Any attempt to apply a genre to the Bye Bye Blackbirds in general, or their sparkling new record, August Lightning Complex in particular, is a fool’s errand the likes of which would make Don Quixote give up tilting at windmills and try his hand at miniature golf.
With touches of early Byrds, mid-era R.E.M. along with a gentle wafting of The Replacements and heavy doses of the cooler side of Big Star, the song cycle has more unexpected turns than a formula one road track.
Recorded and mixed in Oakland and the San Francisco bay area, the opening track, “Want Show As Young,” will set the stage and level set your expectations for the rest of the album. Should you be fortunate enough to be listening to the record on vinyl with a proper system, the song almost literally pops out of your speakers. With the initial guitar salvo from Lenny Gill, it is safe to say that he is back and better than ever. And, once the majordomo and bandleader, Bradley Skaught, joins the party sounding like the devil-spawn of Tom Petty and Elvis Costello, it’s time to take this flight tonight.
“Mechanics” has a definite “Radio Free Europe” groove going for it, which is never a bad thing, especially here, when the band’s not-so-secret weapon, Kelly Atkins, gets her twenty feet from stardom moment, applying her “Gimme Shelter” worthy backup vocals to what might be the best song on the record.
Meandering down the river that is side one, the song “Something From The Old World” presents itself. It is here that we pull our canoe over to the side of the river and reflect on the lyrics. While not quite going full-on “Bernie and Elton,” it is clear that a certain Sympatico is going on between the band and the lyricist. The Jackson Browne feel to the song is like musical comfort food for the soul. Several props to the artistic team that decided to include the lyric sheet with the vinyl version.
Once the record is turned over to the flip side, the amazing journey truly begins. “We Got Lost (Reprise)” starts things out with a psychedelic jam that comes somewhere north of Sid Barrett and South of very early Who. And, the binder in the cigar wrapper, “We Got Lost,” followed by “Favorite Stars,” seems to bring the ying and yang of the two sides of the record together in exquisite fashion.
And then, there’s the song “Marching.” Weighing in at about ten minutes or so, to our ears, it is here that the Bye Bye Blackbirds have painted their masterpiece. The band, the production, the mournful trumpet, courtesy of Bill Swan, everything on this song simply works to perfection. David Bowie meets Iggy Pop and Pink Floyd performed in the quintessential Bye Bye Blackbirds style springs to the minds-ear on this one.
And, once the final reprise has been written on this record with the closer, “Don’t Wait,” we are left with the realization that this album may be among the select masterpieces where the title song is also an instrumental. Simon and Garfunkel’s Bookends opening track comes to mind as one of the rare examples.
And, come to think of it, if one must apply a genre to this zenith of a record delivered by the Bye Bye Blackbirds, cosmically cool, and Bookends worthy might be a great place to start.