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Alex Nahas (Bright Brown and Laughing Stock)

Bright Brown

No Matter How Faint There's Light In Everything 2009 CD $15.

review by Greg Howard

Alex Nahas: vocals, Chapman Stick, keyboards, melodica, percussion
Nick Smeraski: drums, percussion, keyboards, acoustic guitar, trumpet

For those of you who may have been wondering what Alex Nahas (Laughing Stock) has been doing for the last 10 years, this is it — writing, singing and recording some brilliant songs, full of pathos and alienation, but sweetened with strong doses of optimism. Together with fellow multi-instrumentalist Nick Smeraski (drums, percussion, keyboards), the now Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter looks to the American West for sonic and thematic influences on this new collection of cinematic originals. Singing Stickists are something of a rarity, perhaps because it would seem even more difficult to play two parts and sing simultaneously (a debatable point). True or not, Alex doesn't minimize the musical underpinnings of these songs; there's a lot of creative Stick playing going on as well.

Alex is a singer for our time. As we ponder our post-millenial and post-9/11 zeitgeist, feeling like aliens in our own society, we live out our lives waiting for something big to happen ("gray sky, make up your mind..."). Alex invites us to be more in the present, but there's a catch. He willingly pulls our cultural reference points out from under us ("There never was the 1950s...no such thing as the American Dream"), but he's kind enough not to leave us sprawled out on the floor; there is something more.

From the dessicate "Like Texas" to the plaintive and even more partched "King of Thirst", this music often broods along with us, but Bright Brown never fails to counter our collective agita with healthy doses of climactic major chords and high-arcing vocal choruses. Here are echoes of Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake, but with much more urgency ("I come to you seeking relief. Are you listening? Do you hear my plea?"). Alex's voice is immediate, dry and full of emotion, perfectly suited to these self-described "melodramatic pop songs." He's also become a father, and turns his imagination as the ultimate outsider to his infant son Aurel's new life, inside and outside of the womb ("...want to know what it was like inside"). These songs are about relationships, between father and child, individual and society, ("am I moving or just another roadside attraction?"), dreams and reality.

The musical relationship between Alex and Nick comes through loud and clear, and soft and sure. Smeraski knows how to hold back, and then rain down drums upon us at just the right moment. There's an unmistakable "band" tightness between the two. Sonically, Bright Brown is a classic rock trio of bass, guitar and drums. Together they know how to weave a quiet tale, but they also know how to "rock out." The "bass" and "guitar" are Alex's ironwood 10-string Stick, run through old tube amps, and sounding all burbly and warm, with chunky, overdriven leads, and a twangy tremolo that spaghetti western composer Ennio Morricone would be proud of. While the role The Stick occupies in this music is already clearly defined, many of the lines are unique to tapping and the interweaving between the hands that it brings. Sometimes painfully spare, and sometimes lush and clamorous, these are masterfully produced tracks - dynamic, engaging and full of heart.

Sample tracks and more info about Bright Brown at:

Track Listing
 1. Are You Listening?
 2. Dust Angel
 3. Like Texas
 4. Aurel
 5. Bright
 6. Haircut
 7. Hippopotamus
 8. Mothers Of Memory
 9. Moments In And Out Of Traffic
10. King Of Thirst

Laughing Stock

Laughing Stock 1998 CD $15.

The Lineup:
Eric Gebow: drums, metal, Jingles the clown, toys
John Brevik: organ, Rhodes, trombone
Alex Nahas: vocals, Chapman Stick, bass melodian, percussion

Alex's singing is mournful and angry, but the darkness is energizing not depressing. His Stick work covers a lot of ground. His bass lines can be simple and effective, or truly melodic engines, whatever's appropriate to the song. His melody sounds and arrangement ideas would make a guitarist jealous, with tremolo-laden reverberating chords and lyrical distortion. In all cases, his playing serves the songs, not the inverse, which makes this a really engaging record on repeated listens.

Brevik and Gebow artfully add their own distinct colors, lines and textures, making this CD am engaging and cohesive listen.

Laughing Stock 1996 CD $15.

Laughing Stock is the debut CD from Stick player/vocalist Alex Nahas and drummer Eric Gebow The spacious production, harmonic structures and frequent spoken word passages are similar to Portishead, but even sparer. Nahas Stick work is remeniscent of Tony Levin both sonically and stylistically, and the oprgan samples are a great tonal complement to the Stick's sound. Swelling Stick melody chords and textures are well-placed, including some distorted chord and lead work.

Gebow's drumming is tasteful and grooving, and the whole thing is quite nicely recorded. Nahas' singin fits in well, with additional musical complements from Mike Wylie (organ samples) and trumpeter Bill Swan. All original songs.

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