If rumors are to be believed, San Francisco's J Burn released his 'Burnt Blue' EP as a test drive, prior to releasing a full-length album. Recorded and mixed at Bob Weir's TRI Studios with some big-time names rather than paid-by-the-hour session musicians, this EP has some credentials. So it must be pretty darn good, right?
Wrong. Despite the numerous reviews by Bay Area reviewers, who, understandably, are trying to help out a local musician, 'Burnt Blue' is an enervating EP. The problem is twofold: first, Burn's voice is too nasal, too weak and too ordinary. He sounds like the Weenie-Hut Junior version of Bob Dylan. It isn't bad, it's just not good. Second, the music, especially the melodies, is too fat. And that, in turn, makes the songs dull. There are simply too many instruments playing simultaneously. The result is an impenetrable wall of sound that, on the surface, appears placid, customary and reassuring. In reality, it's complex, thick, layered and impervious. The bottom line is that it is boring.
The EP contains four tracks. The first, 'Freight Train', is an Americana/country tune bordering on bluegrass. It's a laid-back song, with a nice, safe melody and an extended violin. Lyrically, it's just another hobo song about hitching a free ride on a freight train to wherever. Sadly, it's probably the best song on the EP. Still, it's just okay.
'Memory Lane', with its simple melody, falls short of mediocrity. The Coen brothers might consider it for one of their movies, like 'O' Brother Where Art Thou', then again, maybe not. Burn's voice is perfunctory, tinny and opaque, engendering a musical impasse. Listeners can't advance, retire or sidle away. There's no reason to keep listening. So they just turn it off.
Envision an old-time cowboy movie with Marlene Dietrich, who is in a saloon, where the pianist is playing a tacky, anemic piece. That's what the piano in 'Old Time Heroes' sounds like. The song's only redeeming feature is its Neil Young-esque feel.
'Our Song Shared' is the final track. The melody is bland and inoffensive, which, along with Burn's analgesic vocals results in an amateurish effort, like a synthesis of paradoxes.
It is, of course, presumptuous to advise singer/songwriters. Nevertheless, Burn needs to cut the fat from his compositions, perform musical liposuction. How about a guitar, a bass, the drums and maybe one other instrument? Then add a little pizzazz to the melodies, and put the vocals on a course of steroids. If that was done, 'Burnt Blue' would sound a heck of a lot better.
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