By Jim Hynes
Posted February 27, 2019
New York-based British singer-songwriter Bobby Long has dabbled in folk and rock across his three albums with the usual comparisons to influences of Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and others. Now we have a pop album. Sultans is unabashedly a nod to The Beatles. This crisp collection of ten tunes is bookended by its title, the first and last tracks. You’ll immediately be struck by the Eastern sounds reminiscent of “Within You. Without You.” Long explains, “I feel it sets the tone for the entire album and ends it quite nicely as well. We were obviously inspired by Sgt. Pepper when coming up with idea of the same start and end point. It gives the album a concept, and although the songs are quite similar, there are differences in dynamics and playfulness.”
Long further elaborates, “Also, vocally this album was different for me. I was really inspired by John Lennon’s vocals and the rawness he would get, especially on early Beatles records or his solo stuff. Letting emotion get in the way and kind of showing my true colours. I wanted to be brave, especially on the deeply personal songs so I just left it all out there.”
Most of us were introduced to Long’s spare arrangements and rather typical singer-songwriter style on Winter’s Tale and a conventional rock approach to his Wishbone. His sound here is entirely different (wasn’t that a hallmark of The Beatles too?) which he owes mostly to producer and multi-instrumentalist Jack Dawson, a close friend and the musician Long has most often played with. They took their time, experimenting with various sounds for an album a year in the making. Long plays guitar, Dawson plays bass, and studio engineer Dave Lindsay plays drums. The many psychedelic flourishes, electronics and keys indicate that there are more than just four musicians making this music. Yes, they tapped several others for those effects.
Even though Long calls it a concept album, the subject matter is varied, touching on his usual themes of love and death while others were formed through daily observations. He was feeling lots of frustration toward religion and religious establishments. His wife was pregnant during most of the making of the album and their son was born near its finish. That sense of frustration is captured in this passage from “Mazerati” – if you’re looking for some truth, you’ve lost it, get saved, take the furthest thing that you can’t prove, believe it, you’re spared, or try to make some sense of it all”
Although Long has published two books of poetry, his lyrics aren’t always the smoothest, however. Take this excerpt, expressing his frustration in “Nautical” – I fell from the sky, I rose from the ground, screaming out loud, not making a sound, I can’t be alone, or be alone with you, or be alone with you.” In fact, it’s easier to listen to the album as a complete work rather than trying to dissect his lyrics in some songs. “Serpentine” and “Venice” are especially challenging.
Kudos to Long for trying something completely different. His love for The Beatles is evident and the album forces the listener to work a bit, which isn’t a bad thing. It does make for repeated listens. Some of the hooks and loops become infectious with additional listening too.