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  Thinking Man Studios Compilation CD: Looking to the Future as Well as the Past
Artists: Various
Label: Thinking Man Studios
Times: 15 tracks

When musicians associate their music with a term like "thinking man," it tends to build up expectations. In terms of my own own expectations, and the question of whether or not my expectations were met as I listened to this compilation, I'll start with the good news. Thanks to James D. Harvey, (who recorded and performed the songs) in a collection that spans a decade of creative accomplishment (1993-2003), much of the music is hard-driving, energetic, masterfully arranged, and deftly delivered. Moreover, ostensibly a relatively low-budget production, each song is delivered with a noteworthy sense of urgency and passion. Apparently a number of radio stations, both regionally and internationally, have recognized his talent and played many of these cuts. Much to my dismay, promotional materials don't identify a songwriter or songwriters, but whoever wrote the songs should also bask in some of the glory. One could assume that the songwriter is Harvey, but that is what it is--simply an assumption. Whoever has written the songs could benefit from teaming up with a co-writer. That brings me to the bad news. Well, actually, it's not all that bad.

Lyrically speaking, if you're expecting food for thought in abundance, this CD is likely to leave you a little more than a little hungry. While it is true that Jesus turned a few loaves and a few fishes into food for the masses, apart from a miracle of such magnitude, the listener should hold modest expectations for these songs.

Unless I've gone completely brain dead (and I wouldn't necessarily put it past me), in terms of the lyrics, there is little here that sparks my imagination or stimulates cogitation. It seems that James D. Harvey and his creative partner in rhyme, Walt Collins--if either or both were responsible for the lyrics--may have bitten off a little more than they can chew. Maybe that's why songwriter names are omitted. I won't go as far as to say the lyrics are completely unimaginative. They are not, but I will say the imagination, at least in terms of its application to the lyrics, has been a grossly underutilized resource.

I was able to identify a common theme underlying these songs. That theme seems to involve a call to elevate our level of consciousness concerning nature and the protection of the environment. Raising one's awareness of environmental concerns can be a good thing if not taken to the extreme, but some of these songs seem to border upon advocating for the worship of the creation over The Creator. I won't call it idolatry, for that would be a grave charge indeed, and I don't believe that to have been the intention, but I do wish there was a bit more balance and perspective contained in this collection.
The song "Native Man" pricks the social conscience in the same way that "Indian Reservation" (a song made famous by The Raiders) did back in the '60s by laying a guilt trip on modern-day non-Native-Americans (dare I juxtapose the term Americans next to non-Native?) for grave injustices committed against Native Americans in days of distant yore. I will not place myself in the dubious company of those who denied the stark and brutal reality of the Holocaust. I have no interest in rewriting history. Injustices were committed, and those injustices were nothing short of abominable, but please, be apart of redeeming history by a message that takes us beyond guilt by trans-generational association!

The main difference between the two songs (besides the undeniable commercial success and fancy studio production of the former) is that The Raiders, in its cover of the Loudermilk classic, sound louder and prouder than Harvey does in "Native Son."

Furthermore, The Raiders gave the impression of being more intimately and emotionally connected to the subject matter of its song than Harvey seems to convey in "Native Son." "Indian Reservation" strikes me as being so much more creatively written, both in terms of lyrics and in terms of extra-lyrical musical characteristics.
I don't wish to come down too hard on the man or his music. Being a songwriter who has admittedly succumbed to moments of ultra-sensitivity concerning criticism of my own songs, I understand that musicians have feelings, too. And to be intellectually honest, I must admit that Harvey truly possesses an abundant wealth of talent. He is clearly a man of imagination, revealed in the musical dimensions and depth associated with each piece. He simply seems to treat the lyrics as an afterthought, sometimes forcing rhyme and often crowding words into musical measures that simply don't fit. By the incorporation of these adscititious elements, such elements, at crucial moments, threaten to compromise the rhythmic integrity of entire pieces.
I would recommend studying poetry and lyrics, and adopting a poet's perspective on each piece. If that doesn't seem practical, I would recommend bringing in a co-writer with the heart, mind, and (most importantly) skill of a poet. The melody lines of the songs suffer from the same predilection for imposing elements treated as adscititious afterthoughts, forced onto these otherwise admirable compositions. Some of these pieces are so well composed that they would stand on their own as instrumental numbers in their own right. If you're just going to add lyrics and melody lines onto the pieces for the sake of making the song superficially complete, what's the point?
This is not, I repeat, _not,_ an abysmal failure. On the contrary, it is a success waiting to happen. But Mr. Harvey will have to go back to the drawing board (or, in this case, the sound board) if he is to actualize that potential.
In short, Looking to the Future as well as the Past has no future and is doomed to become part of an unremarkable, forgettable past unless the songs are de-constructed and then reconstructed again. These pieces are lined with silver, but it's hard to see the silver lining behind the clouds of pseudo-intellectual, lyrical fillers. When the man behind the songs, and the man behind the studio, has the "intellectual confidence" (or, "audacity," if one wants to be presumptive and pejorative) required to attach the label "thinking man" to any final product or crowning glory, one has to wonder, "What was the man thinking?"

Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr. B.L.T., the Rock Doc 7/31/2004



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