Alan LaBudde - 'Palm Sunday Driver'

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In this afternoon’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze on Alan LaBudde, an independent musician living in Knoxville, Tennessee, who has recently released a lengthy album entitled ‘Palm Sunday Driver.’ Since the record is twenty tracks long, LaBudde specially selected a dozen for us to showcase here on the website. Thus, let’s explore this multi-faceted collection of tunes.

First and foremost, there are few things that can win my heart more easily than an artist citing Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Bach, Beethoven, and Alan Lomax, amongst others, as primary influences in their work. It’s abundantly obvious that LaBudde is versed in a variety of genres and has an understanding of their lineage and how they work their way into his sound. This makes ‘Palm Sunday Driver’ highly eclectic, even nearly impossible to classify into one specific genre. I adore that.

‘Tweet Went the Bird’ opens up ‘Palm Sunday Driver,’ a sparse piano instrumental that feels simultaneously joyful and melancholy. It’s a simplistic tune, one that doesn’t incorporate any sweeping, grand excursions through piano prowess. In fact, ‘Tweet Went the Bird’ can, at times, sound like you’re listening to someone practice learning how to play piano. There’s something lovable about that. It gets slowly more complex, as if LaBudde is building the song’s structure and scales as it navigates itself to conclusion. In honesty, it’s a beautiful little tune.

Similarly, ‘Breath Again’ also sounds like LaBudde is crafting the song’s increasingly more intricate structure as it is performed. There’s a bizarre dichotomy between two different instrumental styles on the song, too. There’s what sounds like a very airy flute and then there’s a carnival-esque key section. While it’s likely all of LaBudde’s music is performed on the same keyboard with a variety of presets, not actually a variety of instruments, it’s still surprisingly exotic and intriguing to listen to.

The classically infused ‘Duet Art’ is one of the more elegant pieces of music in the collection, offering a dramatic dance between two pianos, one of which navigates the soundscape rapidly while the other prances behind it in haunting fashion. One could listen to the piano musings of ‘Duet Art’ on repeat. The jazzy ‘Vine Objects’ is similar in that sense, it’s a song that’s very becoming of multiple listens.

On ‘Vine Objects,’ LaBudde’s piano style is very much akin to Bob Dylan’s in more recent years. Rarely is a note sustained. Instead, LaBudde plays the piano somewhat erratically, perhaps even hitting off-notes and going into unexpected tangents. For those who have seen Dylan in recent years, this performance style on the instrument is recognizable.

‘Breathe Long’ feels like a spiritual partner to ‘Breath Again,’ offering the same world-style flute. In truth, the latter feels more like an interlude into the former than a complete entity. This is similar to ‘Short Thang,’ an aptly titled jaunt through random piano musings that’s less than a minute long. It leads perfectly into ‘Three and Two Short,’ a soft-spoken piece that, granted, has less direction than its predecessors. That meandering is short-lived, however, because ‘Bass Thang’ soon follows as one of the album’s strongest numbers.

‘Bass Thang’ is essentially a jazz piece with a piano and several brass instruments, all of which are clearly performed on an electronic keyboard. It’s so punchy, however, that one can’t help but tap their foot to it. It’s admirable that LaBudde juggles jazz, classical, and other influences, all in a surprisingly coherent manner. ‘Key Chair Knee,’ for example, is another jazz piece that incorporates a similar formula to ‘Bass Thang.’ There are several elements, all echoing one another on various presets.

True to name, ‘Wavy Bassy’ is, indeed, a wavy, loosely performed bass piece. It’s deep, rubbly, and a bit empty of personality. It’s a bold track, though, as most artists wouldn’t bother with a synthesized string bass instrumental. Bolder yet, ‘Bass Cocoa’ is essentially the same thing immediately after. They’re the weaker points of the record, but an interesting listen nonetheless. (‘Harp Thing’ fortunately follows, a stunning composition that toys with a MIDI-style harp. It’s short, sweet, and to the point.)

While ‘Palm Sunday Driver’ may sound amateurish - it’s creator even classifies it as such - it’s surprisingly one of the most lovely instrumental records I’ve reviewed in recent memory. It has so much personality, and by and large, each of the twelve tracks we delved into here on the Spotlight are worth having a place in your collection. While it’s simplistic and sometimes meanders into obscure territory, the charming collection is a beautiful look into art being made for art’s sake. It’s creative, not at all self-indulgent, and very much worth your time.