Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Music Review: Patrick Droney -- The Other Side



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In one of the many, many, many killer scenes from Almost Famous during the obligatory "great big band fight" over egos and t-shirts as lead singer Jason Lee learns he's "just one of the out of focus guys," he charges that guitarist and pretty boy Billy Crudup's "looks have become a problem." They'd made a decision going in-- you see-- to divide up the work on which guy would be Page and which one would be Plant. More specifically, they argued that Lee would be the lead singer and Crudup would simply be "the guitarist with mystique." (And yes--while it is funny as hell-- honestly, the guys have a point.)

But what happens when you get the lead singer and "the guitarist with mystique" all rolled up into one? Basically, you get teenage phenom, Patrick Droney, whose debut album The Other Side has been stuck in my car CD player for the past three weeks. Although he looked impossibly young and as clean-cut as a Mouseketeer on the CD cover-- the sixteen year old boy sure to be changing the paint color of your teenage daughter's room where his poster will be tacked up for awhile, can really "wail" as Mike Myers said in Wayne's World (and yes, I realize I'm dating myself with these references but this boy makes this Gen X'er feel oooooold).

"Turning heads since picking up the guitar at the age of 7," as the Rock Ridge Music press release reveals, Droney has since gone onto play alongside B.B. King (a la "Kid Jonny Lang"). Additionally, he's appeared as part of the rhythm section in the same legendary Jimi Hendrix Experience group that provided backup to Mr. Star Spangled Banner himself back at Woodstock, been dubbed "one of the best young guitarists alive today" by the impossibly hip SXSW Festival and also earned the Robert Johnson Star Award "as one of the country's most promising young musicians."

Initially, when The Other Side kicks off, the comparisons to John Mayer (yes, the dude who sang the endlessly creepy track "Your Body is a Wonderland" that amazingly caught on despite its allusions that Mayer never really got over playing doctor as a kid) seem justified. He has the same sort of rough but gentle radio friendly voice-- singing lyrics proclaiming that he wants to be "your everything"-- but then a funny thing happens on the way to the hook. At exactly 1:37 into track 1's "Need Me Now," he cuts loose into a full-force blend of '80s hair metal (minus the need for conditioner) and B.B. King's blues.

Serving up twelve (roman numeral labeled no less) souped up ballads-- some of which tap right into his CW Network style fan-base with heartfelt, mushy confessions of love, Droney is at his best when he pares down the vocals and proves why-- to everyone else-- Guitar Hero is just a damn game. A simple search on YouTube will call up a bevy of videos where the guitar outmatches his earnest yearnings-- with the amp turned up so high that we have absolutely no idea what he's singing (unless you own the CD). And while for all we know he could be memorizing elements on the periodic table for homework or trying to remember the phone number of the cute girls gazing adoringly at him from the front row-- honestly, we're just in it for the sounds of that incredible electric guitar.

While declarations of love and romantic angst are still the hormonal theme running throughout the vein of both Dronery and The Other Side, certain tracks stand out, including "Alive" which sounded like a slower hair metal classic, the Wallflowers meets Blink 182 styled "Bring You Back," and the anthem "Save Me," which rocks much harder than the theme of the same name on TV's Smallville.

While I was less than enthused with the title track despite a nice addition of a chorus, the second half of the album proves that aside from his squeaky clean demeanor, Droney knows a thing or two about women who've done him wrong (or hopefully we're talking about "girls" for legal reasons as he's only of driver's license age). For, either he worships at the altar of "my baby left me," or "don't you mess around with me," classics that have provided the backbone of the blues for decades or his parents may want to ask if he has some explaining to do as he reasons that there "ain't no bright side" when his baby pulls him in and pushes him out all in one night in the aptly named "Brightside."

While "Down On My Knees" and "Angel" are sure to tap right into the same screaming girl crowd that will latch onto the earliest tracks of the album which show the "softer side" of Droney-- the harder side (or to steal the titular phrase "The Other Side")-- of hard rock and guitar is what grabs us and doesn't let go in the moody character piece "Brighter Day," where his vocals work in tandem with the guitar pic as he stretches the word "for" out for four impressive syllables.

In the more traditional blues track "Reaction," he tells an instantly relatable tale that will garner him fans of his own gender in his frustration as he yearns, "Darling, I want to be more than just your friend," singing it like he means it, willing to leave his number for the chance at a phone call. Although, perhaps, it's one number that shouldn't have been offered, as he follows up "Reaction" with the hard album ender "Not That Special," which begins with cliched lyrics quickly forgiven once again when he starts making the moves on his trusty guitar as opposed to worrying about enchanting the females listening at home or in the crowd.

Par for the course of a first album, a few too many of the songs sound overly similar but it's easily forgotten as it's an instantly repeatable album which is sure to attract both blues fans (especially those who will be amazed when they discover his true age) as well as others who-- OMG-- by now are "so over" John Mayer's icky "Wonderland."

Track Listing

1. Need Me Now
2. Everything
3. Alive
4. Bring You Back
5. Save Me
6. The Other Side
7. Brightside
8. Down On My Knees
9. Brighter Days
10. Angel
11. Reaction
12. Not That Special