John Raymond Pollard: Character
"Character", a 13-song musical tour/adventure over land and through time, is bi-continental musician John Raymond Pollard's fifth album of original songs. If there is a common theme running throughout the album, it's that-- true to its title-- John Raymond Pollard manages to create (and, in some cases, recreate) vivid, full-blooded characters through his music. He also creates (and, again, recreates) the actual settings that these characters find themselves in-- through fate or otherwise. Throughout "Character", there are equal parts reality and fantasy, past and present, socially/politically important and irreverent. "Bar Sinister" (literally defined as "the proof, condition, or stigma of illegitimate birth"), for example, boasts a medieval storyline and sound (including mouth harp), with a reference to "young Willie Shakespeare" and Pollard even adopting an Olde English twang to his voice. Listeners familiar with John Raymond Pollard's work will likely already know that this singer has a special affinity for both political awareness and the sounds of other cultures around the world. There's a misconception that music with political themes cannot be enjoyable. Likewise, the overused term "world music" is just too broad and too vague to clearly identify any individual artist's sound. Pollard defies those preconceptions with his music. More specifically, many of his songs have a heightened sense of political awareness but are delectably easy on the ears. Similarly-- and speaking of ears-- Pollard has a very keen ear for the music of many different cultures. He's probably one of the only artists who could reference Billy Graham and Reverend Moon, and deservedly (but more politely than its target deserves) take a swipe at our Vice President, known by the not-so-subtle pseudonym of "Mr. Hal O. Burton", on "A Fool on the Hill (Ballyhoo)"-- yet not have the song sound too, shall we say, "heavy". Indeed, the casual listener will likely enjoy the melody but not even catch the politically significant references, at least right away. If I didn't personally know the artists' own distaste for the evils of excessive capitalism, I would suggest that the catchy hook of the lyric "And you, what is it you listen to?..." on "Fool on the Hill", would make a great background theme for a commercial for I-Pod or an online music store!
The album's opener, "Angel's Wings", is a high-energy track, with an aura as spiritual as the title implies. It's bolstered by some energetic guitar playing, with accents of trumpet and violin for a somewhat medieval quality. Religious imagery abounds, and for a while we may interpret that "Angel's Wings" is about a spiritual awakening... until the astute listener learns that the song is actually about-- the Inquisition. "Family Values" takes a rather different turn, this time using present-day Far Rockaway, Queens, as a setting. As if the lyrics weren't telling enough ("Pretty like Maria, though not quite as young; Her mama kissed a greeting, slipping me the tongue"; "Her brother's back on welfare, little sis a petty thief; Her cousin's been professin', a newly found belief"...), the irony of this song becomes all the more apparent when we ponder how an artist with such an enlightened view of the world can be happy at a blue-collar family gathering in the outer boroughs of New York City. "Family Values" is really bolstered by some invigorating and exhilarating vocals by special guest vocalist Mary Edwards. "A Fool on the Hill" sucks the listener in with an amazingly infectious, almost retro-sounding melody and some unique musical gimmickry (Is that a flute we hear?)... yet with some very modern political references and themes. A much more overtly political drama-to-music comes with "Guantanamo". The subject is one that most artists wouldn't dare tackle, and the results hit the listener like a jagged-edged brick. Even the rhythm sounds heavy and oppressive, appropriately matching the atmosphere of chains, barbed wire, and cement that we envision. Some harrowing touches, like a spoken word interlude in Spanish, really contribute to the effect on the listener. "Amazing Grace" is not, before you ask, a reworking of the gospel standard, but rather an ethereal number with a rock guitar interlude. "My Only Vice is You (I'm Addicted to Your Kiss)" is a high-energy song performed with complete abandon-- and without irony, I might add! Speaking of being sung with abandon, "Special Delivery (Postal)", in which the artist takes on the persona of the ultimate disgruntled postal worker, is so deranged-- but often so funny-- that you just can't help but like it ("I'll take a trip to your zip code, I got my lick on your stamp; Melted cow bones and mint make a taste that gives my tongue a cramp.") . "The Recidivist (Hoosegow)" adopts a "Wild West" aura, with some tongue-in-cheek lyrics ("My cell phone is the wired kind"... "There's lots of bars that don't serve wine."). As the listener learns about the protagonist's fondness for a certain "Deputy Denny" ("I'll be with Deputy Denny; for you and me he keeps civil peace; You see he gives me a hard, a very hard time; Ooo-eeeh! We need release!"), the song becomes one of the most unorthodox stories about forbidden love that we have heard in a while... or perhaps the theme song for the most avant-garde spaghetti western you're likely to see.
A true high point comes with "At Stake", a song about one of history's most enduring heroines, Joan of Arc. Adding to the breathtaking vibe of this song is Pollard's unique touch of using both male and female voices to bring Joan's character to life. For this, Pollard gives a generous amount of voice time to Isabella Rose. Her vocals are grand, soaring, and far-reaching; she hits some amazing notes. In four minutes, this song possibly tells more about this famous messenger's motivations than all we've learned in history class, with a great deal of the credit going to Pollard's lyrics.
For "Character", John Raymond Pollard experiments with many different genres and themes, but throughout the entire album, Pollard's distinctive voice remains the enduring, stable element-- from the first lyric to the last. His voice is always clear in focus, always distinct in delivery. John Raymond Pollard has got plenty of his own unique shade of soul to spare, and he definitely carries his years of experience and worldliness (Note how I say "worldliness" and not "world-weariness") along with that voice. Given the central theme of "Character", it almost seems as though Pollard is reflecting that no matter where in the world you are or whatever time period you may be in, the inner soul-- as expressed through the human voice-- begs to remain the same. In the past, John Raymond Pollard's music has taken the listener by the hand and ear to discover the music of different cultures. On "Character", he takes us one step beyond and encourages us to discover other aspects of humanity through different periods of time. What universal lessons should we learn? Well, that's up to you!
PM Entertainment Magazine
Jed Ryan - PM Magazine (Apr 8, 2008)
JOHN RAYMOND POLLARD'S "MAP OF THE AMERICAS: LINHAS DA MAO" CD RELEASE PARTY at ROCKWOOD
Musician John Raymond Pollard played a large part in turning me (and no doubt, many others...) on to world music-- at least, the music from the part of the world that Pollard knows so well. The prolific New York City singer/songwriter spends a great deal of time in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, and he brings a great deal of musical influence back from that country to his stateside listeners. Less than one year after the release of his intensely political album "Body Politic", which featured songs like "King George" (an unambiguous anti-tribute to our, ahem... beloved leader), Pollard has released his fourth and possibly most personal CD, "Map of the AmericAs: Linhas da Mao", a rich and spicy sopa of sounds and emotions from some of the most inspiring places in the Western Hemisphere-- including songs with Portugese and Spanish lyrics. On Sunday August 21st, John Raymond Pollard celebrated the release of "Map of the Americas: Linhas da Mão" at New York City's Rockwood Music Hall, promising a show that would "allow you to get away for a one hour vacation as summer moves into its final weeks." As much as I love New York City, who could resist that? At Rockwood that night, Pollard declared, "Tonight we're going to be traveling-- North and South America, the Caribbean, all over the place..." The audience got to hear 11 songs, 9 of which were from the new CD. John Raymond Pollard, who does vocals and guitar, brought four very talented musicians along for the journey: Jorge Amorlin on percussion, Mike McGinnis doing double duty with the clarinet and the saxophone, Toshio Mana alternating between piano and bass (Talk about two versatile guys!), and Dionisio Santos on electric guitar and cavaquinho-- an instrument that looks and sounds like a ukelele. The show opened with "Lifeline" ("There’s so much love in a lifetime; There’s so much more when you walk down the street, smile at people you meet, and you watch as sweetness unfolds..."). True to its name, the song is indeed life-affirming. The somber "New Orleans" was next. The audience soon got to notice that all the musicians that night had their own moments to showcase their individual-- and very impressive-- musical skills: like the bewitching clarinet in "Lifeline", or the intense percussion in "New Orleans". Moving down past the Tropic of Cancer to South America ("one of my favorite places to be", declared Pollard), next up was the playful love song "Moreno Moreno" (With lyrics like, "No one will find a finer design than the outline you make in that pose; The curve of your spine is the most perfect line of poetry I know...", it's my own personal favorite on the CD), and then "End of the Season". Continuing in South America, Pollard gave the background story for the Spanish-language "Tango de los Desaparecidos": In 1983, Argentina was under military dictatorship, and over 9,000 Argentines were "disappeared" by the government. This song was for the desaparecidos-- or "disappeared ones". Each of Pollard's songs imprinted the audience with a specific feeling: "New Orleans" is clearly mournful, "End of the Season" is thoughtful and poignant, "Moreno Moreno" is fun, flirty, and sexy. Yet, Pollard's lyrics and soulful delivery, combined with the instrumental nuances by his supporting músicos, made each and every song a highly intricate and complex performance. Later on, we got to hear the popular "King George". The song received extensive airplay on numerous radio stations during the tense 2004 election season, and it's a live favorite-- for good reason. The entire Rockwood Music Hall was singing along: "Dubya, dubya, dubya, dub-dub-dub-y-a! ... Dubya, dubya, dubya, dub-dub-dub-y-a!"
Another treat was "Mabel", a song set in Puerto Rico, which makes it "American samba"-- featuring dueling Portugese and "Spanglish" lyrics. John Raymond Pollard has an affinity for bossa nova, a style of popular Brazilian music derived from the samba. That night, we got to hear "Muvuca", a bossa nova in Portugese, and "Holding", a bossa nova with English lyrics, from Pollard's eclectic 2002 album "Passion, Poison, & Politic." Mr. Pollard and band closed with "Deuce" ("All the world's a stage in New York City; Ever changing sets and sights and sounds; Spectacle and roles so wise and witty; Everyone in some great lost and found..."), almost as if to say, "We're back in Manhattan now!" The creative synergy between the five artistas that night was incredible, and the audience was simply mesmerized. Rockwood Music Hall, which has become a great showcase for independent artists of all genres, offered the band and audience the perfect intimate setting. Hell, you could feel the puffs of air from the cymbals crashing and see the intense looks on the faces of this quintet of talented musicians as they played.
Check out www.JohnPollard.com for this "world pop" artist's bio, lyrics, live schedule, mp3's, and much more. No doubt, as John Raymond Pollard continues to be inspired by the worlds both within and outside of New York City (and yes, Virginia, there is one!), his audience will continue to benefit as well. "Map of the AmericAs: Linhas da Mao" is a trip well worth taking!
Jed Ryan - PM Entertainment Magazine (Oct 3, 2005)