What do you get when you mix 1 part nostalgia, 1 part history, 1 part Mom and Apple Pie with a generous sprinkling of imagination?
You get the latest album by Richmond, Va based band Flashlight Tag appropriately named “American Electronica”.
Flashlight Tag is a two man band from Richmond comprised of Brian Phelps (Classic Monkey Shine, That Monster) and Justin Laughter (Silly Bus, junction).
Phelps and Laughter have a head bobbing, bouncy style in most everything they do and Americana Electronica delights from beginning to end. The brand new CD is a mixture of favorite treasures like Bill Bailey, Little Brown Jug, Take Me Out to the Ball Game and Oh Susanna re-imagined as only Flashlight Tag can, along with new songs written by the duo such as Betsy Ross, Benedict Arnold and Paul Revere. And woven between the history and nostalgia are a few short “spoken word” performances (in character) of letters and speeches by such noted Americans as Patrick Henry, Franklin D Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
The CD starts with the very short intro song Americana Electronica from which the CD gets it’s name. Using some cool vocal effects the song sets the mood for the entire CD with “church organ” chords supporting the vocals with lyrics borrowed from America the Beautiful and My Country ’tis of Thee and goes into Bill Bailey, the traditional song with a bit of distorted guitar, light percussion and keyboards transformed into a toe tapping jaunt down memory lane.
Next comes an original, Betsy Ross that poses lyrical questions of Mrs. Ross such as “Mrs. Ross did you knit Old Glory? Did Washington visit your home?” The song has an almost tropical feel and inserts memories of our National Anthem like “bright stripes and bright start” and “rocket’s red glare”.
Ha! Ha! Ha! You and me! Little Brown Jug I love thee bounces out with the banjo plunking lightly in the background. And a spoken bit from Benedict Arnold goes into the original song Benedict Arnold, a laid back respectful musical tome to the infamous man. “Your name is known throughout History (pronounced his story – a good play on words) for Treason and Betrayal”. But is there more to the story of a hero turned traitor? Listen to the words. This song could have been named Benedict Arnold’s Lament but it may give away too much of the story.
And what could follow a heavy song like Benedict Arnold? An interpretation of Patrick Henry’s “Give me Liberty of Give me Death?” speech with a low, rumbling undertone of synths. And the last “or give me death” melts into a death metal growl. (Can you say GWAR?)
The next song, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” isn’t so much about the song as it is about the questions facing Franklin D. Roosevelt as World War II ramped up. One of the big questions was “should we still play baseball during the war?”. So this song uses the old traditional baseball song as the vehicle for FDR’s thoughts on why we needed to keep baseball going during the war.
One of my favorites on the entire CD is “Good Old Summertime”. It brought back a memory of my Great Grandmother sitting on the porch at her pre-Civil War river house bringing out glasses of cold lemonade. She often sang this song when the whole family gathered on weekends to relax, fish and play. And you just don’t hear the nickname Tootsie Wootsie enough these days.
And Wabash Cannonball is just plain fun and the tremolo over-driven guitar was a nice touch.
Remember Home on the Range? Probably not like this. Sarah White (no relation) has a distinctive vocal style and the way the lyrics are phrased in this re-imagined version will bring a smile to your face.
Paul Revere is another original song and in a similar style to Betsy Ross, the song asks questions of Paul Revere. “Were you scared?” The sad voice of a lone violin with the lyrics “One if by Land, Two if by sea” and the song wonders what Paul Revere would think of America today. “If you could see what our land has come to be.” A beautiful and thoughtful song.
And the CD ends with Oh Susanna to bring up the mood and a reprise of the Electronica Americana where the chorus chants “We are America, land of the free. We are America, home of the brave”.
So be you a patriot, a history buff, a lover of old songs that never die or just someone who loves good music, this CD is an absolute trip down memory lane. It is not a chronological journey through time and history, rather, it pops you in and out of different eras like Mr. Peabody’s Way Back Machine.
If you want to feel good about America, revisit childhood memories, and perhaps learn something, this CD will accomplish all of that and leave you humming “We are America, land of the free”.
Preview the songs and buy the CD at CDBaby
And if you would like to attend the CD release party at Ashland Coffee and Tea on Thursday July 23, 2015 at 8:00 PM here are the details:
And Flashlight Tag will be joined by Sarah White and members of “The Taters” along with several other artists. It starts and 8:00 PM and promises to be a great night of fun and music.
Article written by: Tom White