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San Francisco Music Club – Love & Freedom
12 tracks / 65:51
The San Francisco Music Club is not just a clever band name; it really is like a club, with membership limited to only the most talented musicians. The club presidents are the veteran Bay Area guitarists/vocalists Jimmy Dillon and Lorin Rowan, formerly of The Edge (check their older material out out, if you get a chance). They are joined by Eric McCann on bass, Matt Willis on drums, horn players Michael Peloquin, Jeff Lewis, and Mike Rinta, as well as Sakai on vocals. It is like a super-group made up of people you have never heard of before.
Love and Freedom is their self-produced debut release, and it is an ambitious and impressive piece of work that includes eleven original tracks, with Dillon and/or Rowan having a hand in all of them. The one cover tune has been reworked so extensively it might as well be an original too. Over these twelve tracks they managed to incorporate most every funky genre that is available in western music, including rock, funk, ska, reggae, Latin, Afro-Cuban and maybe even a touch of the blues. They did it all with excellent production values while maintaining a positive vibe, and I think this collection of songs will be sure to put a smile on your face.
The first track is “Crazy Lovesick Blues” which shows how well Rowan and Dillon’s vocals work together. It sounds like there are five layers of guitars over the Afro-Cuban beat, but they are all tastefully done. Up next is “4 Winds” which would fit in well in a Jimmy Buffet album, with a laid-back countrified island beat overlaid with horns and a little acoustic guitar. Well, it might be a little too-well written for a Jimmy Buffet album.
“Istanbul” takes a difference direction with smooth vocals and heavy guitars. This one brings in more keyboards, and there are a lot of funky (in a good way) harmonies on this tune. This song shows that these guys are not just good musicians, but they know their way around the studio too. This leads to an ode to Louisiana with “Ponchatrain,” which adds a harmonica, horns and a Zydeco taste to the poppy Caribbean beat which the San Francisco Music Club does best. Sakai adds her vocals to this song and her voice is beautiful, especially when she is harmonizing with the guys.
Not surprisingly, “Revolutionary Man – Bob Marley Tribute” has a reggae beat, and after this song I can start to see the Marley influence in the rest of their music. The title of “Te Quiero” also gives a hint of its roots, but calling this Latin music just scratches its surface, as its Latin instrumentation is a foundation for a seriously jazzy tune. This is some really smooth stuff, my friends.
The San Francisco Music Club chose to include a cover of one of my all-time favorite songs, “You’ve Lost That Lovin Feelin’” and has outdone my previous favorite cover version of this song that was done by The Firm. I got into an argument with a friend of mine as to whether this is a ska song or a reggae song, but I am writing the review so I am going to call this one a slow tempo ska tune. Either way, it is a winner and I love it when bands reinterpret classics like this into new genres.
This CD ends with an acoustic reprise of “Love Can Be,” which I prefer to the pop/reggae/rock version that appears at number three in the batting order. This one is just lovely as it starts off with a harp and Jimmy and Lorin’s voices, later on weaving in some nicely-picked acoustic guitars and assorted strings. This song has such a positive message and a sweet sound that it is a perfect way to wrap up this project, which I thoroughly enjoyed listening to from beginning to end.
There is a little something for everybody on this San Francisco Music Club release, so if you are looking for an album where every song sounds the same, this is probably not your best choice. But, if you can appreciate twelve tracks that showcase fine songwriting and musicianship and leave you feeling better than you did before you listened to them, Love and Freedom might be just the ticket.
Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at rexbass.blogspot.com.