Upon release, “Jesters of Xmas Town” topped several European music charts as well as being featured in MTV's Pimp My Ride. Why? Because it was just what the music listening audience was in need for – a trip away from the norm.
“Jesters of Xmas Town” is the 2018 release from Big Bus Dream an Alternative Pop Rock band hailing from North Carolina USA and it has great shock appeal.
At first reading the title, one may think that this is a holiday album, but not at all – the title comes from a town familiar to the band and is a perfect illustrative backdrop for the musical lineup of the EP.
Knowing exactly how to piece together music that sets your senses on a journey of practicality rather than unrealistic mumbo-jumbo, Big Bus Dream’s front man, Michael Shannon has brought us a 13-track musical composition that is full of instrumentation and storylines that are memorable. Including great melodies spinning tales in a similar manner to Paul McCartney, “Jesters of Xmas Town” is mellow with lyrical variations, harmonies, and simplistic instruments spelling out the band’s vision. It is as if you are on a bus looking out the window being a spectator into the lives of everyday people just enjoying and exploring life.
This album features 13 tracks:
- Another Me
- Echoes of Blue
- Mary Has Spoken
- Money Trumps Everything
- My Parade
- Tremble at Your Feet
- Sweet Sorrow
- I’d Die for You
- Already Gone
- Since You Left
- Can’t Count the Pain
- Another Me – Reprise
- Since You Left
The premise of this album illustrates how life is like a trip where you meet up with the chaotic and the well-ordered - be it in the form of pain, sanity, death of a relationship, escape, or love, and how your achievements or failures do not depend on the destination, or where you wind up, but how you change through each encounter throughout the travel.
This is a capsule review of “Jesters of Xmas Town” where I place a focus only on the tracks that I feel fully execute the album’s overall theme: four were chosen by Shannon himself (single releases), “Another Me,” “Echoes of Blue,” “Mary Has Spoken,” and “My Parade,” as well as two that I chose, “I’d Die for You” and “Can’t Count the Pain.”
Now, it is your turn to hop on the bus and experience living!
The opening song, “Another Me” touches on a topic that sadly is too familiar today, divorce. The lyrics illustrate how even though one partner may leave in hopes of finding a better lot in life, sometimes, that is not the case. For example, once can leave due to what they think is boredom and wind up in a spider’s web. Shannon sings “she packed her things for christmas town / she said my news like good blues got her down / well she can change her name, fly and call it free / they'll never be / another me / now she lives with gifts and clowns / she got a brand new name, the jesters of xmas town / got a call from my ex-wife / it seems her brand new jester's married to his pipe / he loves to rant and rave and hit her without a bruise / she can fly but she's not free / she'll always be a part of me / is anybody really free / another me.” I wanted to cite both verses to show the cause and effect of such a decision and how Shannon was able to temper the harsh reality of this topic by choosing words that evoke imagery and are not complicated.
Echos of blue, how do you do / your voice, your smell, i ache / i knew i was staring death right in the face / so even though I tend to put things in their place / echos of blue, how do you do / my life is nothing without you / echo[e]s of you, echo[e]s of blue. Those are the opening words to a musical prose that is delicate and not forced. “Echoes of Blue” is that highly passionate piece of music that dives right in and starts the emotions going. After listening to this track repeatedly, the lyrics kept one word in my mind, “L-O-V-E.” Like music from the Mama’s and the Papa’s, this track from start to finish touches on all the points of a love song regardless of the tempo and it stays fresh – vocal enunciations, impactful instrumentation, bits of harmony notes, and the expression of a feeling that only the artist can define. Shannon sings in a register of frankness and influence – with a musical foundation of basically guitars and light percussions, this song will sit light on your heart but leave an impression.
The third track “Mary Has Spoken” sits right between Pop Rock and Folk and it is a beautiful track that plays like a random acoustic set – very realistic and honest. The song is about opposites attracting and devotion being the glue that balances the scales – the lyrics paints the picture: I never got the hang of life on a rope choosing short straws... dealing for whores / she's not diggin' this artsy scene / she' s very well bred, early to bed and I’m this incident waiting to be no one gets off or rides free. Both perfect and slant rhyme is utilized by the artist. The rhyme scheme is like Dylan in that it touches on the rhymes slightly enabling the storytelling to be highlighted – this technique of rhyme makes the message memorable and not monotonous.
A wonderful mix of brass, percussions, and strings greet the fans on the intro of “My Parade” the fifth track in this collection of 13. “My Parade” has a refreshing classic 1980s Rock feel to it playing much like the musical lovechild of Bob Seger and Eric Clapton and I dig it. With that acoustic bass conception, raw lyrics that speak on honest topics, and a vocal that is rugged and smooth at the same time, this track is ready to climb the Rock charts. The lyrics express the narrator’s realization of his reality by saying “welcome to my parade / screwed right from the start / so I go rain on my parade / I don't know how to stop / I fell in my room / this gin-infested room / I think I’m barely kickin' / will I know when I stop kickin' / I never fit in!” It is a road that is turned upside down, but it is his to own, and he is okay with that fact. The song has a nice layered instrumental bridge loaded with a crazy hot brass section and ends almost celebratory in that the vocals are in unison and highlighted with modulated FX, and why not, it is his world – welcome to it!
Trying to find a track today about eternal love is hard, unless you get your hands on Big Bus Dream’s eighth track “I’d Die for You.” In this piece, the love that is felt by the muse is clearly defined. No need to try and connect dots with monotonous melodies or complicated lyrics, no, this tune plays basic and real, Shannon sings “you’re in my head, so I’m a part of you / I’d lie for you, it’s true, yeah, you, I’d die for you, always be with you.” Almost Beatle-like with its smooth guitar progressions between the bass and the lead, as well as the pleasant melody modulations and straight lyrical lines, this modern romantic track is a #mustlisten. I also loved the rhyme scheme on this piece, so openhearted and not complicated.
And, I simply LOVE the way “Can’t Count the Pain” begins – so evocative and wonderfully euphoric. The way that the hook of “can’t count the pain” sings along with harmonies in a lower register from the music, and how the backing vocals hugs that chord is infectious. The way Shannon implements this treatment makes the cut a perfect example of Alternative music showcasing a blend of Pop-Rock and Blues-Rock – kind of smoky and dark but not dreadful. The lyrics sing: met an old friend at the train today, she said I look good, I said I feel fine, you should see me on the inside, don’t get me started, I’d be up on charges, can’t count the pain, can’t count the pain. This track is very metaphoric with pain being illustrated as being so numerous in life that it can be counted (i.e. rain drops) - and, it is counted as one is trying to keep their sanity. But just like when someone attempts to count rain, it’s impossible. The guitars on this cut is absolutely ah-mazing from the acoustic riffs throughout on to the resonant electric six string that closes this ear-gripping track.
Big Bus Dream’s Michael Shannon stated that “Music should only be about passion, heart [and] a unique voice” and this latest album “Jesters of Xmas Town” brings those words to life. If ever there were an album that encompasses a true journey of musical imagination, it is “Jesters of Xmas Town.”
Sometimes less is more, and when you can accomplish that in music today without sacrificing the music, you are a giant among mice. I mean, how often do you hear songs on the radio that are so unpretentious that it places your mind at rest and allows for you to dream? Let’s be frank here: not everything needs to be overproduced and donned with bells and whistles to be considered a “hit.”
And while the acoustic guitar flourishes on this production, I enjoyed the fascinating sounds of additional instruments incorporated which made for an exciting difference adding texture, like Bongos, East Asian instrumentation (i.e. Lute), eclectic percussions and keys, along with tambourines, violins, and bells to name a few.
The way the songs were written, composed, implemented, and produced by Michael Shannon made complex ideas less rigid and less weighty giving more purpose to the Pop Rock musical genre as it can often lack originality and personality. And with the inclusion of the talents from Chick Tsikouras, Henry Parr, Ray Henderson, and Andrew Shannon, the audio and visual came to life on “Jesters of Xmas Town.”