Monday, July 22, 2019 | 8:30pm
Advance $25.00 / Door: $30.00
Sophisticated musicianship, imaginative lyrics, and a flair for melody are signatures of the sound of Monkey House, a sound that has earned the group serious critical acclaim, peer respect, and a steadily expanding international following.
Those characteristics are again evident on Friday, set for release on ALMA Records July 26, 2019. It is the fifth full-length release from the L.A./Toronto combo that has just celebrated the notable milestone of 25 years of playing together. That rare longevity has resulted in an invaluable empathy in the musical interactions of the core members: singer/songwriter/keyboardist Don Breithaupt, drummer Mark Kelso, bassist Pat Kilbride, and guitarist Justin Abedin.
Monkey House founder Breithaupt explains: “Because I’ve been working with Justin, Pat and Mark for so long, I have such a good feel for what they do well. I can play to their strengths, I can take a polaroid of something in my studio and have a pretty good idea of how it’ll pan out when the band sinks its teeth into it.”
Also contributing prominently to Friday is the elite Toronto horn section of William Sperandei, Vern Dorge, John Johnson, William Carn and Tony Carlucci, as well as percussionist Art Avalos.
Adding to the comfort level in the studio for the recording of Friday was the return of the team of co-producer Peter Cardinali and engineer John ‘Beetle’ Bailey, reprising their roles from previous Monkey House records. Cardinali also plays bass on four tracks.
All but two of the tracks on Friday are solo Don Breithaupt compositions. He co-wrote “Say It For The Last Time,” with Chris Smith (ex-Regatta) and Guido Luciani, while “Book Of Liars” is a cover of a song by Steely Dan’s Walter Becker. “As a lifelong Steely Dan fan, Walter’s death hit me hard,” says Don. “I thought it’d be a nice gesture to do one of his.”
Breithaupt is a prolific songwriter who collaborates regularly with such acclaimed songsmiths as Marc Jordan, Jay Graydon, and (his NYC-based brother) Jeff Breithaupt. He explains that the stress on solo compositions on Friday “had to do with getting songs that felt like they belonged together. When they are coming from multiple sources, it’s harder to make them all feel integrated.”
The generous 12-song collection certainly does sound cohesive, while possessing enough musical twists and turns to keep things interesting. Don terms Friday “an album that may be more rhythmically-based than any of the previous ones. For the last album [2016’s Left], I made a concerted effort to write each song at the piano. With this one, I was often looping rhythms and playing along with grooves, even on the first day of writing. When you have a rhythm going, it gives everything momentum.”
“A couple of songs here show more of an ’80s influence from bands like The Police and XTC. It still sounds like Monkey House, but it’s fun to stir in a couple of extra ingredients each time and see how they mix in. If you’re thinking of Friday on a compass, it has moved a few degrees towards R&B, soul and blues as opposed to some songs on earlier albums that were more poppy or Beatles-derived.”
As has become the norm on Monkey House records, Friday features some notable guests. Guitarist Drew Zingg (Boz Scaggs) and trumpeter Michael Leonhart (Steely Dan) have guested on previous albums and make tasteful contributions here, as does Snarky Puppy guitarist Mark Lettieri. Ground Up artist Lucy Woodward (Rod Stewart) adds background vocals throughout, while famed vocal quartet The Manhattan Transfer add their magic to the choruses of “The Jazz Life.”
Don explains, “I’m proud to say The Manhattan Transfer have been big fans of Monkey House for a while. Their presence is a major vote of confidence for me, as I’ve loved their stuff since the seventies. It’s hard to mistake the sound of those four incredible voices together.”
One song sure to provoke discussion is “10,000 Hours,” described by Don as “a winking spoof” of Malcolm Gladwell’s famed maxim. “You have to do the right stuff, not just put in the time,” he stresses. The tune features both funk and Latin feels, with Lettieri soloing in both styles.
Don notes, “I have a tradition of having at least one poppy, quirky, outlier track on an album. This time, it’s ‘(I Wanna Ride) Shotgun,’ which is designed to be fun and funky and stick in people’s heads.” It’s a tune as warm and breezy as a Malibu drive in a vintage convertible.
Equally catchy is “I’ll Drive, You Chill,” an engaging tale of a woman leaving her “pet-friendly pharmacy” life plan behind as she takes to the road in search of adventure with a total stranger. The song vividly showcases Breithaupt’s skill in creating intriguing characters and narratives.
As for the album’s title, Don explains, “As I was looking for a thread in the new material, I noticed the word Friday coming up in the lyrics. I thought, ‘This is our fifth album, and Friday is the fifth day of the week. That’s a nice tie-in.’ Plus, I was born on a Friday, and Friday is the ‘go out and enjoy’ night of the week.”
The ever-increasing audience for Monkey House music is gratifying for Breithaupt. “It means I have the luxury of putting the band at the top of my work pile, where it belongs,” he stresses. “I can put in the time and try to have every record outdo the last one.”
Monkey House has done exactly that with Friday, an album that rewards listening every day of the week.
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