Rhapsody & Filligree
Rhapsody & Filigree
The 4th and Final Volume of the “Anthems & Antithets” Series
Anthems & Antithets is the series of four double albums I’ve made during the pandemic, each one in its own musical mood: comic, confessional, political and arty. Rhapsody & Filigree is the culmination of the project.
Rhapsody & Filigree is expansive, fancy and fanciful. A wide variety of arty, experimental kinds of pop songwriting, both musically and in subject matter. With an emphasis on melody and beauty. The assumption is we’re all educated adults here. I always try to write a song about something no one has written a song about. For this, even more so.
On this album, I condense larger forms into smaller ones. For instance, the rock opera “Theseus Rex” where Theseus is the bastard son of Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead. Inspired by early Genesis and prog rock concept albums, this rock opera lasts just over 9 minutes, but it has a sweeping cinematic scope. Another example is the “Brief Mass” a full choral setting of the Latin Mass in under 8 minutes.
I also explored some miniatures, like “When Byron Swam” a song about Lord Byron’s famous swim, and the elusive nature of artistic achievement. Or “The Honorable Mention” where a Hollywood award show nominee rehearses his acceptance speech.
I had the great joy of collaborating with dozens of unique artists on this album. One song “How Soon We Forget, How Long We Remember” a song about the evolution of culture, was constructed using a game of musical telephone, where a half-remembered musical theme was recreated and passed on to the next musician in the chain.
Another collaboration came about when I found my music confused with the music of a different Brian Woodbury on all the streaming platforms. A situation apparently beyond the ability of the tech giants to solve. So this other Brian Woodbury – a jazz trombonist – and I decided to write a song about it. Called “The Other Brian Woodbury.”
The overriding theme of the new CD is the future. Whereas Volume 2 is often a wistful look at the past, and Volume 3 is an indictment of the injustices of the present, on the new album I tried to glimpse the future. To see what positive or at least non-dystopian outcomes we have to look forward to. Dystopia is an easy pose, but there are hints of better things to come. Not to discount the threats of extinction, climate change and the rise of authoritarianism, but we already know the solutions, and there will be a future.
In support of the new release, I will be doing a series of attentive listening parties at select music listening rooms in the US, UK & Europe. I’m also making music videos for the 18 songs on the new album, as well as continuing to make videos for songs from the other volumes of Anthems & Antithets. (There are 20 music videos so far from the other volumes.)
Release date July 25th for both the new CD Rhapsody & Filigree and box set of all four volumes of the Anthems & Antithets project.
Here’s what the press has said about the music of Brian Woodbury:
“Brian Woodbury is a particularly beautiful example of a maverick in the mainstream and double agent in the pop industry.
– Bad Alchemy (Germany)
An authentic pop gem that lovers of XTC and the like should absolutely not miss.
– Ondarock (Italy)
A cleverly lyrical, deviously funny kitchen-sink songwriter.
– New York Daily News
It’s one thing to have that exceptional ability to fuse humor and witty lyrics to great music – Zappa, 10cc, Ray Stevens, Weird Al come to mind – but it’s altogether something else to be able to do it while genre hopping all over the musical map with highly original material. Quirky, witty, artful and sometimes poignant, covering the pop and country spectrum.
Now it’s official – Brian Woodbury is a multi-talented musician, bordering on genius. …he should be up there with Zappa and Beefheart.
– BBC Radio 3 Mixing It
An extraordinary confection. Surprise your dinner guests; flummox the music anoraks; and enjoy.
– John Bungey, The Times (London)
Alluring… there is no way to classify what Woodbury and his Orchestra do… There are other artists who blend styles, but none quite so seamlessly and with complete abandon as Woodbury… Full of captivating melodies and rhythms… Clever without being coy, this album is remarkable.
– All About Jazz
Antipathy & Ideology
Antipathy & Ideology
is the third volume of the 4-volume
For this volume, the focus is political. Protest songs, reflective songs, “How did we get here?” songs; songs of injustice, hope and liberation. The music is at times simple, at times cinematic. The tone earnest, funny, sad or tongue-in-cheek. These are not your grandfather’s protest songs.
Brian Woodbury’s Alchemy:
Artistry + Passion =
We find comfort in the predictable. A familiar guitar lick or lyric cues responses — and if they’re the responses we hoped to hear, we call that recording or concert a success. Yet when our preconceptions are met, the pleasure can be superficial and, worse yet, sedative.
Brian Woodbury knows this well. Throughout his catalog as an L.A.-based composer, he shows a mastery of the craft at hand, whether it be to write Disney cartoon themes, orchestrations for an album of Bollywood covers, a honky-tonk country hymn to marriage equality, a musical based on surfing and another on Ibsen’s
Which does much to explain
But if we reverse the presumption and imagine reading these lyrics on their own, it’s not likely we would associate them with the settings in which Woodbury places them. Thus, for example, the complicity of even well-intended citizens in the destruction of our biosphere is laid out, like an indictment, to a lovely, waltz-time tune on “While Supplies Last,” co-written with John thomas Oaks. And against all odds, the playful satire of liberal “wokeness” on “Shut Up And Listen” fits the unlikely accordion and handclap accompaniment perfectly.
The subjects Woodbury addresses can be light, like the tale of a smug son of privilege who finally gets his comeuppance, which he treats like a slapstick routine on “Jury Duty” (co-written with Phil Ward). They can be dead serious, all the more so when the message invites us to sing along to a catchy hook as on “We Can’t Breathe.” But they all dare us to think past our expectations. With music that hopscotches over genre lines, with lyrics that juggle anger and humor on issues ranging from obsession with guns to police violence to a courageous but nuanced argument against the truism of “supporting our troops,” Woodbury proves by example that each of us can facilitate significant changes in a corrupted society. We can challenge convention and come up with something fresh and full of promise.
That’s what Woodbury does with
– Bob Doerschuk
- We Can’t Breathe
- A protest anthem. Sing along.
- Small Penis
– A twisty rhythm & blues song. Small is beautiful.
- Jury Duty
– A bluegrass morality tale about the danger of ignoring a jury summons
- Lucy, I’m Home
– Co-written by Van Dyke Parks. The story of a senile Cuban exile and a lefty do-gooder.
- I Oppose the Troops -
Suppose they gave a war and nobody came?
- Better –
Three vignettes that show the personal is political, the political is personal.
- While Supplies Last
– A ballad of the Anthropocene extinction.
- Good Cop/Bad Cop
feat. Eric Schwartz – Police killing of an unarmed black man.
- Save the World
- A letter to the future.
- Plus 11 more stirring, angry, funny, and sad songs about the state of the world. And how we’re going to fix it.
Balladry & Soliloquy
Balladry & Soliloquy
is the second volume of the yearlong 4-volume Anthems & Antithets project.
Balladry & Soliloquy focuses on personal songs and songs with stories. All told in different guises: Americana, art song, piano ballad, power pop, and a Bee Gees cover.
The industry may recommend nine-song collections every 18 months, or just a stream of singles, but Brian Woodbury has other plans, to the tune of 100 linked songs in a single year. With Balladry & Soliloquy, the Los Angeles-based songwriter and composer delivers the second volume of his yearlong, four-volume Anthems & Antithets project. Each volume explores a different musical mood and mode: the comic Levity & Novelty (released in February), the personal Balladry & Soliloquy (released in July), and two upcoming sets: the political Antipathy & Ideology, and the experimental Rhapsody & Filigree.
A collection of 23 songs in almost as many genres, Balladry & Soliloquy begins with a two-minute abstract of what is to come. With its conflation of raga, roots, and psychedelia, “By Way of Introduction” sets the ground rules, paradoxically permissive and strict: for this collection of personal and confessional songs, all styles are in play, from cabaret to concert hall to honky tonk, but exactly none is taken lightly. In an age when stylistic reference is easy as cut and paste, Woodbury samples from the inside, via compositional imagination and mastery.
You never know what is coming next in a Brian Woodbury song. All you know is that it will be executed at a fastidious level of detail and thematic development. As a composer/arranger, Woodbury seems to have the entire 20th century on tap. He studied songwriting with Tom Lehrer and music composition with Pauline Oliveros. His mentor, Van Dyke Parks, once said, “Not since… the wondrous works of young Brian Wilson… have I heard sound of this romantic design.” Credits include Disney cartoon themes, theater scores, Bollywood orchestrations, his own big band, and a blue-state country project.
While Balladry & Soliloquy contains only one cover—the Bee Gees—a spirit of irreverent homage abides. Many songs on Balladry & Soliloquy declare genre coordinates within a few seconds: the Skynyrd-invoking ‘70s young love summer anthem “All Right;” the New York City dreamer’s comeuppance tale “Don’t Let it Hit You on the Way Out” rendered in driving power pop; “Spontaneous,” in which the singer rues his inhibitions in a flurry of virtuoso rhymes over a chamber-swing arrangement that bows to Django and Grappelli. Other songs, like the near-death narrative “His Last Regret” tell whole-cloth stories with gravity and unbroken focus.
Often, genre recedes and the style play is moment-to-moment. The through-composed, angular pop rocker “All the People” wonders what became of all the people the singer wanted to have sex with in college. The moving chamber pop “Love Is Not the Answer” goes deep in its deconstruction of the language of love, dividing time between Bacharach and dissonant modernism. Woodbury’s restless eclecticism itself provides the theme of the skittish, ABBA-inspired “Little Bitta This, Little Bitta That,” sung by guest vocalist Kathi Funston in a Swedish accent.
In a time when the likes of Mount Eerie and Sun Kil Moon have redefined what it means to be a confessional writer, Woodbury’s formalism is out of step with the prevailing language of self. He operates in the tradition of Cole Porter and the great writers of musical theater, resourceful with rhyme and meter, meaning-driven: Every conceit and character to pass through these songs is developed and seen through.
As song follows unique and fully realized song, however, the fabric of a personality and a life passion emerges, diligently earned—a voice of playful self-deprecation; hurts, hopes, and dreams disguised in irony; and many crowning moments of artless, raw emotion, rendered in stunningly precise and elastic music and language.
– John Burdick
- All Right, a rollicking country song about lost virginity
- (He’s Got That) New Car Smell, a New Orleans second line tune about a fleeting infatuation
- When I Think of Love, a love song built on a Beatles lyric, with lush Beach Boys harmony and a harpsichord solo
- Love Is Not the Answer, expansive chamber pop exploration of romantic myths
- All the People, angular pop rock that wonders what happened to past crushes
- Spontaneous, a gypsy jazz number bemoaning & celebrating the inability to think on one’s feet
- His Last Regret, a piano ballad about a Golden Gate Bridge suicide attempt
- Guest vocalist Dudley Saunders delivers a soulful cover of the Bee Gees’ I Started a Joke
- Daddy’s Little Girl, an Americana ballad about a young girl torn between divorced parents
- Guest vocalists Kathi Funston & Tulasi Rain deliver Little Bitta This, Little Bitta That, an ABBA pastiche about the personal need for musical variety
The vocal and instrumental arrangements are intricate and detailed (peppered with strings, woodwinds, brass, vibes, mandolin, pedal steel), performed by the likes of guitarists Marc Muller (Bruce Springsteen), Jim “Kimo” West (Weird Al) and Sam Woodbury (Vance Joy), bassist Edwin Livingston, drummers Jonathan Feinberg, Mark Pardy, Andy Sanesi & Joe Berardi, pianist John Thomas Oaks, violinist Sara Parkins, cellist Maggie Parkins, woodwind player Mark Hollingsworth, trumpeter Chris Tedesco.
BRIAN WOODBURY is a particularly beautiful example of a maverick in the mainstream and double agent in the pop industry. Yes, even in the middle of Holly Schmollywood and between Disney and Broadway, there are some who stand out, delivering entertainment that’s sophisticated and heartfelt. People like musical theater composer David Yazbek, songwriters Jill Sobule, Lisa Loeb or Joe Moe (whose “Mainland” Woodbury produced).
With Woodbury (who trained as tunesmith & wordwright by Tom Lehrer and Pauline Oliveros, also made musicals, post-modern jazz compositions, quirky pop, country songs and music for children’s TV in Los Angeles – for example for Disney’s Bear in the Big Blue House and Book of Pooh) ReR went all in from the start and put him in the Hall of Fame with his debut “All White People Look Alike”(1987).
After the last Variety Orchestra (2004), Anthems & Antithets pulls out all the stops, with over 80 songs in a quatrology: [Volumes 1 & 2] Levity & Novelty and Balladry & Soliloquy lie in front of me.
BW orchestrates them with acoustic, nylon, electric guitars, bass, mandolin, ukulele, banjo, keyboards, amateur fiddle, autoharp, percussion, programming. Two dozen little helpers add specific colors with drums, accordion, piano, vibes, strings, flutes, saxes, brass and vocals. Catchy tunes with lyrics where “my Birkenstocks” and “my chiropractor”, “Hyundai” and “Facebook” receive unexpectedly poetic honors, and “dinosaurs” rhymes with “ancestors” or “mellotron” with “marathon”.
Polished schmaltz like from the Golden and Silver musical decades, like the Beach Boys, high on the Beatles and The Big Bang sitcom spirit. As if the songs weren’t verbose and over-the-top enough, he gives you a delirious soul chorus. He describes underachievers, psychopaths and condemned sinners and also knows why they are: His brain makes him do it. Whether Ipecac or chutzpah, whether Natchez or “Pasadeeny,” no foreign word, no place is foreign to him, no “Complicated Rhythm” or style, whether exotic, Latin, country or the epic madness of his “Old Time Prog” overkill (“Go get you some of that old time prog/To help escape the mainstream gulag/It’s still my favorite dead horse to flog.”)
BW bathes in sophisticated comedy – for example in “Perfectly Awful” sung with Deb Hiett – like Scrooge McDuck in ducats. He puts entire theater acts and almost more words than Joyce’s “Circe” chapter into 3-4 minutes. Tevye meets Brian who encourages the audience to sing along on Golgotha! Don Knotts gets an obituary, the ex gets a kick.
“A Man with No Foible”? Ha! BW’s songs are full of quirks. Why not hold a mirror up to your compatriots? “Just Like Hitler” as a reciprocal murderous argument, accompanied by brass bolero, and audience applause. And “This is the best country ever. It’s so obvious from my point of view that I don’t even have to think about it”
The 23 songs that follow [Volume 2] are much less upbeat and sarcastic, but still flippant and tongue-in-cheek. Form – from Charlston to violins, sometimes pianistic, sometimes soft rock-intimate – follows feeling, and the feeling is darker, the topics are more introverted. Missing a friend, a smile, “sponta-NEE-ity”, balance, hippie-esque innocence. (“Take a hike/Take a hike/Leave only footprints.”) Renew yourself in nature; remember, be content. Chase on a bike, nose in the wind, for a new song. Choosing between “Daddy’s little girl and Mama’s only friend”; doubt the path you have chosen, the set goal, but also doubt turning your back just because it got difficult. “Leaving is losing.” But also being abandoned.
“B.Y.O.B.” stands for bring your own beer, but brings no consolation to a party pooper. The only thing that helps is the Bee Gees (“I started a joke/Which started the whole world crying/But I didn’t see/That the joke was on me”) sung by guest vocalist Dudley Saunders (once with Chris Cochrane’s Suck Pretty), with drums by Joe Berardi (from Non Credo!). Or “all you can do is nothing” but sigh.
But “with a little bitta this, but don’t forget a little bitta that” some things look different again. And what a touching Philemon & Baucis anthem BW sings, with accordion – and flute-beauty, string swing on “Take Me Back” (“Back into your deepest kiss/Under your familiar skin/Back into your endless stare/Where we breathed each other in/And the mystery that draws me/To the code I’ll never crack/Take me back”).
— Rigobert Dittman, Bad Alchemy
Woodbury is a Los Angeles based songwriter, lyricist, producer, arranger, multi-instrumentalist, and all around wacky guy who composes for television, stage musicals, and his own quirky pop releases, which are anything but regular — though 2020 will be different with the
Anthems & Antithet s four disc set — two releases have already come out, and two further releases are promised, Balladry & Soliloquy being the second of four. The first of the four, Levity & Novelty , was more or less an album of novelty songs delivered in his unique style with dozens of other musicians and singers helping out, and while this one is really not that much different from it, it’s packed with 23 songs, most of which are guaranteed to put a smile on your face, but a few with more serious topics (like “Daddy’s Little Girl,” “His Last Regret” or “Going Through Emotions”), but all are immediately identifiable as Woodbury’s work, a unique sound, borrowing from numerous genres but never sounding too serious or too attached to any one — I guess that’s what happens when you’ve got your hands is so many different things, musically speaking. There are a lot of standouts in this set: Sounding a bit like a soundtrack for an imaginary play, “Little Bitta This, Little Bitta That,” sung by guest singer Kathi Funston is almost guaranteed to remind of early 70s Olivia Newton John without the country shtick, a really solid pop song that will get stuck in the listener’s head. The fun romp of the dixieland-ish “New Car Smell” is barely a minute twenty seconds in length, but a load of fun with off-kilter lyrics like, “He’s got that new car smell, But he don’t ring her bell, He isn’t half as hot As he seemed on the lot, So how was she to tell?” The freedom conveyed via “On My Bike” is even more refreshing, with outstanding musicianship all around, and the lyric of “(You Break a Heart) You Own It” was never so true, a serious message delivered from father to son through experience. The fun country twang of “BYOB” features some superb pedal steel and banjo from primary cohort Marc Muller, and of course it leads into the album’s only cover, Woodbury’s interpretation of the sad Bee Gees tune “I Started a Joke.” On one level or another, every song here is superb, spanning the range of lyrical and stylistic content. My stock recommendation is to take a trip over to Woodbury’s Bandcamp page and take a listen for yourself.
— Peter Thelen, Exposé
Levity & Novelty
Levity & Novelty
is the first volume of the yearlong 4-volume Anthems & Antithets project. Levity & Novelty is the funny one. 27 comic songs from indie-pop to theatrical numbers to a Tom Lehrer cover.
- My Bad, about a compulsive apologizer (co-written with Amy Engelhardt)
- Picture Me, an elegant 1930s-style foxtrot about intimate photographs (co-written with Peter Lurye)
- Ava’s Couch, a surf song about couch surfing (co-written with Bill Berry)
- Eternal Damnation, a not-safe-for-church anthem, sung by Joe Moe
- (Gimme Some of that) Old Time Prog, a send-up of prog rock (co-written by & featuring Johnny Unicorn)
- Perfectly Awful, a Punch & Judy love duet featuring Deb Hiett
- Audience Participation, a claustrophobic tango about the hazard we face at live shows
- The Brain, a Tom Lehrer-esque roast of the overblown claims of neuroscience
- Don’t Call Back, an ardent paean to ghosting
- Medical Emergency, a 27-second musical PSA urging any listener experiencing a health crisis to dial 911
- You’re Like Hitler, about the favorite ace-in-the-hole for all political arguments
- A Man with No Foible, a bolero about the invisibility of our own bad habits
- And fifteen more
Even though the songs are comedic, there is no skimping on the music. Lush, intricate arrangements (often with strings, woodwinds, brass, chorus), performed by the likes of: Marc Muller, Jim “Kimo” West, Sam Woodbury, Edwin Livingston, Mark Pardy, Andy Sanesi, Peter Lurye, Sara Parkins, Maggie Parkins, Mark Hollingsworth, Chris Tedesco, Joe Moe , Kathi Funston, Amy Keys, & Paul F. Perry.
Back in my high school days I used to tune in Sunday nights to some low-power station in LA in order to listen to the Doctor Demento show, which ran for an hour or two and featured a wide range of novelty songs from the advent of the phonograph all the way up through the (then) present. Demento’s real name was Barry Hansen, a record collector specializing in novelty songs – and coincidentally the original manager of the band Spirit, and years later, the one who broke the earliest demos of Weird Al Yankovic (and many others). I know he must be getting up there in years, but someone told me a while back that his show is still on the air after all these decades. Hopefully Brian Woodbury has sent Hansen a copy of his latest
Levity & Novelty for possible airplay – it’s a perfect match. Woodbury’s current release follows a number of previous others, starting with his late 80s debut All White People Look Alike . The album at hand is the first in a four part quadrilogy supertitled Anthems & Antithets , the remaining three to be released later in 2020. If you don’t like songs that make you laugh (or at least smile), this may not be for you, in which case you should go find some serious music like Bartók or Stravinsky. All songs but one were written by Woodbury (and occasional collaborators), the exception being the great Tom Lehrer’s “I Hold Your Hand in Mine” which is track number 24; yes there are 27 cuts in total, although some play for only fractions of a minute. The opener is “My Bad,” an ode to insincere apologies, and like many of the tunes here, Woodbury sings and plays everything (which across the album may include guitars, bass, banjo, keybosrds, percussion, ukulele, autoharp, ‘amateur fiddle,’ and more), although on other tracks he features a wide range of guest players and singers. There are a lot of standouts here, I can’t detail them all, but certainly “Complicated Rhythms” is among them, a jazzy three minute piece with great vocals and harmonies, and constantly changing meter. “Old Time Prog” follows, and is (appropriately) the album’s longest cut approaching the eight minute mark, featuring drummer Mark Pardy, woodwind player Mark Hollingsworth, guitarist Sam Woodbury, basoonist Allen Savedoff, and multi-instrumentalist Johnny Unicorn for a tongue-in-cheeky review of progressive rock clichés. “Women (You Know What I Mean?)” covers a number of humorous topics that every man will be familiar with. “You’re Like Hitler” is a hilarious tune, recorded with a live audience, providing that one final ending to any political argument. Closer “The Best Ever” is an ode to hyperbole in its many forms, starting with pancakes then moving on to mothers, then eventually getting around to sex, and the country. There’s a lot more among these 27 tracks that needs to be heard and appreciated, which can easily be done on Woodbury’s Bandcamp page. The best ever…
Peter Thelen , Exposé, April 8, 2020
Such a joke that one can see today! Musically brilliant and historically pure – on twenty-seven songs from a sixteen-second “Flashmob!” (expression for a bunch of overflow recessionists, which fits the whole album) to the almost eight-minute “Old Time Prog” – a guide to music from the beginning of the last century. A grumpy piano for a silent film, rocky-funky “Don’t Call Back,’ twenty-second metal ‘The Worst Song on the Album,” beautifully constructed polyphonic “Eternal Damnation” (CSN & Y would take it all ten!), swings tapping “The Brain” certainly non-mafia money bought by Frank Sinatra) or electro-vocoder gay “Hey Guys.” Woodbury, a composer, an excellent singer and a player of full (besides basic – guitar, keyboards) instruments including banjo, autoharp or ukulele, plus thirty listed musicians, leads the listener on a fluent guide through the history of music styles in his own way and with sharp humor. Sure, Frank Zappa used to do that. But Woodbury goes even further, with more precision. With Zappa, the parody / paraphrase was recognizable; but not so here. If you think about this revealing review and play a song from this collection at random, it is always completely different. The first “My Bad” is a personal ode, sacramentally pedaling with a beglajt guitar and an accordion instead of keyboards, verbally apologizing in advance to everything subsequent sorry sorry sorry my bad…, the dancer is a bit à la Pixies a bit Tiger Lillies, a lot of Beatles. In the second “Picture Me” above the piano, we are somewhere, ehm in our regions, in the position of Oldřich Nový aka Kristián, who here, however, in a text modernly impersonally on social networks, attracts / meets / chooses / seduces / his chosen ones. An exceptional highlight is the aforementioned “Old Time Prog,” in which you hear paraphrases on perhaps all the clichés (musically well executed), of which the prog rock has been cooking and living on for fifty years. If you open Woodbury’s profile at Bandcamp and continue to grind into his discography, a window will pop up asking: Do you want more amazing things?
Petr Procházka , UNI, Kulturn Magazin, May, 2020, via Google translate