This IS Real
As someone that listens to a lot of music, I like to make up my own mind about an artist’s work. I like to read reviews, but I don’t allow people who get paid to write about another’s work to dictate my tastes. Even if I read a bad review of someone’s album, I still want to give it a listen to make up my own mind. I think that a lot of people probably feel the same way. So, in the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you that I have known Jeff Monkman for almost 20 years. We graduated from Berklee College of Music at the same time, have played in bands together, have co-written a few songs , and were even room mates for a time. He isn’t paying me to write this, unless you consider giving me a copy of his cd a form of payment.
What Makes It Real is basically a collection of protest songs, but it is also a musical self-portrait. Jeff isn’t a trust-fund hippie spouting sound-bites about the environment because it is the cool thing to do. He’s a regular guy using music to tell anyone who will listen how he feels about the war in Iraq, how we are treating our planet and how we should deal with each other. It is full of well-executed, laid back grooves, but this cd is far from mellow. Jeff is not the kind of cat to literally stand on a picket line shaking his fist while shouting insults at our current Vice-president, but he is the kind of cat to raise his voice in the way he knows best. On the mostly acoustic “The Sacred Tree”, “Seasons of Growing”, “Superstar”, and the title track, as well as the electric rockers “This is Home”, “A Hard Sell” and “The Greys”, he delivers pointed social commentary without being preachy. The protest songs are nicely tempered by the instrumentals “Down East Blues”, “In Unison” and “Puddle”, tone poems that bring to mind sitting around a campfire, the verdant beauty of the woods and the rocky Maine coast.
With influences like Steve Gaines of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Kurt Kobain, and Pearl Jam, Jeff has developed his own sound, folksy, yet still able to rock hard when it’s called for. His guitar tone, both on acoustic and Fender Strat, is rich and warm. He isn’t a shredder, but he does have chops. He just leans more towards the B.B. King style of playing where less is more, where the right note played with feeling is more important than playing all of the notes really fast in hopes of hitting the right one. Like a dark Irish stout, Jeff’s voice is something of an acquired taste; not meant for mass consumption, but will definitely reward those who give it a try. It has elements of Neil Young, but also Alice Cooper. If you like J.J. Cale, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid-era Dylan, and Neil Young, I think you will appreciate Jeff Monkman and his work.