We are obviously Big Phans of Big Phony (ha!) @ BIC. When Euge told me that he (Big Phony/Bobby Choy) was releasing a new album, I jumped at the opportunity to pull a double bill and review his previous album as well. We got the news that the new album was being postponed, which was providential as this reviewer wasn’t getting it done. But the new album has had its official release, so on to business…
Straight to Bootleg, Vol. 1 is a pretty generous portion of standard Big Phony-fare: 15 new tracks in total, three of which were recorded in the studio. The rest, as you may have guessed from its title were recorded at home – an honest gesture if not as clean as what we may have heard in the past. But don’t let its recorded-at-home-ness deter you. Its charm (and by default, his charm) is its sincerity and for someone who writes lyrics that seem more like personal thoughts than public statements, its recorded-at-home-ness is a window into his songwriting process. So yea, I like home-produced. I get home-produced.
And the songs! There’s no doubting his songwriting finesse. Bobby Choy writes pretty songs – he has attained calls of similarity to Nick Drake, Elliott Smith and Bright eyes – no lowly comparisons; and if you still need convincing, listen to ‘words that define and ‘proof by name’. Like many from the abovementioned artists, these two songs are beautiful because the guitar isn’t seen as just an accompaniment but is used as a second voice as well. The songs are simple but not boring or predictable.
My favorite would have to be ‘I love Lucy’ (hear it on myspace here). I heard it awhile back and fell in love with it. And despite wanting to hear something new, I was so pleased to find it on an album; and I believe it’s on the new studio album as well. A close second would be ‘someone’. Even after the 20th listen, I can’t help but smile at the album opener: oohs that bring to mind the beach boys and taffy and then a timid warning, “watch out, there’s a mean motherfucker coming after you.” There’s a certain playfulness to the song that we don’t hear often and it’s refreshing and works.
On that note, I sometimes can’t help but wonder if he knows how to be … well less broody. I’m not expecting a person who draws links to JD Salinger (or E. Smith) to be chipper but on occasion I want to hear that he has a different connection to his music. With the same levels of echo, he falls into a trap of having a tone that let people mistake the album of being one, long, breathy song. He is capable of writing such beautiful melodies and his guitar sings so much on its own but it seems that he’s singing the songs as if he were the only person around and not because they are great and worth others hearing.
Verdict: No real surprises but in that comforting mom-still-uses-the-same-detergent kind of way.