Bob Skon: 2nd Time Around
Right up front, I need to say that Bob is a very good friend of mine. So, it might be implied that I am biased. That is only true to the extent that I wanted to like his music when I first heard it. However, I take a lot of pride in the integrity of my reviews. That is why I felt it necessary to strike out on my own. On a truly objective level, I do like Bob’s music. If I didn’t, I most likely would have avoided this review altogether. It probably would have been a conversation along the lines of, “Yeah Bob, I would love to, but I’m really busy,” or some silly rule about not using friends as subject matter. Actually I am very busy, but I really wanted to make time to do this.
Bob is a musician best described in the singer / songwriter style, blended with a healthy dose of folk-rock, and a touch of jazz. I often hear him compared to James Taylor, but I find that too limiting. If radio were interested in cultivating quality music anymore, you would most likely hear Bob’s music on an adult contemporary station. Don’t let that scare you off. There is definitely sweetness, but he rocks enough to keep it from being candy-ass. Aside from the quality of the music itself, the lyrics are also extremely well crafted. He has a wonderful ability to use intelligent wordplay for capturing those moments in life we can all identify with. In this Bob could be a peer of the legendary Ray Davies.
“Second Time Around” is an album that was a long time coming. Bob had lived the life of a struggling musician over the years, in different parts of the country. He has had a good steady job in Ann Arbor for quite some time now, but never gave up the music. The dream of releasing an album was finally realized in 2005, and at an age when most people would have long since given up.
This is a collection of songs written at different times, but recorded together. So where the content of many albums reflect one period, this one spans a sizeable portion of a life. Thus making it even more appealing to a variety of audiences.
“Two Hearts” is a pretty subtle opener, but instantly infectious with the upbeat acoustic strumming. It is a song about the struggles of maintaining a relationship. The toe-tapping musical style is actually in contrast with some pretty emotional subject matter. I have found this to be quite common with many of Bob’s tunes.
The title track took me by surprise when I first heard it. I don’t recall ever hearing a song about a relationship ending for the second time. It is really quite sad, but so recognizable for those of us that have been there. Lyrically the experience is captured perfectly and concisely, without being over poetic. The musical tone is subdued, but not a lament (very nice use of organ on this one as well).
“I’ve Been Away from You Too Long” is a cool and simple little love song. This is also very representative of seeing “The Bob Skon Trio” live, using just guitar bass and drums (or most likely cajon). This one reminds me of a Beatles tune along the lines of “I Need You,” or “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.”
Want a sing along” I dare you not to feel the urge be bellowing the chorus of “A Dose of You” by the end. It starts out simply enough, but it builds, and before you know it you are completely engrossed in the charms of the tune. One again the organ returns, and there is also some cool Jerry Garcia inspired electric guitar thrown in. The elation of a new infatuation is extremely well conveyed through the description of physical manifestations. “Help me I’m having a heart attack, I guess I won’t be getting much older … This pounding heart, this sweating brow…” These are the words you will be singing when the song gets stuck in your head.
“The Night Ain’t Through” has doo-wop harmonies paired with a bit of jazz lounge shuffle. Damn, Bob sure knows how to create an irresistible bit of fun!
The previous track was just a teaser. “A Ghost of a Chance” is pure jazz lounge ballad. And it should be because it is a cover (the only cover) of a Bing Crosby tune. It is beautiful, excellently executed, and a bit embarrassing for how well I understand the sentiment. Well, I’m sure it’s not that uncommon to know the object of your desire is way out of your league.
“Baby’s alright” is a pleasant low-key rocker, with an especially strong vocal. It’s good, but compositionally inferior to the rest of the album. This is also where it becomes unavoidably apparent that Bob does tend to repeat some of his musical themes.
“Till I Stop Thinking of Her” could be the best lyrical snapshot of a moment. This is something that Ray Davies himself would have been very proud of if he was the author. Once again it is familiar territory, but not necessarily for songwriters. Sure, there are songs about still being consumed by the one who is gone, but not usually in this context. I am always brought right back to a situation where I getting to know someone new, but thinking of my last love and being totally honest about it.
“The Father” is quite interesting because of the fact that it was actually written from someone else’s perspective. Bob doesn’t have any children. It is a wonderful take on the reflections of a new parent. Without knowing, you would think this had to come from personal experience. Yeah, he’s pretty good.
For the sake of sheer beauty, the album closes with “Stephanie.” This is a soft and touching piece of advice for a young girl. Jen White provides a gorgeous backing vocal to insure optimum effectiveness.
This may not be especially groundbreaking stuff, and as I previously mentioned, there is some amount of repetition. However, it is very well crafted and highly enjoyable. It might not be overtly apparent, but there is a certain amount of complexity too. Bob’s composition, lyrics, vocals, and playing style are not just accessible, but also contain substance. This is bolstered by the assistance of longtime collaborator Matt Steward. I just don’t think the songs would be the same without his beats, harmonies, and creative input (didn’t think I was going to leave you out, did you Matt?). “Second Time Around” is a crowd pleaser. Both the casual listener, and the aficionado will be satisfied.
Bob Skon – Acoustic guitar, vocals, tambourine
Matt Steward – drums, percussion, and vocals
Dave Baker – bass and lead guitars
Randy Harper – Keyboards
Jen White – vocals on “Stephanie”