“Well he just smoked my eyelids, and punched my cigarette.” Bob Dylan -1966
This is one of those infamous Dylan lines that has scratched itself a permanent track within my mind, not for its meaning, but for the cleverness in its inversion. It’s a harbinger to Dylan’s cubist-inspired work on Blood On The Tracks, where dimensions collide and lyrical quips paint timelessness. I’ve always been drawn to the surrealistic; it allows me a chance to forgo analysis, accepting that strange sub-reality in which many great artists choose to reside.
The first time I heard Gavin Shea’s “The Brains,” this favorite Dylan line resurfaced from my mental registry; I created an immediate association. I wasn’t sure what it would mean should someone ask me what my head was on when I went bashing in the brains, but I instinctively trusted the concept, set to an upbeat composition lying somewhere between The Beatles and Surfer Blood. And certainly, I’m not sure of the implications behind a salivating creature, singing “baby I’m a lioness.” So, immediately, I enjoyed this song, because its more surreal visuals are crafted with such lyrical confidence that it would seem silly to try to analyze. Simultaneously, Shea implores you not to let it break you down, that he’s at peace, alone, and better than they say. It’s these grounded moments that make the song so relatable, regardless of whether or not you find out what the sevens or eights are, and whether your woman’s got a case of them.
The rest of Shea’s “Alive and Well” EP holds steadfast to these surrealistic moments, bolstered by an instrumental composition that assuages my fear that original music is a thing of the past. He invokes the whimsical nature of Lucy and Strawberry Fields into the concrete of a jazzy, fast-paced rhythm, creating something uniquely his own. He embraces tremolo melodies that sing over trucking bass lines; Shea manages to incite a physical reaction akin to running a marathon, and ensures that appropriate rests and codas will allow us to experience the subsequent high.
Gavin Shea himself is an unexpected composer of these musical visages; the sound comes from a Clark Kent physique and a soft-spoken conversationalist that one would not initially presume to be the front man of such a band. His appearance on stage is completely without pretense, and his musicianship is gleefully inspiring. The whole shtick, if you will, is kind of like one of those chocolate chip cookies loaded with potato chips; you’re not quite sure what the genius is behind the concoction, but it’s pretty damn near perfect. Mostly, he makes it feel okay to be stuck inside of Nashville with the New York blues, again.