Segue, the sophomore release from Rockford, Illinois's own Johnathan Kuss & the Corporation, serves up a dozen songs that defy easy categorization yet remain more than worth a listen. There's a loose and dirty bar-band feel to much of the album's music, a casual nonchalance that lends itself well to the emotional songs and voice of Mr. Kuss. He's a cross between Jakob Dylan (Wallflowers) and Adam Duritz (Counting Crows), following a sort of amplified rootsy, folk-rock muse with a tight backing band that often veers into Southern rock territory.
After leaving the band Silt, Kuss recorded a solo EP with several studio session players who decided to stay on and become "The Corporation". They are: Nick Auriemmo on drums and percussion, Jeffro on bass, Jim Westin Jr. on keys, and a guest spot from Mark Dimonica on sitar. Kuss, a former art student from Illinois State University, handles the vocals and guitars.
The band works well as a unit, and Jimmy "the" Johnson (Cheap Trick, the Pimps) keeps the production intimate, as if the band is playing in front of you in some smoky room late at night. The first listen through, you get a sense of rock competence; with repeated listens, subtle musical nuances reveal themselves. There's a lot here to digest if you have time to live with it for a while.
The CD opens with "Superficial", a decently rocking number in which Mr. Kuss works his vocal magic, spitting out phrases with venom and spirit: "I chased it down with Prozac and empathy / Then I would soak them in the water that fell / I would step back and take a look at myself / I would hold on and wish you well while you lay there". It's suitably infectious, with likable harmonies and strength to its message.
"Where Everything Glitters" finds Kuss and the Corporation starting out in more of an acoustic folkie mode (almost Guster-like), then they kick it up a notch. This pleasant song is catchy too, and features some fine guitar fills amid some semi-obscure lyrics. It's about Kuss wanting to be someone famous and wanting to take "his people" along for the ride.
Kuss and company hit Counting Crows-realm with the song "Revolution, Mother!" It's an intriguing upbeat number, but instead of Mr. Jones we get Mrs. Abigale. Still, the commendable enthusiasm encourages you to get in line and join up with this revolution. We get a similar musical feel to the drug-story behind "Ten Scrillas". I'm not sure these are lyrics worthy of musical accompaniment, but the song sounds decent enough.
"Visible from the Moon" is more of a ballad, a spare arrangement that delves into some pretty descriptions of love and friendship amidst emotive vocals. The drums are almost military at times, and there's a fine guitar lead to boot. "No Thanks" is another song where Kuss lets loose with extended guitar solos.
A standard upbeat rocker, "All My Horses" sounds good (and again, allows for some fine guitar), but sports lyrics that don't hold up to any close scrutiny. Sometimes Kuss gives you the feeling that he's carried off on a stream of consciousness (and it's best to just let him go there, rather than try to make sense of it all).
"One Hundred Years" almost attempts to take on some philosophical issues in a totally rudimentary way, but the upbeat song and enthusiasm recall the Plimsouls on this particular track, and that's a good thing.
"Beautiful Addiction" builds slowly into a nice song, but again, features some fairly inscrutable and disappointing lyrics. "Luck" expands the sound a bit with some organ additions and a reverb chamber for some vocals; "Cherry" takes the bar band song and lifts it into the psychedelic realm via the use of sitar (and I quite like the results).
The album closes with "Tribes", sort of a different sound for Kuss and the band. This five-minute tribal end piece starts slowly and features feedback noise and backward loops. It's a much more modern sound, disjointed at times, but infused with energy and anger that eventually returns to more recognizable ground when the guitars kick in. I'm not sure if this song belongs with the others, but it's a powerful close to the music.
Johnathan Kuss and the Corporation are fun to listen to, and Segue offers up several good songs. While I'd argue that there's plenty of room for future lyrical growth, this still offers a lot of good music (so long as you don't require profundity). Kuss has a winning voice, and he and his band execute these songs in a way that has you feeling as though you're in a smoke-filled bar, hearing them live and thoroughly enjoying them. While not every song here is a winner (and there's some repetition to the overall sound), there's enough promise shown to warrant looking out for whatever Segue next segues into.