I was contacted recently by Jonn Buzby of American outfit, Land of Chocolate who have recently released their third studio album, Your Finest Hour. It has, in fact, been nineteen long years since they released their sophomore album, Regaining The Feel, although Buzby has released albums under the name of Damn Fine Coffee.
The music on the album is a collective effort, whilst the words were written by Buzby, who is the vocalist, percussionist, and keyboardist, with guitarist John Covach (who appeared on the second album) on five tracks, Brian O’Neill who played guitar on the debut album on seven tracks, bassist Gerald Wilson, and drummer Wesley Hare.
So, given the fragmentation of the band and subsequent long gestation of their comeback album, the overriding question must be, was it worth theirs and our while and the long wait? Let’s find out.
We kick off with Movers/Shakers, and immediately you are struck by the vibrant jazz-infused energy, with a distinct commercial feel as well. Hare especially impresses with his drum & percussion. The track strikes me as being a bit of a statement on a positive attitude to life, and I like it, especially the pretty “choices made are never wrong” passage, where Covach produces a very nice guitar solo.
This Beautiful World is the longest track on the album weighing in at some seven and a half minutes. The lyrics Buzby provides here are quite personal, recounting those moments we all have when we need the strength of a loved one to help us through a situation or event. Musically, there is a nice contrast between the expansive rock and the quieter moments of questing, searching for support, where the piano is expressive, the dreamier psych. O’Neill has some fine guitar licks, and underpinning everything is a fine bass by Wilson. In the second half this develops into a very good, more “traditional” progressive rock piece.
The title track follows. I think this is especially interesting lyrically. It puts this writer in mind of the abominable daily commute on the train in and out of ghastly city offices, where we are all just background noise, merely numbers, the playthings of those more powerful, but perhaps if we can reflect more, we will see that our lives are merely a repeat of millennia of such behaviour, just with different tools. Musically, this oozes with jazz fusion, the organ, guitars, bass, and drums throbbing away in harmony, a complex mix to be sure, but very clever and quite dark in places, with a dramatic closing minute.
A Rae of Hope is a short instrumental piece. Covach plays a gentle guitar loop, whilst Buzby produces a lovely piano piece. I really like this, something I picture the pair of them simply sitting in a room together, improvising, and developing this finished product.
Helpless is up next and features a strong contender for this website’s lyric of the year award with “drink it in and piss it out like it was something new”. There is a lot of pain in these lyrics, a relationship gone badly awry. Buzby’s voice reflects this perfectly, the keyboards swirl darkly, and O’Neill produces guitar solos dripping with emotion.
The Currents of You, I think, is lyrically referring to the same situation, with a sense of despair at being trapped in a relationship, making the author wonder why he bothers. Since the first listen, I cannot help but be reminded of Level 42, and I mean this in positive terms, because there is a similar mix of progressive pop infused jazz with a deliciously funky underbelly.
A Deep Breath is the second sub-three-minute track, and another instrumental. It is far darker than A Rae of Hope, and it exudes menace with the guitar, heavy rhythm section, and piano riffing together. A very impressive piece of music.
Air is a direct follow on with the piano note repeated alongside the dark theme, this time set to lyrics which talk of an accusation of a laissez-faire life of the subject, definite and painful separation from family, and despair at the present life being lived. The piano from A Deep Breath continues, and is urgent, demanding attention, whilst O’Neill provides the perfect foil on his guitar. I can only hope that there is an element of catharsis for Buzby here because there is some painful bitterness inherent, although I should, perhaps, emphasise that I enjoy this track which is very cleverly written and performed and puts across the emotion very effectively.
Meaningless Trip casts this mood aside, a celebration of that staple of blokes everywhere, the trip away with friends which is on the face of it rather pointless, but at its heart is a way of unburdening the stress, pain, and simply enjoying. I love the adverts which pump this message out to the prospective sun and fun seeking consumer. Bouncy, fun, and decidedly uplifting to these ears.
A Stark Reminder is the third and final short instrumental piece on the album, a very strong heavier prog rock piece featuring some exceptional guitar playing and the band belting it out as if their lives depended upon it.
Poison The Root follows this, a more overtly political track about the need for change and to cast aside (poison) the roots of the harmful society we live in which is responsible for so much pain and destruction around the world. Musically, this is another interesting jazz, rock, and funk fusion. Buzby is one of the finest keyboard exponents I have had the pleasure of listening to in recent times, his piano work especially centring the overall band music in a way that Rick Davies did so well with Supertramp, and there is, indeed, a similar feel here when the band joyously rock out.
The album closer is Threatening To Unwind and lyrically it brings the album’s overarching themes to a close, with the subject in a deeply reflective mood struggling with some bitter personal memories. You will note as a listener just how gorgeous some of the playing is on this, the subtle and at times sublime guitar, lovely basslines, perfectly poised percussion, all behind the voice of Buzby, with his piano and keys taking a more supporting role, with the whole song creeping up on you and eventually surrounding your ears with a very intense and very good noise.
So, what to say after such a wait? Well, as one who was unfamiliar with their previous output, let me say that it is my earnest wish that this band do not take so long to return to delight the Lazland ears. This is an album I have thoroughly enjoyed. It has at its core a very strong songwriting collective complementing an intelligent, albeit introspective, lyricist. There are more than enough musical moods here to keep the listener engaged, and the playing is never anything less than a delight in a sonically pleasing environment.
Give their Bandcamp page a visit at https://landofchocolate.bandcamp.com/album/your-finest-hour for a work which comes with a hearty recommendation.