Few songwriters sport the erudite skillset that Bud Summers does, but then again, not many songwriters have the wealth of talent that he seems to have been born with. In three brand new tracks from his upcoming full-length album Hard Lessons, he skews conventional music theory with a surreal jazz experimentalism that is occasionally met with unique, blues-influenced guitar play. The melodies are larger than life, the arrangements fascinatingly complex and full of rich vitality, and the lyrics themselves as textured as the music that surrounds them is. Whether you’ve heard his work before or not, you’re going to want to give these latest cuts a spin this spring.
To put it simply, “So Deep” is jazzy, physical and seamlessly constructed as to keep us on the edge of our seats from the moment the music starts to the second that it retreats from our speakers. The brittle bassline is joined by a buoyant drum track that clears a lot of space for Summers to do whatever he wants with the guitar parts, but he doesn’t crush us with his intricate skill until we’re well into the song. There’s a warmth to the keys that is ethereally mixed next to the strings, but above all else, it’s Summers’ vocal that makes this track the stunner that it truly is.
“Bad Fish” is a dreamy blues guitar piece that, while running only a mere three minutes in this recording, has a lot of potential to be extended into a 20 minute jam in a live performance. Its hook sways with the percussion guiding it, and while it’s not the most imaginatively experimental song that I’ve heard from Bud Summers, it’s certainly got one of the most melodic and accessible guitar solos that I’ve reviewed in a long time. I’m engaged on every level in this track, with the lyrics being the central flashpoint of all the action.
The third song from Hard Lessons being offered as a pre-release single is “Endless Fantasy,” a chic, cosmopolitan jazz ballad that has the vintage tonality of a midcentury pop song. It’s the most instrumentally streamlined of all three tracks, but that doesn’t stop its chorus from sinking sharp teeth into us with impunity and leaving us addicted to its sinuous groove. At times, “Endless Fantasy” flirts with hypnotic ambience, but even at its most experimental, it never drifts too far from its addictive, churning tempo.
If all of Hard Lessons is as solid as these three songs are, then it may well be the album of the year. Bud Summers really pulled out all the stops in “Bad Fish,” “Endless Fantasy” and “So Deep,” and as a result of his efforts, we’re treated to some of his most pointed play ever recorded in-studio. If the intoxicating melodies aren’t enough for you, then the relentless rhythm most definitely will be, and I think that my peers in music journalism will be inclined to agree. Summers is flexing some major muscle in these tracks, which will absolutely get people pumped up and excited for what’s to come next in Hard Lessons.