Let’s face it. If you’re a bassist and your name isn’t Geddy Lee or Les Claypool, sometimes you just don’t get your share of the praise pie. Oft-overlooked and perhaps the more enigmatic figures, bassists tend to be the unsung heroes of music. One such example is Pierre de Reeder: a multi-instrumentalist and founding member since 1998, de Reeder has served as bassist to the successful LA-based indie rock band Rilo Kiley. With lead singer Jenny Lewis’ foray into solo work and guitarist Blake Sennett and drummer Jason Boesel dabbling with The Elected, it seems de Reeder found the need to also allow his abilities to make a personalized impression with his years-in-the-making solo effort The Way That It Was. If he is setting out to make the point that he is a singer, multi-faceted musician and confident songwriter… point proven.
For those who appreciate album art, de Reeder made a very effective statement as to what the theme of his album is: peaceful reflection. In one of the more beautiful covers of recent years, it almost resembles a lush painting in its use of calm, pristine colors on a perfect day with a nostalgic looking man (presumably de Reeder) on the bottom right amidst all the beauty, thinking. Apparently, one can judge music by its cover since the art is highly representative of the music itself: lush, calm, pristine, gorgeous, nostalgic and beautiful.
Judging from the contemplative lyrical content alone, it seems like de Reeder had so much on his mind that recording this album sans Rilo Kiley was almost necessary. Playing almost all the instrumentation (acoustic/electric guitars and percussion) and offering lead vocals, de Reeder is establishing himself as a proper solo musician who can stand confidently on his own. Crafting songs leaning on folky pop rock, it’s evident that much of Rilo Kiley’s similar leanings may be attributed to the musical direction de Reeder showcases.
Vocally, he sounds like Elliott Smith on a good day… on uppers, even. He sings in a relaxing, airy, almost effortless fashion that reaches out and drags you onto a more peaceful plane with his music. Sure, he recruited his Rilo Kiley bandmates to play alongside him on a few tracks but The Way That It Was, for all intents and purpose, remains a one-man vehicle.
With all this talent, some of the songs still fall slightly generic and are far from incendiary. Perhaps de Reeder needs to get his heart thrown in a blender for more edge, but don’t count this one out. The record unfolds all the perennial themes of the adult male: reflection on past love, aging, introspection and coming to grips with manhood. Lace all the aforementioned together and de Reeder creates a thinking person’s album.
On album stand-out “That’s The Way That It Was,” it feels perfect for an old fashioned sing-along on the porch with your favorite alt-country lovin’ friends. Another feel-good tune is “Where I’m Coming From.” De Reeder goes back to basics with earnest vocals and piano-tinged rock until the sharp contrast of a full-on chorus begins work as a successful contradiction. For Simon & Garfunkel fans, “Never Thought” is reminiscent of equally happy-go-lucky “Feeling Groovy (59th Street Bridge Song).” Aside from adding a little pep to your step, it showcases my favorite lyric of the album: “I used to be afraid to tell you I owe you almost everything, / But now that’s the least that I can say.” It doesn’t take Carl Jung to discover de Reeder has found solace in his coming of age and welcomes adulthood wholeheartedly.
For singer-songwriter types, “The Long Conversation” has a great electro-acoustic feel for stripped down rock, but de Reeder doesn’t stop there. On “Now How I Believe,” the addition of flute shows how a tiny instrument can add a completely different, albeit pretty element to rock music. He tosses in a sing-along chorus at the end of this song, including some of his Rilo Kiley bandmates and musician friends. Not only does this provide a seamless closer to a terrific debut, but reminds that solo de Reeder will get by in the music world with or without a little help from his friends.
The Final Verdict:
If you’re looking for the perfect background music, while cooking that laidback Sunday dinner with your best friends, de Reeder’s The Way That It Was, out now, ensures the good times will flow almost as freely as the wine.
01. Shame On Love
02. I’ll Be Around
03. Sophia’s Song
04. That’s The Way That It Was
05. Where I’m Coming From
06. This Foolish Heart
07. Young and Old
08. Never Thought
09. All These Words
10. The Long Conversation
11. Not How I Believe
Written by: Mona Sheikh
Filed under: album reviews | Tagged: album review, blake sennett, Carl Jung, Elliott Smith, Geddy Lee, Jason Boesel, jenny lewis, Les Claypool, Mona Sheikh, pierre de reeder, rilo kiley, Simon & Garfunkel, the Elected |