John Gaar – Brighter Side Of Maybe
2011, Jango Bleaux Records
2011, Jango Bleaux Records
John Gaar picked up a guitar at the age of thirteen, and rumor has it he's yet to put it down. Gaar turned down a music scholarship at the age of eighteen to go on the road and has never looked back. Along the way he's recorded or performed with the likes of Burton Gaar, Red Archibald, Chubby Carrier, Rockin' Sydney, Michael Cross and Malford Milligan. Gaar has moved back and forth between his roots in the south and the San Francisco Bay area over the years, ultimately settling down (for now) in Austin, Texas. There he has quietly become a prominent songwriting force with his blend of blues, rock, folk, Americana and jazz. Gaar's latest effort, Brighter Side Of Maybe, shows off his distinctive songwriting style and sound.
Brighter Side Of Maybe opens with "It Is What It Is", a catchy and vibrant blues/rocker featuring stylish guitar work and a distinctive pop sensibility. Gaar's working class voice is the perfect balm here; solid with just a hint of gruffness underneath. "Sooner Or Later" is a dark blues/rocker steeped in fatalism and richly recursive guitar licks. Gaar builds the sound with stark vocal harmonies in minor triads to create an intriguingly bleak sonic palette. Gaar works in a bit of country into the blues/rock milieu on "Angel Flew Away", a melancholy ballad with subtly significant guitar work. Gaar approaches a perfect moment here, transcending sound and style to imprint on your mind a song you'll return to again and again.
A Robert Cray influence shows its head on the catchy pop/blues of "Still In Love With You". The arrangement is as tight as a wire; the musicians pushing the bar and each other throughout. Gaar responds on vocals, digging into the melody line with a fierceness that surprises. A bit of repetition might distract you from how well-constructed "Ain't No Hill For A Stepper" really is. Gaar has built the song around a dynamic blues/rock guitar, buttressing it with distinctive vocal harmonies. You'll have a hard time shaking this tune once the album is done playing. Gaar changes tempo and tone with "Between The Lines", an introspective and melancholy soul searching ballad. This is a solid tune, but it does seem a little out of place on Brighter Side Of Maybe.
"The First Step" is a straight-up blues/rocker that sets the musical ship to rights again, and paves the way for "Brighter Side Of Maybe"; a glass half-full rocker full of oomph and good humor. This is sure to be a fan favorite in concert, and seems a likely candidate to get picked up in the licensing world. Gaar winds things down with two ballads that end up over-staying their welcome. Clocking in at 6:17, the woeful ballad "Shoulda Been A Good Day" is just too blue for too long, zapping the momentum out of Brighter Side Of Maybe. Ditto "Let Me Show You", which clocks in at a herculean 5:50. The latter is an emotionally overwrought ballad buoyed by an outstanding arrangement and instrumentation, but which will challenge the stamina and good cheer of listeners by not knowing when to call it a night.
John Gaar makes a distinctive impression with Brighter Side Of Maybe, displaying a fiery guitar style and memorable voice against the backdrop of well-written and occasionally stellar songwriting. In fact, Gaar approaches brilliance across the first eight songs on Brighter Side Of Maybe, but surrenders the flow of the album of two solid but ill-fitting songs of melancholy at the close. Brighter Side Of Maybe remains essential, however, for showing it’s still possible to write and record an album of viable, original and fresh blues/rock album that bows to influences without giving itself over completely to the sound of others. John Gaar will make you believe once again in blues and rock n roll.
Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)Learn more about John Gaar at www.johngaar.com or www.myspace.com/johngaar. Brighter Side Of Maybe is available from Amazon.com as a CD or Download. The album is also available via iTunes.