"A View From the Inside", a totally biased review of Canvas - "Long Way To Mars"
by Greg Lounsberry
Work had already begun on what was to be the new Canvas album before
"DigitalPigeon" was released. The majority of the songs recorded during this
period were discarded. It had already been decided that this was to be a
shorter album than before to more fully engage the listener with a listening
session of reasonable length. The issue of listener fatigue with the longer
albums was discussed. The best answer, then was to throw away the "really
good" songs, and only keep the "great" songs. Whether the listeners agree with
that assessment remains to be seen, so let's dive in to the review, on a song
by song basis.
1. Long Way To Mars - I was not involved with this song, but Chris sent me
some early demos to listen to, when it was mainly just organ. This is a very
jazzy track that reminds me of Saga in some places. It is nicely sung by Mike
2. Better - This is one of the tracks that I had never heard prior to the
album release. It is Chris Cobel's vocal debut, and I have to say, he did a
nice job. The song has a nice pop flavor with a memorable melody. The quality
vocal production by Matt makes Chris sound really good.
3. Brightest Star - This was originally recorded for "Guitars Dancing in the
Light", the Santana tribute by Mellow records of Italy. This is a new mix for
this album. Tammy sang the lead, and if you ask me, knocked it out of the
park. That is Tammy and myself on Background vocals. The organ and guitar are
excellent (Chris and Matt) and really capture the Santana flavor.
4. Valkyrie Days - I was having a rough time at work when Chris called, and
sent me his initial 1 minute demo of the keyboard track for this song. My
first impression was that of floating on a cloud, and I immediately had the
melody for the song. While in that state, the word Valkyrie popped into my
head. I thought of the valiant slain being carried away from the battlefield
by the beautiful winged warrior women of Norse legend, showing beauty, even in
defeat. I had an electronics professor who used to say, "Some days you eat the
bear, and some days the bear eats you". So that became the concept for the
song about a guy who goes to work every day, facing defeat, dreaming that
one day he would "Call the Valkyrie down on them all". I love both guitar solos, the
first, by Matt, and the second one by myself where I tried to capture the
dreamy, airy sensation I encountered on my first listen.
5. Johnny Don't Know - A Chris Cobel song sung by Tom, who is probably tired
of the Chicago comparisons by now. There are some strong moments here, and
very singable melodies. I had a twinge or two with the lyrics, but you may not
agree with that. The message is right on.
6. Scheherezade - This song started out as an outtake from the "Digital
Pigeon" era that Matt tossed my way to see if there was something that could
be done with it. Tammy loves telling funny stories about the kids, so I wrote
the lyrics about her, describing her as a modern day Scheherezade. The melody,
once again, just fell into place as the lyrics emerged. I am not sure Matt and
Chris had really heard Tammy sing before this, as they were expecting that I
would be singing (The October Tree album was being recorded concurrently with
the Canvas album). They were naturally blown away. I love this song, and I
think if Canvas had wider distribution, it could be a hit single.
7. Weather - This is a cool, Cobel song that reminds me in places of Spock's
Beard. This may be the most progressive track on the album. This is classic
Canvas at their best.
8. The Beginning Is Near - Matt tossed me a 1 minute acoustic demo, and
because I was in the middle of making a pickup for my Tacoma Mandolin, I threw
a mandolin track on it and shot it back to him. The next time I heard it, was
on the final mastered version of the album. Wow! This is Tammy's favorite
track on the album. It sounds acoustic, yet electric, and to me is a new
musical direction for Canvas.
9. Starry - This was a track that didn't appeal to me at first so I decided to
make Tammy sing it. I wrote the lyrics and melody concurrently, with Tammy
standing at the microphone. I imagined a walk through an art gallery where all
three of Van Gogh's "Starry" paintings were on display. Tammy's voice is clear
and strong, the instrumental section is fiery, and it may be the best lyrics
I've ever written.
10. Modern Town - I would love some feedback on this one. I really struggled
with it. The key was wrong for me, causing me to have to drop down below my
normal vocal range. I couldn't get a good vocal sound, so I never learned to
love it. Matt, Chris and John's parts are fabulous, and it is a rocking track
with killer guitar work. The Tarkus-style vocal swell was me, recording
multiple vocal tracks, and then manually controlling the track volumes in
Cubase, 10cc style.
This is far and away Canvas' best album (I told you this review would be
biased) The length is perfect, and the mixing and mastering are top quality.
None of the other reviews have posted yet, but I expect raves.
1. Long Way To Mars
3. Brightest Star
4. Valkyrie Days
5. Johnny Don't Know
8. The Beginning Is Near
10. Modern Town
Matt Sweitzer - guitars, bass, keyboards, drums
Chris Cobel - keyboards, vocals, trumpet
Tammy Lounsberry - vocals
Greg Lounsberry - vocals, guitar, mandolin
John Swope - drums
Mike Florio - lyrics, vocals & synth solo on "Long Way To Mars"
Tom Mattern - vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, trumpet