Love Labor Music 
review of
 "Does Not Play Well With Others"

original found here

Overall impressions

 
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.

Songwriting 

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 programming.

Production and recording quality 


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 processing.

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.

Packaging 

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).

Summary

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.

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