ALBUM REVIEW: Musical Schizophrenia by Roger Cole & Paul Barrere

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Roger Cole & Paul Barrere are an American blues/rock duo with a
wealth of talents and musical experience between them. Roger is a
multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer and audio
engineer. He has worked with Steve Vai, Dweezil Zappa and The Monkees,
amongst many others. Paul Barrere was a member of the feted rock band Little
Feat, and has recorded and performed with Jack Bruce, Robert Palmer
and Carly Simon.

Together, they formed not just this musical partnership but also a
record label, Better Daze Records. They set this label up to release their
music outside of the traditional music industry paradigm, where the
emphasis is on commercial viability rather than musical craft and
development. This album, Musical Schizophrenia, is their second
and consists of ten tracks. Musically, they create a sophisticated
blues-influenced rock, and you can hear the influence of Dire Straits,
Traffic, Pink Floyd and Leonard Cohen, just to name a few.

First song The Quiet Man is a mid-paced track that tells the tale of
man who’s become wise with experience: “He wore the crown of
ambition long enough to see the flaws, the cloak of greed creates
insatiable need, leaves you wanting more and more….”.

The song leads us through some unexpected chord progression
which suits the enigmatic subject matter ( “He stands on the
sidelines, feigning indifference…” runs the Sultans of Swing-esque
chorus). Roger Cole’s understated vocal performance allows the
poetic lyrics to shine, and there’s some tasteful lead guitar work
throughout.

The following Moto’s Monkey is a big contrast, a piece of blistering
funk rock that surges with flashes of wah-wah and an insistent vocal
melody that brings to mind Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues.
Both members contribute vocals in a very inventive way, singing at
the extremes of their range. It seems to be an ode to sex, drugs
and rock n roll: “Johnny wants an inch of wine, makes him happy
all the time , drippin’, sippin’, so sublime…”. It leads to a biting
guitar solo section in the middle.

Breakdown is a gritty rock track with a turbulent, claustrophobic
lyric about feeling the pressure and “people running in every
direction on a psychopathic caffeine high“. The cascading backing
vocals that echo the lead vocal on the chorus make for a very effective
hook, and there’s a fantastically wiry guitar solo near the end.

Breathe is a slow paced, haunting song that begins with finger
picked acoustic and shows their Pink Floyd influence. It features a
ghostly lead vocal that sits far back in the mix and there’s also some
very intricate drum fills which are allowed to shine owing to the
sparse nature of the track. Who’s Right is more of a traditional
pop/rock song that could have been recorded in the 1970’s, with
rich Eagles-style harmonies on its catchy chorus. Again, it provides
excellent contrast after the ethereal Breathe.

Bad Blood is undoubtedly the darkest song on the album, about the
misery and demons of drug addiction. Musically, it is a murky kind
of blues-rock that suits the subject perfectly. It depicts the horror of
being a heroin addict with the conviction that comes from
experience: “Blood burns, guts churn, the needle takes its toll…fall
down, hellhound begs for your return…”. It’s the most affecting
song about addiction I’ve heard since Neil Young’s classic The
Needle and The Damage Done.

Seventh song Just Keep Walking is along the lines of Who’s
Right, though with a more anthemic chorus. There’s a world-weary
melancholy in the music, but the message is positive: “Just keep
walking that same old road…follow your dreams now and you’ll never
grow old….”.

This is followed by Mary, another very emotionally affecting song.
It paints a poignant portrait of an old lady on the verge of passing
away and reflecting on her life: “She sits within the shadows in a
room just down the hall, searching for the reason for it all…”. The
chorus is one of the most memorable here and perhaps contains
the album’s most profound line: “We are just children,
sometimes we fall…doing time in the grand illusion…”.

Sail Away is another fine song, a mid-paced acoustic track
incorporating exotic percussion, which fits with the theme of
escaping from a humdrum life to an idyllic one: “On a distant shore,
our troubles will be no more, hold each other closed in the sands…spend
our days peacefully in a self-made reality, listening to the waves rushing
in...”. The vocal melody is echoed in some lovely acoustic lines on guitar.

Your Virtual Life closes the album and it’s a fine way to finish; both
musically and lyrically it recalls The Kinks. Ray Davies’ style of acerbic
social observation gets a modern reboot – an apt word, as the
lyrics satirize those who spend more time surfing the internet than
living ‘real life’. Over a bluesy acoustic shuffle full of seventh chords,
Cole parodies this modern obsession that has become all pervasive:
Your virtual life, better than the real one….a social conquest as big
as your friends list, taking up all your time…”, which makes for a very
catchy chorus. A quirky kazoo section highlights the dry humour behind
the words.

Overall, this is an excellent album that displays a large musical
range within their chosen genre, and an equally sizeable emotional
range in their very well crafted lyrics. The songs vary from serious to
satirical, from playful to poignant, all with the appropriate musical
backing that reflects what the song is trying to convey, rather than
merely a vehicle for virtuosity. For guitar aficionados, there’s
some gorgeous playing here, but this album’s real appeal is the high
quality songwriting.

 

 
Alex Faulkner

Verdict: 9 out of 10

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