The instrument most commonly associated with rock music is the guitar. And it should be as it was the instrument which Chuck Berry used to create the genre. But some time later Jerry Lee Lewis showed the world that the piano, an instrument up until then which was really only associated with classical music and jazz, could also be used to rock the socks off a crowd. Years later both Elton John and Billy Joel used the piano to explore different aspects of rock and pop. And within the last two decades Ben Folds tickled the ivory and showed a younger generation of music fans the power of the piano.
Seattle singer-songwriter Henry Mansfield, who heads up the piano-pop rock Henry Mansfield & The Bearded Scooter Gang, seems at once to be a student of Folds or at least have come under his influence in some way or another. The songs on his first EP The View From Radio Towers were rife with Fold’s styled melodies and the heavy dips and swells of emotion that make Fold’s songs as powerful as any guitar fronted rock band.
Now Henry Mansfield & The Bearded Scooter Gang have returned with their second EP Aside. Aside opens with the semi-ballad “The Smallest Possible Eyes” where quick and shimmering peals of piano segue the tune into a an all-out pop rock jam session. Next on the electronic tinged head bopper “Mascarpone” Mansfield exhibits the influence of Ben Folds. This is not only in the hard to resist piano-pop hooks but also in his tongue in cheek lyrics about domestic life, “See: my husband card says nothing about this / I've memorized Home Depot aisles / And the corner of the radiator / I can build you things you won't believe / But I'll never understand this recipe,” he sings sounding happily defeated.
And later he confesses, “My hands are homesick with a whisk / How is it that this can be so hard? / I was really hoping that I could impress ya / But now I can see I'm no Barefoot Contessa / You've left me with instructions for some tiramisu / Honey, I'm enthusiastic but I'm no you...” Here like Folds Mansfield writes lyrics that are accessible and understandable. He doesn’t try to shroud meaning in metaphoric mystery, a path which so many young musicians think is the way to write lyrics.
As much as the piano is a factor on Aside it would be an oversight to overlook the excellent backing band of musicians, The Scooter Gang, which help to add so much to these songs. “The Scooter Song” is an excellent example of this collaborative effort. We hear Jackson Borek and Kira Newell blaring away on the trombone and trumpet, Gus Meyer pounding away on the drums and guitar and bass via Chris Clark-Johnson and Serena Dominguez. They show up most raucously again on the Irish-rock laden thrash and bang “Mr. Milford.”
Sadly Aside is probably the last release you’ll hear from Henry Mansfield & The Bearded Scooter Gang for a while because Mansfield is moving on to attend the Berklee College of Music in order to further hone his craft. In this way Aside is a bittersweet parting gift, but one you won’t soon forget.
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