BEN JANZOW BAND – Now Is the Time
If only there were a way to un-hear a song, an “undo” button in your head that allows you to completely disregard what you’ve just heard. If there were I could be a lot nicer to Ben Janzow and his band, but unfortunately for them, the fourth track, “New Year’s Eve,” is situated way too close to the front end of their mostly pleasant CD, Now Is the Time, to ignore. Once you hear the basic rhymes of couplets like, “Biggest night of the year / Everybody full of cheer,” or “Drink champagne from the bottle / This party’s on full throttle,” and perhaps most egregious, “I’m going to get my groove on / Shouldn’t take me too long,” you start looking for them in every song. Sure enough, only two tracks later we get “Michigan Ave,” an ode to calling in sick to work on a Wednesday and heading south to Chicago. A painfully literal salute to the big awe-inspiring city, he comes off as a country mouse. One would never guess Janzow is from Milwaukee, a decent-sized city itself. It’s hard to believe he would be that so overwhelmed by the way “the buildings seem to touch the sky.” Here again the obvious rhymes come in bunches: “Ain’t life boring when it’s all the same / Let’s be spontaneous and catch the train,” and “It’s as easy as a one, two, three / In no time, we’ll be free.”
You start to pray for a metaphor, heck, a simple simile, just one inscrutable lyric, a chance to wonder, “Huh, what did he mean by that?” But with Janzow it’s all on the table; he’s showing all his cards, take it or leave it. The vocals are so high in the mix and the production so crisp that you don’t miss a word. Problem is I’m a Bob Dylan fan, forever cursed to pay close attention to lyrics, always looking for poetry. Melodies are secondary, just frames for the art. Melodies he’s got; they’re solid, predictable and well played (they sound like Bon Jovi writing strictly for adult contemporary radio). I have no doubt he could keep a mid-afternoon crowd at Summerfest dancing on the picnic tables for hours, but so can a cover band. So it is probably no surprise that his current project Dirty Boogie (which also features Rob Syverson, who played electric guitar in the Ben Janzow Band) plays mostly covers and is known as “the area’s hottest new boogie band.” Probably just as well. Janzow is a talented musician, but he should leave the songwriting to others.