Nate Jacobucci – O-Bone

 Nate Jacobucci – O-Bone

Nate Jacobucci – O-Bone – Album Review

Nate!  Why didn’t ya just tell me you were right next door?

Alright…to be fair…he probably didn’t for at least three reasons.  One being, I’ve never met the guy…so there’s that…two being the lockdown has kinda prevented moving around for quite some time anyhow, and I suppose three would be the fact that Ontario’s a little further away from where Jacobucci’s is based out of, in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  But you get what I mean – it’s not like he’s a million miles away – he’s pretty darn close to us over here in the nation’s capital – always good to have our Canadian brethren posted up on these pages of ours.  Even better when they’re as talented as this dude clearly is.

I’ll put it to you this way…you’ve heard of musician’s that have ‘even played the kitchen sink’ before as a lovely euphemism for playin’ a whole lot of things – but Nate here…well…he’s REALLY played the frying pan on this new record of his, called O-Bone.  The proverbial kitchen sink also applies – Nate’s basically played every single thing you’ll hear on this album, save for a few guest appearances scattered here & there – but for the most part, it’s all him; and he should be seriously proud of all he’s able to accomplish.  Honestly this dude seems like something else altogether…before I’d even pushed play I’d notice quirky things, like how part of his last record – his debut called And We Still Can’t See, from last year – was partially recorded in “Grandma’s shower,” or how he’s playing the “ugly stick” on a cut called “I Miss My Friends” in the lineup of O-Bone, along with the aforementioned frying pan showing up on the next cut.  What in the all-heck is an UGLY STICK and WHERE do I get one for the studio here?  Amazing!  This guy’s clearly fearless when it comes to the creativity of the craft – he’s played everything from glockenspiel to guitar, piano, drums, organ, banjo, ukulele, trombone, trumpet…and honestly, this list continues to go on, right down to where he’s just straight-up fully milkin’ it by that point, with handclaps and shakers & whatnot – we get it Nate, we get it – you do a lot of things.  I promise ya, if I did anything more than the one thing that I do over & over, and I had my own list of what I can do stretch out a mile long, I’d tell ya twice as much & be taking out huge ads in the New York Times.  Consider Jacobucci remarkably humble.

I really like what I’m hearing on this record – a lot, actually.  Not only does Nate play a lot of things, he’s got a wide range of style & sound as a result of being so connected to all-things-music…which of course leads to diversity & versatility & innovation and all that good-good stuff you know I tend to love.  Like I’ve always said around here – the more you’re into what you do, the more likely we’ll be into it as well.  Nate’s proof of that in action…you can’t help but admire just how much he’s put into making these tunes…not only is there great songwriting to be found, but an excellent balance of his musicianship too.  You’d almost expect to find some sort of crack in the armor here…but if there is one, I haven’t found it.  O-Bone might not be the happiest record you’ll hear this year – how about that?  That float your boat?

Given that it was conceptualized & recorded over the past year – I’d say it’s about as joyful as it should be.  Let’s be real here…the pandemic era hasn’t exactly been burgeoning with great news…at least not as directly as we often tend to view it by comparison to the whole tragedy of it all; but if you’re looking & listening closely to the world of art & music, there are creative breakthroughs happening now that arguably might not have been achieved otherwise – and yep, O-Bone could be considered one of those.

Nate’s new album begins with “Defungus Requiem” – a bizarre title that should give ya at least a lil’ insight into this creative mind he’s rockin’ with.  I’ll definitely say he’s given the album a highly interesting opening – it might only be a track that’s less than 1:20 in total length, but the sheer array of instrumentation and the mix of majestic & triumphant sound at work sounds like we’re all in for something incredibly epic.  Then the alarm goes off, and we realize that Jacobucci was likely in the middle of one seriously kickass dream, only to wake up & discover that there was indeed, another day.

In the haze, “Waking Up Dead,” Nate saunters his way into a playful melody as he brings his vocals into the record, and instantly confirms that not only does he have stellar talent when it comes to the instrumentation, the man can sing himself a solid tune as well.  I like the design of the verses a lot & think they stand out with style…and I think the real melodic payload is right there for ya in the chorus.  Detailing the daily grind and taking you through a day in the life…or a day in the life of what we used to know…”Waking Up Dead” makes an impact with a dynamic mix of colorful vibes and mellow melody, and between the two main gears of Jacobucci on display, you’ll find he ventures into highly ambitious & adventurous terrain, that seems to know no limitations of any kind.  No joke y’all – if this is the kind of music he’s capable of – on his OWN – the man will clearly have no need for a full band anytime soon.  Clever structuring, fantastic bass-lines & presence in the low-end…and vocals to match that – Nate goes pretty much all the way down the scale and back up quite a bit in the way he’ll sing this one with the range he has…sounding like he’s on solid ground from this first song we get to hear him in, no doubt.  Those melodic hooks of the chorus are certainly one thing – but the real hook of this track is in the personality you’ll find…”Waking Up Dead” takes no time at all to stand out for Nate’s performance, and it’ll quite likely still remain one of the songs that makes a majorly memorable impression in this lineup as you continue to spin it from here.  I know that’s how it went for me – “Waking Up Dead” is stellar & apt.

He’s already getting the days & nights confused by the time you reach “I Miss My Friends” as cabin fever and isolation start to take hold of the guy…and chances are, there’s a whole bunch of you out there that feel exactly like Jacobucci does here on this tune after so much time away from the people you love.  I’ve got the advantage here for sure…I’m not even my own friend, let alone other human beings…and with the extent of my list of who I might miss being limited to my curmudgeonly ways of me, myself & I – I mean, don’t get me wrong, I hear ya, I just don’t relate as much personally.  I do remember those kind of feelings…I went years & years missing the people I knew, back when I was able to see them every day…but I’ve paid my emotional dues long ago now, and been proud to be a lone wolf ever since.  Not a people fan over here, no sir…it’s the only thing that makes my job of listening to music so much tougher – believe it or not, behind every record you’ll hear, are people that made all that sound happen.  Yikes.  I can sympathize & empathize still…and both of those skills come in handy when I’m listening to “I Miss My Friends” – I’ve certainly been there, like so many of you have been as well, and definitely as of late.  There’s no doubt that at its core in its central theme, sure, “I Miss My Friends” would be a perfect example of why O-Bone ain’t gonna be the most sunny-side up record you’ll hear in 2021, but there’s a solid argument to be made on behalf of how remarkably real & accurate this album is from start to finish for a time like we’re in right now, and this particular tune adds to that strength unquestionably.  All-in-all, Jacobucci is able to mask a bit of the overwhelming pain that so many of us have been feeling with the added playfulness within the spirit of his music…but it’s harder to mask the spark of its ultimate inspirations.  We’ve been isolated for far too long, and “I Miss My Friends” is the pure result of that.

While it’s probably fair to say that in terms of the masses out there listening, there’s a bit more accessibility to be found in tunes like “Waking Up Dead” or “I Miss My Friends” than you’ll find on “My Hero Is Dead” – there’s really not a track on this record you’ll feel like skipping.  Tracks like this are perhaps less intently focused on the degree of hook & pull, but arguably more-so when it comes to being locked into the art & pushing the craft of his songwriting forward.  While there’s always an aspect of Beatles-esque sound that haunts many of the melodies & colorful ideas you’ll find on this album, it’s songs like “My Hero Is Dead” that make you seriously wonder about just how much limitless potential that Jacobucci genuinely has…he pushes himself creatively here in ways that I could just as easily pick out subtle qualities you can hear in the music of R.E.M., all the way to a band like Primus believe it or not – there’s a more discernable turn towards a slightly dissonant relationship between the vocals and the music that brings a unique distance to to “My Hero Is Dead” that I felt like we never really end up experiencing in any other tune from O-Bone.  I think it’s got one of the toughest spots in the lineup coming what’s after our first impressions more or less, and before the amped-up antics of “Nocturnal Man” to follow – “My Hero Is Dead” will quite likely have a tougher time standing out to listeners on those first couple spins, but eventually, I’d imagine this cut will prove it’s just as crucial to the lineup of O-Bone and what Jacobucci can created on this record every bit as much as the other tunes over time.

Did someone just call The 13th Floor Elevators?  “Nocturnal Man” thrives with bright psych-tinged Rock and amps up the energy on O-Bone to levels we’ve yet to experience prior – people will love this tune, and I can’t say I blame’em if they do, this is a completely badass track.  Workin’ that whole Donovan & Strawberry Alarm Clock era-style vibes…”Nocturnal Man” has a rebellious spirit to its core, almost as if it’s a response to being locked-down, and if Nate happens to be awake at all hours now because of that, this is what you can expect to hear him doin’ during late-night.  All-around, it’d be almost impossible for “Nocturnal Man” not to stand out – it’s got riotous energy to begin with, it’s set up really well by having the low-key energy of “My Hero Is Dead” just prior as well…I mean…Jacobucci pretty much explodes right outta the gate when it comes time to play this song, and man does he embrace this moment for all it’s worth or what?  This is where you can hear the sheer focus of a fantastic songwriter with a very bright future, loaded with versatile options at his disposal.  Think of it this way – you’re only five songs in, and Nate has already revealed several different & awesome facets of his style & sound – the possibilities for what he can do with such radiant diversity & such balanced capabilities in tandem with his innate creativity…it’s kinda jaw-dropping really.  Sure he’s digging into the past of music’s history with a sound like you’ll find on “Nocturnal Man” without a doubt…but in proving how insanely capable he is of pulling that off, you start to realize just how much limitless potential exists within his future.

I would personally be pretty hard-pressed to not make an argument on behalf of “Numb” being my favorite track on this record…there’s a lot of great material on O-Bone & that’s not in dispute – but hearing just how many miles Nate gets out of the core melody at the end of his new album’s first half, is nothing short of spellbinding.  Being a six-plus minute track as well, he’s got a whole lot of time to work his magic on ya, and bring in that diversity we already now know & love in the dynamics of this dude’s music, which he’ll have no problem supplying as “Numb” does an audible 180-degree turn at mid-point.  I make no bones about it – he’s giving ya the best of both worlds here – you get a remarkably addictive melody to fuel the song’s first half, and a wild dose of creativity in the aftermath to form the second.  “Numb” somewhat takes on two lives within the one song…I might be more partial to the absolutely incredible melody he’s discovered in the first three-minutes or so myself, but I certainly dig & respect the fact that Jacobucci continued to innovate this idea even further into something altogether different.  It’s quite possible that for many people out there listening, “Numb” is going to contain some of the most memorable hooks you’ll find on O-Bone…the piano is outstanding, the beat is on-point, and the words are great too – but it’s completely Nate’s vocals that take this song to the very next level it deserved to reach.  What makes that even better is how genuine & natural his performance is – he’s not shouting, he’s not jumping up & down to catch your attention, or even cranking up the amplifiers like he just did on “Nocturnal Man” beforehand – this is simply the man at his most plain, simple, and organic…naked as a jaybird really…at least for those first three-minutes or so, before the second-half of this cut springs to life, almost in an audible defiance of the half that came before.  Just when you think that Nate’s become so “Numb” he might never find his way back to feeling…anything at all, I suppose – this tune springs to life and proves he’s not about to go gentle into that good night, you dig?  “Numb” for the moment maybe – down perhaps too…but far from out, and the mix of emotions on this track confirms that 100%.

LISTEN TO THAT WILL YA?  That piano/guitar combo he’s got goin’ on for “Bones?”  That perfection you’ll hear?  Right – that’s what I’m talking about!  I love easygoin’ vibes like this, where the focus remains sharply on the magic of melody and drifts along without a care in the world.  I mean…there are plenty of things to care about of course…many of which you’ll hear detailed within the lyricism of this very song right here…but you get what I mean…it’s just got a natural & organic sound to its whole spirit that’s relentlessly endearing & enticing in equal proportions.  “Bones” is a guarantee to remind folks out there familiar with bands like Sparklehorse and Grandaddy of that sweet sound they love, all twisted with brilliant lyricism & melodies that resonate just as powerfully in your heart as they do in your mind.  Working the Alt/Pop/Indie style to fantastic effect, “Bones” takes its time getting to the main hooks, giving you plenty to consider in your thoughts along the way with the imagery & detail in Nate’s words.  That piano melody alone is worth the price of admission, and there is SO MUCH more for you to like or love or both about this tune that believe me, you’re just scratching the surface of this song by pointing out any one the pieces in the sum of its parts.  “Bones” is one of those tunes that’ll have you digging in deeper, and happy to do it – you wanna slide right into the mellow vibes on the surface, and he’s rockin’ with such a gentle Fountains Of Wayne level of sparkle & appeal, that you’ll have no problem at all taking that extra time to slip underneath into the layers of deeper meaning within the lyricism too.  No doubt that “Bones” would be up there with my favorite tracks on this record…I think Nate’s nailed this one from the vocals once again from the lead to the background, with smart additions like the ambient nature surrounding him, and the Kids In the Hall-esque guitar chiming-in at the end was fantastic as well.

You’d almost swear he was about to launch into a song by The Beach Boys for a moment as “Living In A Loop” begins when it comes to the sound of the vocals he’s rockin.’  Divergence comes shining through in the depth of the lyricism and how Nate has no problem whatsoever giving you a shiny happy sound on the surface, while burying much deeper roots underneath through the contrast of his words.  “Living In A Loop” is one of many isolation-induced tunes on this record that you’re bound to relate to whether you wanna admit it or not…I know I’ve felt like I’ve been stuck on repeat for what feels like forever, but that feeling existed long before we were all officially shut-in.  If you’ve ever spent some time digging into simulation theory and found your way down that whole rabbit-hole, believe me, it’s tough to not feel like you’re stuck in a maze that travels on a singular path, wash, rinse, repeat.  Where Jacobucci shows an astoundingly insightful & daring level of his own artistic prowess, is right there in the repetitive design of the backing vocals and main chorus hooks – he’s absolutely unafraid to beat this idea to death to prove the point he’s making through the lyrics & theme, and I 100% love the fact that this is the case.  I’m all about suiting the true needs of a song, and that’s exactly what he’s done here – flawlessly, full-stop.  You know how I know that’s a fact?  The repetition in the vocals is completely WELCOME – because it makes SENSE to have it.  So while yes, it mimics a madness we can certainly all relate to in some way, shape, or form – it’s bizarrely soothing because of how logical everything really fits in here.  All of the main guests will show up here together – you’ve got Grant Prosser, who just lent his voice to the backing vocals on “Bones” showing up again right after on “Living In A Loop” to add more & a lil’ guitar while he’s stopping in, and Cody Rey Valentonis on the bass, Joe Proulx on the ‘backwards guitar.’  They’re makin’ guitars go backwards now?  I really, really do need to get out into this world more.  “Every day is the same old thing” is the mood, the moment, and the anthem for what we’ve been feeling – you know, I know it…you hear “Living In A Loop” and you can’t help but recognize how applicable it is.

“Theme From “O-Bone” / Shake Yer Tibia” – I mean…sure…why not?  Am I gonna be the guy that says this instrumental oddity is the cut that went over the creative edge a step too far after all the brilliance I’ve witnessed so far?  Nope!  I assure you, I am not.  I love the fact that this guy has no problem at all gettin’ weird with it…and this song is definitely that.  Is the “Shake Yer Tibia” a sly reference to something like Sheik Yerbouti, or a nod to Zappa in some way through the vibrant psych influence you’ll find on this cut & many throughout this record?  It could very well be!  And it could also simply be Nate innocently encouraging you to “Shake Yer Tibia” and nothing more…who knows?  Good lord I’ve been out of the education system way too long…where the heck is my tibia again anyway?  Am I capable of still shaking it?  Lemme type this into my Google machine here as I curse myself for only knowing anything about a single subject on this entire planet…  Ahh yes!  It’s the shin bone!  I can shake that for ya no problemo Nate – quite happy to comply I as listen to “Theme From “O-Bone” / Shake Yer Tibia.”  This bizarre little oddity doesn’t exactly come completely outta left-field with Nate having revealed his creativity in so many different ways already to this point – but at the same time, “Theme From “O-Bone” / Shake Yer Tibia” definitely makes no attempt to disguise itself from being a musical oddity either.  Unapologetically gettin’ wild and groovin’ out for a miniature moment in two-plus minutes…it’d be hard not to let loose along with Nate here for this tiny lil’ ditty he’s got goin’ on right here…it just feels good!

I never did the Daniel Johnston thing…don’t even really know why that is if I’m being honest with ya.  Seems to be one of those guys where, every time I hear someone else cover one of his songs, I feel like I’m gonna love it that much more than the original…but I recognize how much in the minority I am in when it comes to that opinion…dude’s a beloved songwriter out there in this world with many rabidly passionate fans, still to this day.  Listening to Nate take on “Frankenstein Love” was a perfect example of what I mean…I’m not actually familiar with the original – but am I REALLY gonna somehow like it more than the performance that Jacobucci puts in here?  I’m not saying it’s impossible, just very unlikely – I felt like Nate knocked this right outta the park.  Credit where credit is due, it’s a really well written tune to begin with…the effect of great songwriting is that it can naturally translates into another artist’s sound with that much more ease…Jacobucci should be proud of this cover though, he’s clearly given this song every bit as much as he had with his originals, and he gets a mesmerizing level of heart & sincerity into the main hooks that should pretty much have everyone out there going back to this cut instantly, if only to confirm you heard the magic that you really just did.  I assure you, it’s there – but listen anyway.

I’d assume that “Exhumed And Groomed” would be what separates the wheat from the chaff, as they say.  Some people out there are gonna hear the tie-ins between this and “Bones” from earlier on, and some are gonna miss that entirely, as casual listeners tend to do.  I’ll admit it, sometimes if you’re looping your way through a record, sometimes you just assume you’re hearing the same song, even if it’s actually just a piece that you recognize, you tend to think it comes from the source you knew.  If you’re paying attention, you can’t miss it…it’s right there & crystal clear for you to hear.  Is “Bones” a better song?  Yes.  I’m fairly confident in that answer…or at the very least, it’s more accessible overall – “Exhumed And Groomed” is more of an artistic spin on that concept perhaps…I suppose that’s fair to say…or perhaps better yet, even more of a summation of the album entirely when you consider what else it brings back in the process as it nods to even more of the previous lineup as well along the way.  Inadvertently, “Exhumed And Groomed” becomes a smorgasbord…a sample platter in audible form…a taster’s selection of sound that recalls much of what you’ve heard throughout O-Bone and wraps it all up underneath a larger artistic umbrella, while proving that everything on this record has been carefully planned out to the nth degree, and played with the ingenuity, heart, and passion to match his ambition.

I have no reason to doubt Nate’s spirituality, but it definitely did seem to shift the final moments of this record in a different direction at the very end, on “O Creator.”  There’s nothing that ties Nate to any one specific religion if I’m listening correctly here…more or less, it sounds like he’s confident there is a creator of some kind, at least for the purposes of this last song – it’s kind of like half of a plea for some help, and half calling this creator out of their hiding, to come and do some of the heavy lifting for once.  Who knows who’s up there, who’s listening, or who even really cares, if anyone at all – all I know is that over this past year & a half, I think we’ve all spent some time finding a bit of faith on some level, if only limited to the faith that we’d all get through this mess of lockdowns, disease, & isolated times we’re in.  “O Creator – show yourself” – as Nate will ask/demand – and I’m with him on that one for sure…whomever is responsible for all this beautiful mess surrounding us should at the very least come at us face-to-face and take ownership of it, don’t ya think?  What’s the fun in just leaving a book of fables behind for us to piece together without coming back to check & see if we even got the moral of the story at all?  We can’t argue with a book…and quite often, arguing with the people that read it regularly can prove to be even harder – “O Creator – show yourself” so that we can sort this all out, eh?  While there’s a chance it could be tongue in cheek, it all sounds sincere, and Nate never breaks character to let you know otherwise through his performance, so you kinda gotta assume it genuinely IS – I don’t think he’s particular about who or which creator you yourself might end up praying to or asking for guidance –he’s just searching for something…anything…anyone to respond, and bring a little light back into the world he knew & a little reprieve from the madness of our isolated times for us all.  He’s definitely done his part…he’s both asked directly, and given it to us through the music he’s made on this tremendous solo-effort.  He’s made a record to seriously be proud of with O-Bone – this whole experience has been fantastic from start to finish from concept to execution and he’s left no stone unturned in the process of keeping us engaged & entertained, mind, body, and soul, full-stop.  For what’s only his second official record, Nate Jacobucci proves he’s got the chops to lead the way in the future to follow…ideas like he has don’t just come along every day, and he’s got the skills to back’em up.

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