Love Labor Music
"Does Not Play Well With Others"
Solo artist John P. Barton brings us this collection of fifteen original
songs conceived and produced in the space of 14 months in his Houston home
studio. While John claims a variety of classic rock influences from the
Beatles to AC/DC, Does Not Play Well With Others stays on the folky side
of rock with some bluesy touches rather than veering into heavy metal
territory, and incorporates some more modern influences as well.
John is a direct lyricist who doesn't dally around with grand metaphors or
cryptic poetry. He keeps mainly to simple conversational lyrics with an
introspective bent. The song “Faith” is a good example: “I can taste
my hate inside / A bitter stranger dep inside /I can feel you by my side /
Better a stranger to deny / I put my faith where I should not have / I put
my faith where I should not have...”
“Window” is another standout set of lyrics; I love the way the chorus
flows along: “Some could say the only thing I've ever done is waste my
time / while the world it turn outside of my window / Fallin back and
fallin down in what I think I shoulda left behind / While the world it
turn outside of my window”.
John's music seems to draw from a variety of classic rock and 90's
alternative with touches of grunge rock here and there. Sometimes the
influences are all too obvious; “Good as You” sounds to me like a lost
B-side from “Jr.'s Farm” era Wings, while “You May Never” steers
into Red Hot Chili Peppers territory, right down to the Anthony Kiedis
vocal inflections and harmonies. But overall John's sound is pretty
middle-of-the-road rock that manages to stay away from genre cliches.
I have to appreciate John's exploration of some non-standard chord
progressions and harmonies, particularly in “Shame” and “Lost
inside”; however, I think his strongest point as a songwriter is melody.
I wouldn't say every song has a great melody, but the stronger material on
the album is stuffed full of great hooks and well-crafted lines.
My favorites included “Riverside”, an acoustic rock waltz with a
McCartney-meets-Chris Cornell sound; “Lost inside”, a harmonically
adventurous uptempo rock track with a very Elvis Costello pop chorus; and
“Window”, an acoustic pop tune with a toe-tapping Traveling Wilburies
feel and infectious chorus.
Vocal and instrumental performance
John's vocals are hit and miss on this album. Some songs are just right on
the money and great, other songs are pitchy and a bit too nasal to enjoy.
His baritone voice has a pleasant quality in the lower register, kind of
like Greg Lake with a Brian Ferry lilt; he's also borrowed some vocal
inflections from Tom Petty and Paul McCartney.
John's guitar work on the album isn't amazing, but it does the job; it's
your basic rock rhythm work with some decent solos here and there. I get
the feeling he's more of a bassist who plays some guitar than the other
way around; especially since he does a really good job on the bass,
staying tight with the drums and occaisionally throwing McCartney-esque
blues licks into the bassline (“Window” and “Faith” for example).
The drum programming is on the better side of what I've been hearing
lately. The untrained ear probably won't notice that they're programmed
drums at all, though the tracks do seem to miss that bit of extra oomph
that a real drummer provides. Still, kudos to John on the careful drum
Production and recording
This album sits on the decent end of home recordings; not amazing but
pretty listenable and balanced. John's mixes are for the most part simple
and straightforward, though he dabbles in some different vocal processing
here and there, such as the distorted-flange vocals on “Pretend” or
the heavy reverse reverb on “Shame”. Apart from that, Does Not Play
Well With Others is a basic drums-bass-guitar production with a minimum of
John's background vocals were arranged tastefully and to a good effect and
brought some interest to his production style. Huge, lush harmonies and
subtly mixed “ooh” and “aah” vocals fill out many of the songs. He
doesn't overuse them, though, and seems to have a good sense of when to
just leave a solo vocal alone.
I wasn't real impressed with some of the overdriven electric guitar tones;
they lacked a certain presence or bite that I think would have
complimented the overall sound. More than once the electric was out of
tune, too. The clean electrics and the acoustic guitars had a nice sound
to them and were recorded well, though.
Overall the mix was clean and well balanced, though I felt the tones
lacked a certain amount of personality that I want to hear in a
guitar-driven album like this one. The mix could have used a better a
sense of space and depth, but to be fair these aren't easy things to
achieve in a home studio environment.
Does Not Play Well With Others
is a professionally pressed CD packaged in a jewel case. The four panel
booklet contains pictures of John and the other musicians and credits (no
lyrics, though; at least they're on the website if you want them).
The pros:There are some
absolutely great songs on this CD, particularly from a melodic standpoint;
great use of background vocals and tasteful touches of vocal processing.
The cons:The tone of the recording lacks personality, John's vocals
are inconsistent, and it suffers a tiny bit from the programmed drums (I
know, I know... what can you do?).
The bottom line: This album is hit-and-miss, but when it hits, it's
really good. There are tracks on here that I want to put on repeat, and
other tracks that I just want to skip. But the good songs are more than
good enough to make this CD worth it. If you're a fan of middle-of-the
road 70's rock or guitar-driven American Alternative, I think John P
Barton has something to offer you.