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Julian Garner - Open Play

Julian Garner - Open PlayJem knows my weaknesses and prejudices so when Julian Garner released ĎOpenplay he knew Iíd want to hear it.

Although I can honestly say that generally Mr. Garner isnít exactly my kettle of hamsters I like his work because it always pleasantly surprises me. Always. Openplay has quite a few of them too.

Itís been the fashion for long established musicians to release Ďunpluggedí albums but the tracks written by Julian Garner are composed specifically for acoustic guitar and single voice. The covers, which include King Crimson's Three of a Perfect Pair, have been cleverly arranged to match that same approach all of which makes it a very strong album. Surprise number one: Heard it on the Grapevine is one of those songs which has a very distinctive sound so when the signature Motown style is exchanged for an acoustic one it takes guts to bring it off. And by God it works well too! Rather like shock number two: This Town Ainít big Enough for Both of Us! As an acoustic?!. Itís a funny song , this. Typical of the seventies pop-rock scene but somehow prog bands and fans have taken it to their hearts, IQ and Grey Lady Down both using it for encore pieces and, although the tune is eminently whistle-able, Iíve never been able to follow or even known anyone who knew the lyrics! Which I now know go:

Zoo time is she and you time
The mammals are your favourite type, and you want her tonight
Heartbeat, increasing heartbeat
You hear the thunder of stampeding rhinos, elephants
and tacky tigers
This town ain't big enough for both of us
And it ain't me who's gonna leave

So thatís another one of lifeís little mysteries cleared up then.

I do like a good lyric and Julian is not a lazy boy, oh no. I Never Meant to Self Destruct which has some smashing chord changes that come completely out of the blue (maybe Steve Howe meets WG Snuffy Walden with a hint of Squeeze?) and Feet Hit the Ground are two good examples of heart-on-sleeve writing that immediately smack of honesty and hard choices so you wonít find the usual clichťs and easy rhymes. He doesnít short change you on the words per line either. ĎI Said what I Said changes the mood with lines that we all wish weíd had the nerve to say, even though it might cost us dear later. (Some times the satisfaction really is worth it!)

Of all the fruit that withers on the vine
Iíll be youíre if you will be mine

Is a lovely line from my new favourite that basically says if youíre going to commit to someone then you have to be prepared to put up with their crap too. Romanticism and realism in a nutshell.

These songs feel highly concentrated and bear listening to over and over again, much like regular prog but we really donít expect acoustic work to be so hard wearing somehow. (Nuther nice surprise!)

About halfway through the CD, when you come up for, air it becomes obvious that this album is a lot richer than you might at first have thought. The guitar is complex and full sounding and a good example of just how much a good acoustic guitarist can do when left to get on with the job, carrying the rhythm, running melody lines and filling out the chords with a maximum of human input and a high quality, though deliciously non-clinical performance. Not fiddling with midi data to fix a poor performance or polish up a mediocre one. No opportunity for a dozen overdubs. Openplay would be remarkable if only for this. But when you step back and realise how relatively
short a time Garner seems to have been on the scene as a solo artist (even though itís actually over ten years) itís amazing just how far heís come to be able to put an album like Openplay together!

Exuberessence is a lovely instrumental break in the proceedings, lasting five minutes, so you can really lose yourself in this one. Engaging the first time around, itís also the kind of piece that rewards repeated listening rather in the tradition of modern classical music. (Itís worth mentioning that when he went solo Julian Garner was a keyboard player only and one of his first demands of himself was to learn guitar.)

Itís always a good sign when your favourites on a new album shift. The song that first drew you to it may not be the one you finally settle on as the defining piece of the disc as Iíve found to be the case here. As the first three songs arenít grabbing me yet, I know that they will! (Though track 4 Should I Stay or Should I Go? wasnít written by him so I wonít feel too bad about that if it doesnít take).

Jem - I am sticking my editorial black (blue?) ink here to point out that Julian's version of Three Of A Perfect Pair is in fact spot on but young (and I use the term with a degree of looseness) Chris has yet to understand and appreciate the qualities of that certain odd beat combo known as King Crimson!  He is due to be sentenced next week.

Julian Garner is evolving artistically and professionally at a rate of knots and I wouldnít like to guess what his next CD might contain, but itís going to be something very special indeed and expectations will be high. Ideally you should be able to dilute this disc, ten parts to one and drip feed it over about a month to do it justice. But Iíll do what I can.

Chris White

Julian Garner

Openplay track listing:
Given Time
More or Less
Three of a Perfect Pair
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
I Never Meant to Self-Destruct
This Town Ainít Big Enough for the Both of Us
I Said What I Said
Feet Hit the Ground
Heard it through the Grapevine
Move On


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