Art-Rock Multi-Instrumentalist and Keyboard Wizard Jack Spann Plays the Nation’s Best Outdoor Music Festival

by delarue

Art-rock multi-instrumentalist Jack Spann’s connection to David Bowie is bittersweet. It started out as a hired-gun gig, laying down some rough guide tracks for the songs on what would become Bowie’s final album. The Thin White Duke was so impressed by Spann’s work that he lined up Spann to be the keyboardist on the following tour that sadly never happened. So it’s hardly a shock that Spann’s soon-to-be-released Beautiful Man From Mars would be a Bowie homage – although, characteristically, it’s very eclectic. The next big gig for Spann – who was iconic New York noir rocker LJ Murphy’s pianist for a time – is at the nation’s largest and arguably best outdoor festival, Milwaukee Summerfest at 8 PM at the Briggs & Stratton Backyard Stage (that’s how they name them there). Cover is $20, or you can get in before 6 PM, grab a Leinie and a brat and check out the other stages for $13.

As he did on his most recent release, Spann plays all the instruments, bolstered by producer Gary Tanin on keys. The opening title track, a lush, glamrock-influenced waltz, salutes Bowie with a crescendoing grandeur. Time isn’t an Alan Parsons Project cover but a kinetic, stiletto baroque rock number. Lies has a more towering angst, and interestingly recalls that British band at their most anthemic and ornate.

Songman comes across as a cynical update on Billy Joel’s Piano Man narrative: drunks badgering the band for more even though “The music is too busy, they’re not leaving any space.”

She Makes Pornography isn’t a snarky punk song, but instead a bitter Trump-era gig-economy anthem: pity the single mom who has nothing more to fall back on than this. Fear or Loyalty opens with hints of dub reggae but quickly rises to an angst-fueled waltz, a challenge to take a leap of faith and get the hell out. Then Spann blends Orbison noir and Alan Parsons grandeur in Deep Inside:

Hard to tell the difference
Living on the surface
Going about my business
And missing out on purpose

The soul-inspired I’m a Bird is a lot more lighthearted. The album’s best and funniest song is Snooty Acres – “where your elbows should not rub with the kitchen help” – a ragtime-infused sendup of suburban status-grubbing. Spann takes Just Another Version of You in a sardonically loungey direction before hitting the kind of wildfire barrelhouse piano interlude he’s been thrilling New York audiences with for years. The album closes with the blithely funky, suspiciously deadpan instrumental Jack Around and a wistful instrumental reprise of the title cut.