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Nice and Easy, Smooth but Rough: Dave Sasscer Quiet Mind by Mark Kir

There was a time when musical artists could have a little variety in their music without freaking out radio programers and other folks who market music. My own experience years ago was a frustrating one. Club owners and bookers were flummoxed by the fact that there were elements of metal, psychedelic, w Even though he has a quiet mind, this songwriter likes to party warped blues and twisted funk in our band's music. "I don't know which night to book you guys - metal night, indie rock night, punk?" My response was "any of those will do nicely." Who wants to hear the same narrow band width of music in a night? Or on a record, for that matter (outside of speed metal or hip hop or whatever Brittany or Madonna does)? In jazz, for instance, it's common for a group to play bebop, hard bop, a ballad, and a samba or Latin feeling pieces in the same set or on record. Dave Sasscer is a singer-songwriter who is not afraid to move out of the comfort zone of narrow musical definition on Quiet Mind.

The opening cut is country-tinged emo, but without wimpiness and irony. The title cut is a pop song with delicate guitar and piano, matched with gently propulsive percussion. "Almost Perfect Weekend" is an island style pop ballad with that classic structure of verses and choruses arranged in a sing-along manner ala Jimmy Buffet. The song takes a humorous approach to what is either an ironic romantic fantasy of a lonely guy. Or it's simply a smooth AOR-Adult Contemporary love song? Lyrics like "it's an almost perfect weekend / as I go off the deep end / what will be will depend on me/only thing missin' is stoppin' time" could go either way.

Even though he has a quiet mind, Sasscer likes to party and he shows this side of his musical world as well. Thank god for the mass acceptance of Beck because he was able to prove that one could blur boundaries and make that one's niche in this segmented, divide-and-concur music world. After the topically humorous country pop ode to America's top journalist, "John Stewart is God", the next few cuts take a slightly different turn. Sasscer claims that his current band the Mono Conga Jam is his best ever, making particular note of "Latin Percussion extradordinaire" David Gomez and percussionist-vocalist Sharon Hawk. Indeed, his band is tight and tasty throughout Quiet Mind.

Furthermore, there are a true band sound and the sense of them all having fun. The blues grooviness of an old Little Feat song is evident on "Dynamite". "I do, too" is a party funk song. "Comfort Zone" hints at his roots in Aquadilla, Puerto Rico, where he performed at parties and surf contests. This salsa rock cut is in the tradition of Carlos Santana: it is a Latin-style vocal-focused song that features blazing guitar leads and cooking conga and percussion. Background singers Rebecca Moran and Kim Reed add a homegirl choral element and fill out the full-on Latin sound. All this musical heat is fitting on a tune that celebrates a sexy woman having her way with men.

Folk music introspection returns for the rest of the album. "Why I Love You" shows the influence of his cousin David Patterson, who has performed with the Indigo Girls. The melody and lyrics capture the poetics of American Country music where people, especially lovers, are contradictory and make no sense, i.e., real. "I love the quiet Island dreaming that I see inside your eyes / I love your passion, your fire and screamin' / and your murmured simple sigh / you asked me why I love you you wonder why I care / do you question stars above you? / just believe that they are there". This is the kind of song that reminds one of John Lennon's edict on songwriting: keep it simple, say what you mean and make it rhyme. The music is simple, too, just guitar piano and bass and Sasscer's easy-going voice. This cut reminds one what is lost in modern pop - good writing and diversity accepted as the norm - and makes this writer long for the days of radio freedom when a station, or for that matter a show, would play a soul cut by Lou Rawls or Motown and then flip to countryesque stylings by Tony Joe White or Glen Campbell.

"Wish List" recorded at a live performance, is an acoustic guitar folk style song. The guitar is strongly rhythmic and is a sincere love song where he declares that the woman in question is "you're all the good things with a twist / you're all the best things in my world". This song highlights the fact that he is a good songwriter, because, as the Beatles bootleg record "The Grey Album" shows (not to be confused with the Danger Mouse-Jay Z mash-up) if the song is good it's good with voice and guitar or voice and piano, minus "production."

Dave Sasscer's voice and songwriting unite a variety of styles and signal a break from the narrow bandwidth that traps musicians still, despite the freedom that exists in this, the post record industry era.

About the Author:

Mark Kirby received his B.A. from Oberlin College back in the days when heroin was harder to find than pot and sex didn't kill you. He is a drummer, screenwriter, and fixture in the bars and clubs of N.Y.'s Lower East Side and the current mecca of the New Bohemia, Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

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