Tuesday, April 28, 2009

11 Greatest Albums: The Z-Digs - 'Scared Crows'

A boy watches his father die. He is the youngest of many children and yet he is already somehow the head of the household. He is an odd mix of achiever and artist. His wanderlust led him to the Peace Corps. During his time in Guinea Bissau he happened to read 'The English Patient'. Now, 15 years later, after a world traveling circuitous path, he works for the United Nations helping nations deal with unexploded land mines. If this trajectory were all you paid attention to you would have a lot to unearth.

But there is another side to his story.

In high school he was the wild card guitar player in Fecund Youth. Seemingly from the instant he picked the instrument up he was a lead guitar player. Not everyone has this impulse. I have played guitar now for 20 years and it is still difficult for me to 'solo'. Justin Brady was soloing almost before he knew how to play the damn thing. That's probably why he's so good.

He and I wrote a couple songs in high school, a couple good ones, actually, but he was definitely the George Harrison of our band. He came late and his creativity was not the focal point. He got to college and started his own band where he did most of the writing, music and lyrics. I was shocked (and am still shocked) that he chose a fraternity brother of his to be the singer. I wasn't even considered! Can you imagine? Sure I had no time because I was in 8,000 plays every semester and sure he was a member of the fraternity and I wasn't, but still...shocked I tell you. Shocked.

The Mag 7 was a very good band. But Justin still hadn't taken that final step. Once he bought a 4-track recorder it was only a matter of time. He began singing his own material. And that's when shit went crazy.

It is impossible to describe Justin's voice. In all honesty, it shouldn't work. It's like Neil Young. I still wonder whether Neil can sing or not. Justin is the same way. But the authenticity of that voice paired with the idiosyncratic nature of his songs brought his aesthetic out of hiding. The songs didn't have the same impact with someone else singing the melody.

Little by little he built an album. Most of these songs I'd heard at one time or another. Justin and I would have long bouts of creativity where we wrote, sang, improvised, joked, laughed, you name it. Then a few weeks would go by where I didn't see him and he'd play me what he'd recorded. Often I'd recognize some snippet that he'd come up with on the spot out on the turf farm next to his house or in the backyard down by the river.

At some point I expect Justin to make this music available to the public at large.

I include this album on this list for sentimental reasons, yes. He is my best friend. This album probably spurred my songwriting more than any other because it was a direct influence...my friend wrote it. But make no mistake...these are great songs. The production is intricate and balanced even though it is home-made. The emotional scope is vast and I defy anyone to remain unmoved when they hear 'Luka Blooms', the imagined words of a dead father sent back to give his son what he needs.

So, yeah, Justin has saved countless actual lives with the work he has done at the United Nations. That is important. But before he ever became a modern day super hero he had already recorded one hell of a debut album.


Buckeyballs said...

Typical critic. And I can to sing!

Brendan O'Malley said...

I compared you to Neil Young. Get over yourself. Judy Garland you are not. Still love the album.

Where is 'The Bassoon Years'? Have you listened to 'Good Bye New York' yet? How is the trip going?