Playing with established forms and attempting to reshape them is common to the music-making process. Taking something familiar and making it your own, however, is an elusive feat. On Southern Intermission, Nashville-based Bryan Clark & The New Lyceum Players extend their traditional American rock and roots influences beyond their Music City, Memphis and Delta foundations, with often stunning results.
There is much to dig here, as Clark and company show real compositional and instrumental prowess, from the celebratory Stax-Crowes rave-up of “Voodoo Flame” to the levitating, gospel-tinged panorama of “Alabama Macedonia Blackwater Church of Christ.” “Walls of Hell” combines Mississippi swamp groove with film noir atmosphere, while the sublime “November Moon” evokes a James Taylor soundtrack for a cool night drive.
Clark is a remarkably literate songwriter and The New Lyceum Players (Clark: guitar and vocals; Adam Fluhrer: guitar; Benjamin “Mo” Levine: bass; John Toomey: drums) are an ace band, injecting these vivid songs with performances red-hot one minute, nuanced and subtle the next. They are particularly impressive on the album’s centerpiece “Leave the Devil’s Garden” displaying the instrumental thrills, arranging dynamics and lyrical craft that define Southern Intermission.
Produced, engineered and mixed solely by Clark at his Rainfeather Studios, he gives the instruments considerable breathing room even when the band is wailing. As horns or strings enter the mix, the songs never crowd, only deepen. Recorded live in the studio, with ribbon mics (no EQ), through a Tascam DM4800, with vintage outboard gear including a EMI Zener-Limiter 12413 and a Shadowhills Optograph into Sonar X1 Producer, the album is infused with a warm sonic richness that allows for little touches of Hammond and gospel vocals to burnish the tracks.
Plus, Southern Intermission is a guitar player’s feast. A chicken-pick riff might drive one section only to segue into some liquid, Allmans-inspired dual-leads the next. Tasteful lines reminiscent of Mark Knopfler laying back give way to grimy slide vamps. There’s something here like Scofield jamming with Skynyrd—modal jazz runs meshed with full-tilt, 70s tube-driven boogie. The stylistic vocabulary of Clark and co-guitarist Fluhrer is remarkable.
Ultimately, it’s Clark’s reverent yet original songcraft and arranging acumen that sets this album apart. He elevates his tracks into something more sophisticated, more risk-taking than straight country, blues or rock. It’s the extra layers and the expanded touches put through Clark’s cohesive Southern filter that engage so successfully.
And while Southern Intermission celebrates much-loved regional sounds and employs some familiar musical devices, it’s far from clichéd Nashville chart pop or beer-buckle redneck rock. This is refreshingly multi-layered yet accessible American music that should be getting the attention usually reserved for Clark’s more conventional counterparts. A gem of a record.
Tyler Reed, Contributing Writer
Produced by: Bryan Clark
Engineered by: Bryan Clark
Assistant Engineers: Mark Lange, Alan Litten
Recorded at: Rainfeather Studios, Brentwood, TN
Mixed by: Bryan Clark
Mastered by: Jim Demain @ Yes Master! Mastering