John Sellers Band – Love Burns Like A Fire – Album Review
John Sellers seems like a good man. From chatting with the guy in behind the scenes a bit, to the sweet intentions of his title-track “Love Burns Like A Fire,” and even to the album cover with him truckin’ on down the train tracks with his keyboard over his shoulder…there’s just something about the man that suggests there’s nothing that’s going to get between him and living out his dreams as a career musician. Assisted by a number of studio all-stars and credible musicians, including Mike Deasy his producer (Guitars/Vocals), Jim Horn (Sax/Flute), Monica Rose (Bass/Vocals), Marty Naul (Drums/Vocals) and Andy Gurley (Guitar) – John Sellers (Lead Vocals/Piano/Guitar) and his band tackle and take on a variety of rock-influenced adventures in sound on the new album. We got everybody on the bus here I think, yes?
Alrighty then, let’s roll through this record and have a listen to what’s up on Love Burns Like A Fire…
Dig the intro, love the guitars searing into the opening as the title-track begins and the piano melody that comes along with it. There are…some mixing issues here…depending on what they’re going for. Musically, I think “Love Burns Like A Fire” is spot-on, but I’m convinced those vocals need a bump or two more from the volume knob; even at their thickest or most harmony-laden moments in the chorus, they still seem like they’re just barely peeking through the mix…you definitely get the ideas, but it’s much tougher to grasp onto individual words than it is the overall sentiment of this first tune. John’s got a whispery sound to his vocals that fits the song just fine, we just need to get at it a bit more as listeners. Overall, I think “Love Burns Like A Fire” is full of good ideas and a welcoming sound that definitely gets you curious about whatever might follow, has a killer guitar solo around the second-minute in, and genuinely sets a positive direction for the band to continue on. There’s an uplifting spirit & energy in “Love Burns Like A Fire” that I would imagine people will latch onto, regardless of whether or not they’re catching every single word…it’s still something you can hear & feel in the music & the way they perform.
Now John…I know this is our first time meeting here on these pages and all…but you’re kind of making me break a cardinal rule here that I didn’t even know I had…but if you had asked me before listening to “OooWee” is it theoretically possible that I’d like or enjoy a song called “OooWee” and I’d have probably said hell no – but here we are and I’m inclined to enthusiastically say YES, in fact, I do like “OooWee.” There’s a ton of personality in this track that jumps out at you immediately – those guitars are INCREDIBLY cool with their squealy-sounds adding in a ton of character into this cut. At times I had to even question whether or not it was guitars at all I was hearing…that could very well be an extremely slick choice in keyboard sound…but whatever it is, is absolutely awesome. The main groove is held tight by the rhythm section from Monica and Marty holding the fort down perfectly, allowing the surrounding players to get all kinds of wild with their ideas. They take “OooWee” for a ride around the block and back again…I love this cut because it’s far from a traditional approach when it comes right down to it. Rather than lead the way, the guitars play a much more complementary & supporting role on “OooWee” that makes all the difference in the world in terms of the uniqueness in this track. John does an excellent job of putting himself right into the moment and you can tell he’s really feeling this one. Of the first three tracks on this record, I felt that mix-wise & production-wise, “OooWee” also comes out sounding like they got everything right where they’d want it to be. Definitely a rad tune – I always appreciate hearing musicians that are right into what they’re playing and you certainly get that here.
You can really hear the classic-rock influence break through on “In Plain Sight” – in many ways, this is a seriously strong tune on Love Burns Like A Fire when it comes to the lyrics, ideas and writing. Mix-wise, I think “In Plain Sight” is dogged a bit by the drums being up over-top of the rest; don’t get me wrong – Marty’s doing a solid job, but we’d hear him in the thick of it all even if the drums were dialed back several notches. Idea-wise, I absolutely think it’s one of the strongest on the record. The chorus might benefit from a little more definition or clarity…but by that same token, I kind of personally like how the vocals swirl into one thick fog and chanting of the sweet sentiment that drives this tune, and I really liked the wild punctuation you get at the very end of it each time. Guitars have great moments, as do the piano and sax…the drums are great too, don’t get me wrong…but it’s also kind of like Marty had a hand in mixing that track if you know what I mean.
Switching it up for a dose of vibrant jazz-rock, “Noodlin’” features Mike Deasy on the mic for the first of two appearances on the vocals of this record. It makes for a great switch in the energy of this album and opens the doors for John & his band-mates to get right into the vibe – and man do they ever on this cut! Chockfull of groove…splash of psychedelia…kind of got a Zappa-esque style & sound to the vocals and music that’s generally just as ambitious, fun and skilled. The guitar solos and tones…incredible, the main riff and groove…unreal, the keys, drums and bass all find their way to contribute solidly to this jam. It’s clear that “Noodlin’” is based on having a damn good time and musicians being musicians for music’s sake…that kind of thing – but it becomes pretty clear pretty quickly as to why they kept this groove for the record once they locked into the idea. “Noodlin’” does have a different feel to it than the other tracks with the exception of “Table In The Wilderness” at the end, which also features Mike on the vocals – listeners always take the duo-singer thing in a strange manner…it becomes tough to not compare one to the other and in certain situations, can lead to the cohesion of the material cracking ajar. I think “Noodlin’” is close enough in its relationship on an instrumentation-level to fit in with the rest, and I also think it’s this kind of bold move that makes a record worth sticking with…John Sellers Band is taking a chance here in a sense with changing up the sound quite a bit at this point, but this track has so much thick groove to it that it’s pretty much a surefire decision & certified great call to have included this on Love Burns Like A Fire.
Alright…so…”High” is probably one of the best songs that will help me describe John Sellers as a vocalist, better than any other, so I’m going for it. In those first three songs, I wish the vocals were a bit more pronounced in the mix…because I’d have made this point from moment-one otherwise. And my point is, John is on. When you listen to a song like “High,” it’s undeniable that the sound of his voice and style of singing give it that fragility in the melody where you’ll wonder if he’s going to make it to the tone that he wants to get to – but listen carefully, because he does succeed. While it might tremble and waver with emotion and added drama with the weight of the words on a song like “High” – he is still on target; and mix-wise, he benefits more from the production on this particular cut, which brings up the microphone a bit more in the volume department than he’s been afforded so far on Love Burns Like A Fire. It makes a huge difference in terms of establishing that credibility in our ears – you really get the sense that he’s on the right path throughout those first three cuts, but admittedly, he’s enveloped much more in the mix of the music than he is as he begins to step out on “High” and certainly on “Get It Right” confidently thereafter. I’d suppose if you were to ask John anyhow what his main attribute was as a musician, he’d likely tell you it’s the piano or guitar first anyhow…and I think you can more or less hear the confirmation of that come through the way the songs are produced…the more comfortable he is in the lead, the more his vocals take a role. Like a great singer/songwriter should – he also knows when to let the instrumentation be the star of the show…and rightly so, you can hear the passion in these players. I think the textures in John’s vocals really add an irreplaceable magic and charm to “High” – loved the surrounding acoustic guitars and brass throughout, excellent piano work breaks through and transitions this song towards a seriously satisfying ending.
Digging the added coolness in the guitars on “Get It Right.” That might be that voicebox thing…could just be a really kickass pedal…whatever it is supplying the cool in the tone of the guitars, it’s golden. John Sellers Band head into groove-rock terrain on “Get It Right” and they wear it well. I don’t know if it’s just me and the way I’m hearing it…but it seemed like the added dose of cool in the mix of sound here allowed a couple moments of “Get It Right” to come out a little looser than they might have wanted. You can call it avant-garde, artistic license, whatever ya like, but at the end of the day, towards the end of “Get It Right” there are noticeable shifts in time that a few ears are bound to pick up on. I believe it’s an intentional deconstruction…but again perhaps one step too far in that final switch. For the most part, this tune is solidly intact, led strongly by Monica’s rumbling bass-lines and the punchy way that the drumbeat & vocals interact along with it. The guitars get to do whatever it is they wanna do, spiraling in a psychedelic frenzy and adding a ton of character and charisma into “Get It Right.”
If you dig the golden-era of music, you’ll have a real appreciation for the sound they come up with on “Exclamation Point.” Not only is it wild & incredible fun throughout the song, drawing on an up-tempo blues-rock-meets-folk sound, but the instrumentation gets a real moment in the spotlight to shine here. Jim Horn absolutely CRUSHES this one with a spectacularly inspired performance on the saxophone…perfectly crisp beat on the drums and the bass-lines in the rhythm-section keep this cut flowing along with real attitude, rhythm and groove. The real heart of “Exclamation Point” comes through a brilliant switch in the progression of chords into the songs chorus, which I thought was a part of the writing that really stood out for its lyrics and overall execution in the vocals & music. I have a feeling that “Exclamation Point” is one of those special tracks that breaks down the barriers for a lot of people out there…I really can’t imagine people not having an overwhelmingly positive reaction to this tune if you were to take a quick poll…it’s great fun, has a powerful & emotional switch, clever lyricism. All that & more – I felt like “Exclamation Point” was a real highlight on this record that I could always rely on to deliver on repeat experiences…something about this cut just perked me up each time.
One of the cuts that got me right away was the melody-line that runs through “Our Place.” The piano is exceptionally gorgeous here…and there are amazing ideas on the guitars accenting the music and complementing the main melody perfectly. Mind you – this is all in the first half of the song – “Our Place” starts in one spot and ends up in another entirely…and truthfully, I kind of missed that first half a bit here! That’s not to say that what happens after the switch doesn’t have its own merit, it’s quite adventurous and dramatically jolting at times by comparison to the way the song begins…like two songs really. I have NO IDEA how the John Sellers Band even managed to tear themselves away from what they have going on in that first minute & fifty-seconds or so…don’t get me wrong, I can understand wanting to do something new with your song…but here? Now? I didn’t mind the second half…it’s still another well-written part and I can accept the transition into it…but I ain’t gonna lie, the real magic is in that first half of “Our Place” and I wanted SO MUCH MORE of that, that it was always tougher to accept the second part after. That’s all I’m sayin.’ Don’t blame me – blame John Sellers and his band of cohorts! They’re the one that wrote that amazing melody that makes you want to eat it by the bowlful.
Continuing on a hot roll with the music, “Peggy Martin Rose” is a wicked example of the band at their best. John does a solid job on the vocals…but for the first time on the record, this time I felt like he might be a bit too far in front of the music here. I know, I know, I know – I’ve wanted him turned up more for the most-part when I’ve mentioned that aspect of the mix on Love Burns Like A Fire – but this time, the effect has a dramatic impact on the overall result. With him turned-down more towards the beginning of the record, you still got the idea and the music still made the right impact; on “Peggy Martin Rose,” the vocals become the defining quality as a result of where they sit – that’s what we hear first, without question. Now…let’s be clear…there’s nothing wrong with that choice, but that’s the result…the music ends up shrinking a little by comparison – and when you’ve got BIG stuff happening like the John Sellers Band does on “Peggy Martin Rose” – it makes for an interesting choice. I don’t blame John because it’s one of his more focused, stylistic and confident performances on the mic – but for the benefit of the overall song, I’d be tempted to test out bringing the music up to surround him more, or him down a bit to sink into it, either or, but I think it would give “Peggy Martin Rose” the shot it deserves. It’s a seriously tough call to be truthful…each time I heard this tune, I felt like I heard it differently…sometimes I felt like the vocals sat close enough to where they should be that I shouldn’t be complaining at all…sometimes I felt like it was the guitars that actually needed to come up a lot more to break through the distant sound of the music surrounding them…because there’s a lot of serious awesomeness happening there that I’m not so convinced enough people are going to fully notice as is. Again…not to continually play my own devil’s advocate, but it is also kinda rad to hear the details in the lyrics of this tune as full-on as we do…it’s got a really cool story that’s inspired it which you can read about here.
I like that you can hear a real classic songwriter in John and what he sings about. You can tell he’s lived through that golden-era of music where the words truly mattered…because the right emotion, whether perfect or imperfect in tone, was what mattered most to bring those lyrics alive and create a timeless sound. Something like he’s got working in his favor on “A Hundred Mistakes,” which was one of my favorite songs on the record without question. It’s also just about double the length of any other tune on the record – so just be warned, if you’re ever thinking about trying to squeeze “A Hundred Mistakes” of your own into a song, it’s gonna take ya some time. I love the way the harmonies and vocals on this song come through – they back up John’s lead perfectly as he moves through this tune with a real honesty to his words, emotion, cadence and tone. I think the piano melody-lines that fill the atmosphere of “A Hundred Mistakes” are wonderfully expressive and have a great like, late-night Bowie-meets-John swagger to the sound when combined with the inviting sound of the vocals. Definitely has John working the storyteller-side of his lyricism…but it all sounds personal, vivid, committed and extremely sincere. The beginning five & a half-minutes or so also show a real restraint and control as well, with John dialing right into the moment and focusing in on every solitary second. Did “A Hundred Mistakes” need the final switch at the end to take over the last ninety-seconds? I suspect no…but at this point on the record, I think we’re all plenty used to the idea and fact that the John Sellers Band likes to explore the depths of each idea until it’s been fully mined for its riches and becomes something else entirely as they polish off whatever that first idea is and get ready to shine up the next one to follow.
The guest appearances from Mike Deasy on the vocals, “Noodlin’” from earlier on and at the very end of the record with “Table In The Wilderness,” really bring-up the energy and funky attitude in the music surrounding him. It’s kind of like that same effect when a captain of a sports team has the night off for whatever reason but the team around them rallies by committee – you dig? John’s not gone here of course, he’s in the thick of the music jamming around with his all-star band…and taking the occasional moment away from the mic to let Deasy do his thang has been a great call made by a musician like John with the maturity required to keep the ego in-check & be humble while another dude steps fully into the spotlight for a second time on the record. I think that says a lot about John and the freedom that exists within the John Sellers Band…I think you can also hear it in the way they jam these tunes for all their worth, every time. Every player on this team rises-up to meet the challenge of ending the record on a memorable note and brings their A-game when it comes to jammin’ out “Table In The Wilderness.” It does possess a rhythm & groove that will feel familiar, but they sure own this final track with a ton of confidence, style and flair that it absolutely becomes an experience unique unto its own. These kind of opportunities, this kind of unity in the band, the support of the players, the different perspectives that they all bring to music…it’s the kind of collaborative effort that allows players like these to get fully involved, express their talents and generally ends up making all involved in the experience better players in the process as a result, no matter how good they already are. Openness in a band like this, with a competent captain at the helm, is what can lead to moments and music that are impossible to duplicate – and I think that’s one of the coolest things about the John Sellers Band. It’s a great idea to switch up the ideas, tone, sound and kick the album into a different gear for all kinds of valid reasons…interest-level, artistic-growth, a new challenge, FUN…all of these possibilities matter and count when it comes to music. The way they move, groove and do their own thang puts a real vibe of creative freedom into their sound…the kind of band that likely thrives even more in a live setting than they do on a record, but one that’s able to give you that live experience on a recording as well. You feel like you’re right there at the show and watching this record happen while you listen to it & I think you always have to give credit to a band that can ‘take you there’ like John Sellers Band does with Love Burns Like A Fire. You’re in their world, their moment, their sound – and I suspect if you dig on their classic-rock vibe, you’ll be glad to join in on all the fun they’re having and they’ll be every bit as happy to have you with them.
Find out more about the John Sellers Band at Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/0E38qiisWeNaqYQEF5dIlk
Connect with John Sellers Band at Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/JohnSellersBand
Give’em a tweet or two at their Twitter page here: https://twitter.com/JohnSellersBand
And tune into the next episode of the SBS Podcast (Episode 041) coming out this weekend to hear a track from the brand new record from John Sellers Band!
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