Bud Summers - 'The Great Divide'

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.

Last year, I was highly complimentary of ‘The Way,’ a studio endeavor Bud Summers released that I reviewed in August. I called the album a “stunning collection that defies classification.” Now, the man has a new release of an oldie, but a goodie. He’s re-released ‘The Great Divide,’ an earlier record of his. Thus, this content actually predates last year’s ‘The Way.’ It’s a sharp effort, though, and one worth revisiting in celebration of its re-release. Let’s explore it here on the Independent Spotlight.

‘The Great Divide’ is an album based in conceptual divides in religion, love, philosophy, politics, and so on and so forth. It boasts several important qualities that impressed me with Summers’ tunes last year. The genres are eclectic and seem to jump from song to song with unmatched ease, and the actual production of those tracks is well-equip and organized, for the most part. It’s important to note that the masters haven’t been touched for this re-release. What you heard in 2014 is what you’re getting here.

‘7 Roads’ is a very pleasant song. It’s an excellent introduction to the album - lighthearted, smooth, and acoustic. The panning of the mix is nice - not everything is centered. When you hear a harmonica shift to the right of the soundscape, it adds a bit of depth to the experience if you’re listening on a good stereo setup. ‘Lady Of The Harbor’ is where the album begins to find its initial groove, though, with a very smooth, lovely jaunt through pop-infused blues rock.

One can only appreciate Summers’ musical brevity. He and his band never over-extend their hand. ‘Lady Of The Harbor,’ for example, could have probably been jam-packed with several more instruments. The succinctness of its execution is admirable, though, and leaves Summers’ lyricism at the forefront of the equation. ‘Make The Days Count’ may be the first excellent excursion through those lyrics, too. The song explores the ‘great divide’ between life and death in a hauntingly beautiful way.

Summers spends a lot of time performing live, particularly in the St. Louis area. That aforementioned style of brevity must translate well to the stage, because he can likely re-create a good deal of this live. Songs like ‘Make The Days Count’ and ‘Let The Fire Ignite’ are good bar and club songs, too. They’re lyrically interesting, not at all abrasive or loud, and perfect to hum or dance along to. That said, the vocal mix on the latter does go awry a bit with Summers being mixed too much to the forefront. As a result, the rest of the instrumentation and vocals sound muffled.

‘Great River Road’ suffers a bit from the inverse of that problem. In this case, the vocals aren’t near as clear as ‘Lady Of The Harbor’ or ‘7 Roads,’ but they’re also not as heavy-handed as ‘Let The Fire Ignite.’ The result is a mix of a song that sounds like a live recording. That said, this certainly is not a bad thing. In fact, ‘Great River Road’ is chock-full of personality throughout its performance.

‘Nashville Is To Blame’ is the weakest endeavor of the first half of ‘The Great Divide.’ The vocal mix is too overpowered and the backing instrumentation gets back-seated. When you do hear it, however, it sounds like the acoustic guitar is struggling to stay pace with the percussion. I adore the electric blues that hobble in and out of the landscape, but it does feel ill-placed alongside the rest of the production. The song is well-written; it probably could have been stronger in its execution. The rockabilly ‘Spring Chicken’ immediately recovers the blunder, though. The track is eerily similar in multiple ways to the music of Bill Kirchen - a true icon of this musical style. (Spin ‘Spring Chicken’ then go spin Kirchen’s ‘Talking About Chicken’ and you’ll see the parallel.)

‘Gettin’ Over You’ is a perfectly enjoyable break-up tune, one that’s well-sorted for a late night jazz/blues club. ‘First Rate’ is similar in this regard, though it pulls a bit less from jazz and a bit more from blues akin to Chicago or St. Louis styles. Of course, characteristically, Summers immediately shifts drastically again, introducing a singer-songwriter, acoustic-based composition, ‘Crushed.’ ‘Crushed’ is beautiful, though the transition from its predecessors wasn’t as seamless as some of Summers’ other moves.

‘Before First Light’ is arguably the strongest blues effort on the whole album. Straight out of one of those two aforementioned cities, this Midwestern style of blues is infectiously lovable. In fact, the final songs of the album are particularly strong - ‘Achin’ Again’ is one of the best acoustic-based songs. ‘Four & Twenty’ is a strong excursion through some jazz influence, and the titular track is an introspective, melodic finale that melds all of the influences pretty powerfully.

‘The Great Divide’ is a very good album. When it shines, it’s very bright. There are about half a dozen songs that are ill-mixed and conceived, though, such as ‘Nashville Is To Blame’ and ‘Let The Fire Ignite.’ Since it clocks in at fourteen tracks, this isn’t too surprising. During its re-release process, Summers may want to consider trimming the fat or remixing some of the songs that do fall flat. Then, a rather good album would be an especially great one.