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Bart Davenport - Game Preserve

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Artist: Bart Davenport

Album: Game Preserve

Label: Antenna Farm

Review date: Mar. 4, 2004

In our post-millenial, post-post-postmodern existence, where is the line to be drawn between pastiche and reference, rip-off and reverence? We are so accustomed to musical recycling that we’ve become numb to the entire process, the act itself has turned invisible. No longer does a regurgitated riff spark a mixture of nostalgia and knowing indulgence; instead, it’s almost as if we’re hearing the sound for the first time. Our aural world has been so thoroughly churned up that any starting point is valid, and anything can be combined with anything else. In the right hands, it can be a thrilling, iconoclastic mix. At other times, this casual, grab-bag method can be a disaster.

Davenport clearly loves, or at least wants to be perceived, as someone who loves mid-seventies AOR: Elton John, Randy Newman, James Taylor, etc. Complex, theatrical arrangements, confessional songwriting, emotional performances, the ’70s were a time when the lines between stage musicals and rock blurred into an indistinct, coke-fueled haze of falsetto singing and overripe production, a thoroughly camp exploration of music’s populist potential. To many ears, much of this music sounds a bit too soft-focus and overly sentimental, but there was, as there is in any era, a core of good songwriting, and a batch of classic songs. Randy Newman has aged perhaps the best of anyone from the decade, especially since Elton John has enthusiastically declined nearly every opportunity to grow old with anything approaching grace. Newman, on the other hand, was a songwriter, first and foremost, and his narrative-driven songs about losers and drifters are full of energy and wit that still drives home today.

Bart Davenport favors full arrangements with a dash of everything from rock to salsa to jazz, and he is clearly a talented player and arranger. Broadly, his music aims for the really Musical leanings of people like Newman and Elton John, singers who embraced technique and the firm songwriting smarts of Gershwin to deliver a complex, bustling pop to the masses. Sadly for Davenport, his songwriting vision is simply a thin, sometimes incoherent rendering of other music, particularly Newman’s, and it often fades into inconsequential blandness. At their worst, Davenport’s songs sound as insincere and tossed-off as an Evan Dando B-side, a feeble approximation of feeling, a pale imitation of great pop. There are strong melodies, and insistent, catchy songs like “Euphoria, Or Everyone On Earth Is So Beautiful, Even You,” but they fail to stick.

A few songs on Game Preserve succeed, most notably the spare, guitar-and-vocals opener “Sweetest Game,” which delivers a pared-down, simple melody to great effect, but if Beck has taught us one thing, it’s the razor-thin line between millennial genre-spinning and cheap “eclecticism.” For Davenport to produce music of any real import, he needs to stop screwing around and dig a bit deeper.

By Jason Dungan

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