[23 May 2006]
Q: What do you get when you combine mid-‘90s Dinosaur Jr, Sebadoh, and Pavement?
A: Hudson Bell.
Hudson Bell’s third release, When the Sun is the Moon, is nothing if not a terrific homage to some of the brighter lights of the ‘90s alternative guitar-rock scene. It’s not a rip-off per se; it’s more of a perfect blending of some grand moments. The guitar is the center of it all, and the song structures evoke the soaring feeling that J. Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Stephen Malkmus (circa Wowee Zowee) achieved at the height of their crafting prowess. Add to that the similarities in the vocals of Hudson Bell and his ‘90s contemporaries and one feels a definite flashback to a decade ago. Sounding disaffected in a dreamy way, the vocals can still catch the listener off-guard with the slight pauses and unobvious inflections (a talent that Mr. Malkmus is never given enough credit for).
But first, some background. Hudson Bell, the band, is led by Hudson Bell, the man. Hudson Bell sings and plays guitar. John Slater is the bass/piano/organ player. The drummer is Brian Fraser. This is a three-piece that sounds like an eight-piece. The songs do not flinch from length nor grand sentiments (“Who said that we die alone?” from “Slow Burn”) nor lengthy guitar solos. This is music to enjoy an afternoon by, on a porch with a beverage and a good novel. It also practically guarantees you will look up at several points and think, “Man, that guy is an expressive guitar player.” And when Bell sings about “driving through the mountains, listening to a song” (“The Falls”), the band follows with such beautiful musicianship that it just takes closing your eyes to follow them along on the car ride, which of course must turn into more than that: it’s truly a journey.
In the end, although this may be redundant for those of us who actively lived the ‘90s music world, any kid or young adult whose exposure to that decade lies in Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, et al., would do well to get When the Sun is the Moon as soon as possible. For us “Been There Done That” people, well, this is still pretty damn gorgeous, as familiar as it may be. There’s nothing wrong with loving a sound, even if it’s been heard before.