CD Reviews

NOW and again

by sam pfeifle, portland phoenix, 06.24.04

Mitch Alden claims he didn’t plan it this way, but he’s evincing damn fine timing this week with the release of his second full-length as Now Is Now, Days of Summer. Not only does the title, along with the sunflower-soaked cover, play perfectly on our desperate need to be convinced that Maine does indeed have a summer, but the songs on the disc are as bright and airy as last Sunday’s weather.

Alden, if his songwriting is any indication, is a pretty happy, upbeat guy. And fairly deep-thinking. So there’s a lot of stuff here like "And sunshine will break on through/ Daylight will rescue" or "Watch the world go by, start your life now/ Yesterday, tomorrow, what are you waiting for." He’s got a lot of motivational speaker in him.

On his debut effort, Transitions, he wasn’t quite able to channel all this positivity into a singular vision, but now that he’s been with drummer Neil Carroll and bassist Dan Paul for a few years, this album feels cohesive and meaningful. It’s a chance for Alden to put on display his classic pop songwriting, akin to the Frotus Caper in many ways, a mix of up-beat singles and introspective ballads.

Where he differs from the pop of the Caper, though, is that rather than borrow from the ’60s pop of the Beach Boys, Monkees, and Beatles, he takes more from the late-’80s pop of melodic Rush or Live. Or even 1997’s Cornershop hit, "Brimful of Asha" — you know, the one that goes, bunna-chicka, bunna-chicka, "forty-five." So opens the title track, third on the disc. The chorus of "days of summer last much longer with you" is up to the challenge in its catchiness, each word enunciated and emoted for full rock-star effect.

On "Paintbox," Alden delivers upbeat, wicka-wicka guitars, previewing a funk number like you might hear Sly-Chi pen, with a bass line of ’80s Rick Springfield, but then there’s a quick switch to Presto-era Rush — except Alden isn’t Geddy Lee’s vocal equal (especially on soft numbers, like "Watch the World," Alden can be out of tune), nor Alex Lifeson’s guitar equal, but who is?

I particularly like the aggressive finish to this one, around the 4:30 mark, with the repetition of "my little girl, she went away/ she went away when she was so young." In general, Now Is Now succeed more on the rockers than the ballads. The finisher, for instance, "Golden Leaves," is too reminiscent of the Cowboy Junkies’ "Misguided Angel," and the comparisons to Margo Timmins, though not fair, can’t be helped.

That said, Days of Summer is a significant upgrade on the already strong Transitions, and Now Is Now’s many ardent fans certainly won’t be disappointed.

sam pfeifle is a staff writer for the portland phoenix.