Various Artists: Friends and Lovers: Songs of Bread

Various Artists
Friends and Lovers: Songs of Bread

Bread were one of those groups that people loved (and some still love) to listen to in their spare time — the soft acoustic folk-pop of sweet harmonies, lovely melodies and sugary love songs. But if you were to ask these same people more about the band, they might just leave a bit confused, or not give any details. The artists on this album run the gamut of rock and pop from Cake to Josh Rouse to Paula Frazier. And they have brought these classic AM staples back to life with the same care and thoughtfulness that David Gates, Rob Royer and James Griffin brought to them in the first place.

The album begins with “It Don’t Matter to Me” by Josh Rouse, with his higher vocal range hitting all the right places as it just saunters along like an aimless Sunday morning stroll. Listening to it you think that you’re listening to Rouse cover a new Ron Sexsmith tune — the same attention to detail and relatively direct, economical way with words are the keys here. And while you’re only a minute in, you feel that you’re listening to a newfound guilty pleasure. Drummer Keith Brogdon does a great job keeping time and adding colored fills in spots.

The deft touches, the light feel and the generally well-crafted songs are what make this record shine. Call And Response’s version of “Baby I’m A Want You” is an off-kilter ditty that opens like an homage to The Carpenters and then ventures into an eclectic pop domain that sounds like it’s not timeless but stuck in the same era. This is a slight exception or aberration, judging by the wet and damp effects on “Games Of Magic”, with its dreamy, CSN or CSN&Y thumbprint all over the tune. Jon Auer, better known for his work in The Posies, nails this song with his own harmonies and by being a jack of all trades on the track. It goes into a roots-y-meets-John Denver swaying vibe, still true to the song’s core but adding some orchestral textures over it. Cake’s rendition of “The Guitar Man” isn’t bad, with its cheesy synth touches weaving in and out of the track. It travels into a rockier format though, sounding as if Cake is doing a cross between Bread and “Mr. Bojangles”.

Like most artists worth their salt, Bread’s songs should glisten when they are stripped down, which is what Erlend Oye does during the title track, “Friends and Lovers”. Sparse, and relying on Oye’s pipes to haul the song along, the tune is perhaps one of the favorites on this record thus far. You get the sense that this is the way Bread wanted — or would want — these songs to be recorded. “Everything I Own” will probably be your truly first “Oh (expletive), I know that song! They did that?” moment as Paula Frazier excels on the Americana / effort a la Emmylou Harris. It might even outweigh the version Boy George did years ago. And for a select few, you will be driven back to Extreme’s “More Than Words”, somewhere in your old dusty cassette bin. This effort makes the ensuing “Down on My Knees” by The Posies’ Ken Stringfellow a very light, breezy and almost brittle formulaic summer pop attempt. “I Use The Soap” atones for this miscue with another heartfelt, simple but very appeasing performance by The Dambuilder’s Dave Derby. The “la la la la las” roll off his tongue while the song itself makes you think of Elliott Smith.

There are a few songs that stand out without question. And one of those is “Too Much Love”, by Emily Sparks, who downplays the song with a lullaby feeling. At times Sparks whispers the lyrics in a hushed, hymnal tone as she plays the instruments also. Just as sweet is “Look at Me”, a track by the Moore Brothers that will get your attention for its resemblance to a certain duo whose first names were Paul and Art. “If” then brings the album to a whole new level as Rachel Goswell comes across like the new Marianne Faithful. A gorgeous, haunting and sometimes spine-tingling bit of work that, again, will make people cue-in and clue into what Bread did during their days.

RATING 7 / 10