‘Wither’ Brian Woodbury’s a charming melodist, more toward the Broadway tradition than top 40 radio. But he has clearly studied Brian Wilson’s notions of harmony and arrangement and you’d swear Todd Rundgren was involved in some of the more guitar-crazed scores. (He does have a tendency to liven up standard changes by dropping beats.) Lyrically, he aspires to Cole Porter’s complex internal rhymes, homonyms, and puns. He’s also witheringly sarcastic. Often he has a political axe to grind: “Food Fight” discusses the likelihood of armed uprising from a Third World tired of starving, and “Your Roots are Phony” skewers patriotic icons; on the other hand, “I Burn the Flag” is a love song that improbably quotes “Some Enchanted Evening.” Sometimes he just grabs his metaphor and runs with it: one tune’s called “The Oranges,” as the inverse of the blues, and it’s an absurdly jolly patter song. And the chorus of his catchiest love song goes, “Flavor packet, you’re my flavor packet, you taste so good you make everything else taste worse!”
– Michael Bloom, Boston Rock
Fans of They Might Be Giants, here’s another oddball New Yorker who creates hook-laden pop tunes that simply won’t behave themselves. Woodbury and his musicians perform ditties like “Your Roots Are Phony” and “I’ve Still Got My Balls” with an innate avant-rock sensibility. The eclecticism of Sparks and Zappa is – crossbred with the melodic sheen of NRBQ. The coolest thing is, I’ll bet Woodbury doesn’t like any of those guys. Only a man with a firm grip on his cajones could write a tune like “I Bum the Flag” (a brilliant ode to sexual passion) or the Donovan-meets Gentle Giant “Dreamstate of California” (“… where you always let your subconscious be your guide.”) …18 demented gems.
– Dino DiMuro, Option
Brian Woodbury is not to be trusted. Here’s a very pleasant little package, bordered in pastel pink, iconic daisies and oranges all over the place, a photo (purposefully shaky) of a bunch that looks as though they’re just out of a slightly hip Jesuit college and. the most deceitful stroke of all, a parcel of songs that from a distance sound like very infinitesimally demented pop art pieces. Like I said, Brian Woodbury is not to be trusted. Beneath this patina of seemingly normal niceness lies a veritable tank trap of lyrical ambushes. Take “Your Roots Are Phony,” for instance. Bright and ebullient. it takes just two minutes and nine seconds to completely demolish the American dream and its false historical mystique. “Food Fight” sounds as though it might be fun until you realize that Woodbury B. is proposing a warrantable war (literally) against starvation, and almost relishing the prospect. “Dreamstate…” appears to give California a two thumbs up review, but hidden beneath a possible love song, splashed with fragments of quotes from ’60s hippie hits, lies a sneer and a smirk (“You always let your subconscious be your guide”) that indicates that Mr. W. might not be all that enamored by the Left Coast after all. And the falsehoods go on, through nineteen wistful works, packed with twinkling tunes and more clever lyrics than you can find in a decade’s worth of other releases. Brian Woodbury is not to be trusted. But he sure as damnit deserves your attention, and be definitely warrants his own epitaph on the musical map. He came, he saw, and he conned us; and we all loved him for it. Brian Woodbury, on this showing alone, can definitely be trusted – to make a great record, again and again and again.
– Andy Dunkley, Rockpool
Brian Woodbury and His Popular Music Group is what happens when impressionable minds are exposed to Van Dyke Parks’ Song Cycle at an early age. Woodbury, whose ’80s band the Some Philharmonic actually performed with Parks, has a similar desire to cram every bar of music and line of lyrics with witty references and ear-catching surprises. Unlike Parks, however, he is also a consummate writer of instantly memorable pop tunes, and so all 19 songs on this 55-minute album are suffused with the kind of pure pop hooks that fans of XTC or Guided by Voices will immediately love. (Fans attuned to the pop underground familiar with San Francisco’s K.C. Bowman or Toronto’s John Southworth will immediately recognize the New York-based Woodbury as a kindred spirit.) Woodbury’s goofy-brainy persona and fondness for surreal wordplay will appeal to They Might Be Giants fans, but those who find that duo too precious will respond to the solid power pop hooks of songs like the faux-patriotic “Your Roots Are Phony” and the Young Fresh Fellows -like “I’ve Still Got My Balls.”
– Stewart Mason, All Music Guide
Though erroneously attributed to Jane’s Addiction on a bootleg entitled The Mephisto Demos (and distinguished as the song that got the band signed to Warner Brothers, despite the fact that it bears absolutely zero similarity to their sound), “All White People Look Alike” was in fact first released on a limited-press LP of the same title in 1987 by gonzo musician Brian Woodbury and his crew. The epic, twenty-minute-plus title track bounces feverishly from one musical genre to another, grounded to its theme by an hysterical spoken-word observation on racial politics and other societal absurdities. This side-length rant could stand alongside the best of George Carlin and Bill Hicks in its ruthless attack on consumer culture, which makes Woodbury’s relative cultural insignificance a shame. Though not designed for mass appeal, this album (rounded out by a string of instrumental blocks and the remnants of a Woodbury theater piece entitled “Harangue”) deserves to have a wider audience.
– Michael Allen, CD Baby
Timely re-issue of Woodbury’s classic 1987 song rant, previously released in a small scarce vinyl edition. There are song blocks, ranting blocks, interesting arrangement blocks – all adding up to an impressive and quite unique 20 minute wind up. Don’t drink coffee before putting this on. Followed by Harangue – a cycle of 11 songs of varying lengths (0.54 – 3.18) and each following completely different genre rules, until you don’t know what sort of a record you’re on any more. And funny. When it wants to be.
– ReR (recommended)
Rhythm is the heartbeat of music, and melody is the lifeblood whose flow is regulated by the heart. If biochemists were to play Beatles or Beach Boys songs for test subjects, they’d surely discover that melody elevates endorphin levels. The Brian Woodbury Songbook is an ongoing project for TV-theme songwriter Woodbury and his infectious mixture of pop-rock and show tunes is sung by a gaggle of vocalists.
– Michael Simmons, LA Weekly
Renaissance man Brian Woodbury could be the heir apparent to Van Dyke Parks and Brian Wilson. A writer, keyboardist and producer, he dabbles in musical theater, television theme music and esoteric pop music, with an ear for the kind of production values that the two masters have always shown: an ever-changing sound generated by the lyrical material and a propensity for the head hums, the ability to get a melody rattling in your brain for days. Front and center [is] Woodbury’s penchant for writing the perfect pop song.
– Paul Anderson, Entertainment Today
Mr. Woodbury has earned his degree as an eclectic.
– Neil Strauss, New York Times
Consummate songwriting craft! Wildly eclectic & celebratory. This music is built to last, with its constant element of surprize. Bright scansion that infuses hope into the lyrical art…with effortless ease. Not since Esquivel and the wondrous works of young Brian Wilson in his lettuce years have I heard sound of this romantic design. world beat with an American watermark.
– Van Dyke Parks