton commented, “I hope you realize someday that my experience with The Beatles had similarity to what I did in our relationship. I learned afterward that they thought I had talent, so they laid it on me. Lesser talents are more often ignored.”
The Beagles recently celebrated their new release with a CD listening party and concert on September 20 at the Blue Pomegranate Music & Arts Community as their sixth season opener at Cook Hall on the Blawenburg Reformed Church campus at 424 Route 518, Skillman, NJ. Autographed CDs and t-shirts are currently still available for purchase. Later this month, The Beagles will be leading A Historical Celebration of Motown at Hinds Plaza in Princeton on September 30 at 2 p.m., a three-hour event produced in conjunction with the McCarter Theatre Center and Princeton Public Library that reunites all the past and present members of The Beagles along with many of their friends from the Einstein Alley Musician Collaborative (a coalition of Princeton area musicians that Rob has led since 2014).
The Beagles are comprised of Rob Freeman, lead and backing vocals, guitars; Vanessa Rose, lead and backing vocals; Steve Wolpert, sax, vocals; Chris Clark on bass; and David Ross on drums. And while Freeman is the writer on these songs, each band member contributes their individual talents on every song, including special guests Jay Posipanko who plays piano, organ and steel drums on many tracks and Alex Otey who contributes piano on three tracks.
So, let’s take a listen to some of the 17 songs on this new East Coast group and see what they’re all about.
The first track on the disc is called “Happy Happy”. Freeman and Rose harmonize and dart in and out of verses, taking turns and blending vocal magic to create their upbeat, poppy ode to bands in the style of Van Morrison. Freeman’s sunny guitar style is reminiscent of 1970s Jerry Garcia, and the steady beat of Clark and Ross keep things moving at a swift and steady pace. If you’re looking for alternative-based music, this probably won’t be your cup of tea. This is a band that takes you back to the earlier sounds of rock ‘n’ roll and leaves out the noise and dissonance as they do it. It is more about talent mixed with compositional style than it is about making some sort of a statement in a world gone completely berserk. It’s refreshing to hear a positive song that centers more on being cheery instead of morose and dark. Sax work courtesy of Steve Wolpert is to the point and melodic in nature, following the vocalists and adding a distinctive flavor that makes this song stand out in a good way.
Another outstanding song is “Marry My Music”. Freeman waxes poetic on music and the virtues it carries over relationship longevity and the like. Guitars scuffle along as bass and drums kick a steady four/four rhythm straight to the heart. Wolpert is back with sax breaks that cue in and out of the song throughout. Jay Posipanko lends his expertise on organ on the track, and it adds that background keyboard whir that this song fits to naturally. Rose and Freeman have a special and natural fitting ability to harmonize and take turns with verses like they’ve been singing together for decades. Freeman likens his music to a fully blossomed relationship, and the comparison works quite well. With the addition of Wolpert on backing vocals along with his sax work, “Marry My Music” is a match made in heaven.
“Came To Me” is another excellent song that doesn’t fit the usual rock mold and still manages to make an impression. Vanessa takes the lead here, utilizing her training and experience as a jazz singer to make this song swing wide. Focusing on love and the situations that can sour a relationship, Rose tells her story with class and style. Freeman’s guitar playing is another highlight that I love. If you like early Jeff “Skunk” Baxter and his work with Steely Dan, you’ll love Freemans playing work on this song. His electric tone is clean and dark, possibly played on a Les Paul style guitar and utilizing pentatonic riffs and passages. Alex Otey plays beautiful piano on this one and Wolpert teams up for an intro piece and a melodic performance in the middle-eight and end. While I wouldn’t consider this to be jazz, I do hear certain similarities in many prog rock groups or pop groups such as Cat Stevens, Fleetwood Mac, lots of Renaissance and a little Roberta Flack just to name a few. Freeman also plays acoustic guitar in the background, and it blends with pianos to deliver a lush and addicting sound. Wolpert’s sax work also combines with Freeman’s electric lines and helps put this song on my favorites list.
Another song I wanted to mention in the disc’s namesake. “Bed of Roses” is a special song that melds several styles including soft rock, country, and southern rock. Blending acoustic guitars with percussive elements and sax and what appears to be cello work, “Bed of Roses” swings to its own original beat. Rose delivers country-tinged vocals along with Freeman’s backing assist as well as additional accompaniment by Clark and Ross (Ross also plays bongos on this one) and the ever-present work of Steve Wolpert. “Bed of Roses” is an extraordinary composition and it runs a rich and varied course as the band goes through its paces. Probably my favorite of the Rose-sung pieces, the song explores the subject matter of love, relationships, and the pieces that fit between the cracks of life. Friends, lovers or whatever the case might be, Rose and Freeman delve deep into the details of life, love and the quandary it puts us in. The middle-eight brings Wolpert into the spotlight along with the cello work and rhythm section that starts to pick up steam and switch from percussion only to real drums along with bass.
Bed of Roses consists of 17 songs in total, and while I don’t have space to discuss each and every one here, I would suggest picking this CD up at a show or from the website and add it to your collection. It’s a breath of fresh air and a band that won’t disappoint those looking for something different and outside of the typical Americana or Pop rock that commandeers the airwaves now.
As mentioned earlier, you’ll be able to catch the band live on September 30 as The Beagles will be leading A Historical Celebration of Motown at Hinds Plaza in Princeton at 2 p.m., a three-hour event produced in conjunction with the McCarter Theatre Center and Princeton Public Library that reunites all the past and present members of The Beagles along with many of their friends from the Einstein Alley Musician Collaborative (a coalition of Princeton area musicians that Rob has led since 2014).
For more information on The Beagles and their brand-new CD, Bed of Roses, head over to their website at beaglesband.com. You can also find Blood of Roses at CDBaby.com.