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Thursday, Dec. 13, 2007

Bob Schneider's New Focus on Rock

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November 29, 2007

Bob Schneider is the type of songwriter who gets bored if he plays even just a few songs in a row with a similar tempo or feel, and that unrest showed on his first albums. They ran the gamut from rootsy pop, to country-flecked rock, to funky rock, to sensitive balladry and occasionally even acoustic world beat.

But his newest album, The Californian, showcases a sound previously underrepresented on his albums: full-tilt roots rock. And by Schneider's standards, the album is musically one-dimensional.

He says the album didn't start out that way, though. After just four days of recording at Texas Treefort Studios in Schneider's hometown of Austin, Texas, he'd churned out 27 new tracks.

"It was an eclectic mix of songs that was kind of all over the map musically," Schneider said. "But I gave them to a friend of mine and she kind of put 10 of the songs together. It had a really cohesive kind of rock vibe to it, and I was like, 'Oh, this would be really cool—just kind of a rock record instead of throwing in the reggae and all the other stuff that we had recorded.' So it kind of just became this rock record. But there are another 13 songs that we recorded that I may put out as a record as well."

The Californian may be one-dimensional, but it's the best kind of one-dimensional rock record one could imagine. A few songs settle into a pleasantly chunky vibe, including "Holding in the World," which boasts an appealing ascending chord progression, and "Mix It Up," which kicks out upbeat funk. The CD accelerates to a frenetic pace on "Game Plan" and "Boombox," the latter of which has little more than comical chatter for lyrics. "Party at the Neighbors," "Get Up On It" and "Superpowers" aren't quite as unhinged, but generate plenty of juice to go with their catchy, gritty melodies. The Californian comes close to a ballad on just one song, "Flowerparts," which offers a suitably winsome melody.

Schneider undertook The Californian as a way to capture the live sound of his road band, which was about to undergo a significant change with the departure of guitarist Billy Harvey. He kept the live integrity of the group by recording the songs live in the studio, limiting himself to just a few guitar and vocal overdubs.

"At that point we had been a band for four years and played a lot of these songs," Schneider said. "We play a lot, so we just got to be a pretty tight band. So when we went in there, it wasn't like we were learning songs. We knew them well. Most of the songs on the record were the first take."

Schneider achieved his goal of capturing the essence of his band with flying colors. The Californian sparkles with energy, as Schneider and his band show the kind of cheerful camaraderie that's a hallmark of many of rock's best live bands.

In fact, Schneider was so pleased with his band's live sound that he initially considered making an album that could have been called Schneider Comes Alive.

"We were actually thinking of doing a kind of a greatest hits album, just kind of capturing what the songs we play live sounded like," Schneider explains. "But once I got in there and looked at it, I was like, 'We've got so many songs that haven't been recorded. Let's record the songs that haven't been recorded.' And we still had the intention of kind of putting out a double live CD, kind of like Frampton Comes Alive. We were just going to add crowd noise, but do it in the studio live and just take a day to do it and not make it anything but what it was."

Bob Schneider headlines an 8 p.m. concert at Shank Hall on Monday, Dec. 3 with opener AM.

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