Let’s take the way-back machine to 1992. A Nashville band is on the cusp of making it big. They’ve had videos on MTV. They’ve gotten tremendous reviews (a Rolling Stone critic compared them favorably to the Clash). They’ve attracted a devoted and growing fan-base. Halcyon days are just within reach.
But the house of cards comes crashing down when their record company (we won’t name them, although the initials are MCA) fails to promote their debut, appropriately named for the band. The disappointment leads the group to break up. Some of the guys get real life jobs in a variety of professions. Several continue to play on the side. But the promise and possibility of Chagall Guevara fragments in the early ‘90s. A band named after an artist and a revolutionary faces the fact that the revolution will not be televised—or radio-ized.
Jump ahead to modern times. The members of Chagall Guevara, for a number of reasons, decide it’s time to paint a new picture with the old brushes. Relying on a Kickstarter campaign and the requited love of fans, Chagall Guevara put out a live album from that earlier period (and it smokes). And then they went into the studio to put together something new based on the earlier formulas. The result is “Halcyon Days”, which drops on July 1.
“Halcyon Days” is listed as being Alternative Rock, but no barriers hold this band back. There’s touches of Country, Blues, Americana, Hard Rock, and more. There are nods to John Mellencamp, Tom Petty, Clash, REM, some licks reminiscent of Def Leppard, U2, and more.
This is rawk, with some roll tossed in. There are no ballads on “Halcyon Days,” and the only outlier is the speed country of “I Still Know Your Number By Heart.”
I’m not going to break down each song; the best way to approach the album is by listening to it. Still, “Resurrection #9” is a powerful counterpoint to the Beatles’ cacophonic “Revolution #9.” This is the way to start a record, every instrument pushing ahead and adding layers upon layers. Singer Steve Taylor’s break is spoken word (and I don’t doubt live audiences will be able to chant along).
“Got Any Change?” could have come from Tom Petty (in his best rock mode). Taylor’s voice sounds like the late man’s throughout—and that’s a good thing. This is not imitation (I don’t think Chagall Guevara does imitation). But it is reminiscent, for those requiring musical touchstones.
“Surrender” has got a bit of Stones/Mick Jagger touches. The music is sorta bluesy at heart, but the rock beat propels it ahead in ways that the late Charlie Watts would be proud of.
“Goldfingers” is my favorite. The hook is outstanding, and I’m a sucker for a great hook. And it flows into the title track, which is a little more laid back in its blues rock. But the band is not taking a break with this one; the power has just shifted gears.
“Treasure of the Broken Land”—the closer—starts with a bit of wah-wah blues before picking up steam. I hear a bit of Mellencamp in this one (what with the harmonica and acoustic guitar taking over at various points). It’s a great one for taking things out.
So you’ve got nine songs totaling about 35 minutes. Compact. No wasted spaces. No flab. “Halcyon Days” is lean and mean outing for a great band.
And did I mention the band members?
The twin guitar attack of Dave Perkins and Lynn Nichols is something to behold. Each is a virtuoso in his own right, but in working together, they find new avenues of playing. Sometimes, they’re the incarnation of the legendary Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter, playing off each other, bursting into blazing solos.
Wade Jaynes is on bass, and he is a good, foundational player who lays down a great groove. Unfortunately, he left the band just before the album was completed, saying the music in his soul had flamed out. John Mark Painter takes over in the live shows.
Mike Mead is a powerhouse drummer. He keeps things moving with that thumping beat that makes the difference between so-so music and catchy, toe tapping, fist waving rawk. Mead is the engine that makes Chagall Guevara go.
And then there’s singer and chief lyricist Steve Taylor. He is a wordsmith, a picture painter who renders lyrics that are almost inscrutable and invite individual interpretation (his day job is as an assistant prof of film at Lipscomb University; his words are very cinematic). Just check out the title track:
I’m a pretty little tulip in a poppy patch
better not pick me
you’re the honey-tongued Yanker with the yen for the cash
better not trick me
we can spread you all over the map
they were falling right into our trap
in a swank hotel with a monkey motif
when they all knelt down singing “Hail To The Chief”
the king was in his underwear
to the big black tower in the haze
gimme a pen
got any gum?
we’re catching rays
we’re riding big, big waves
we’re shifting phase
these are the halcyon days
I could have been a lawyer
I could have been a priest
I could have been a musician
but I chose to do this
the world is dancing faster, faster all the time
and I’m proud to make the muzak that covers up the crime
so pluck your magic twanger, froggie
we’re catching rays
we’re riding big, big waves
we’re shifting phase
Pretty deep, eh? And those run together words are reminiscent of Dylan, or perhaps REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” This could be about Chagall Guevara;s sour experience with record companies during the first go round. It could be a shot at some of the popular groups that have reached the top of the charts. It could be any of those things—or more—or none at all. This is thinking man’s rock. All the songs are shotgun blasts with a smile. There are a lot of moving targets for Chagall Guevara to hit, and this band is scoring up bullseye after bullseye.
Taylor’s gifts are many. His singing is usually a bit rough (and unique)—but that’s perfect for this band. And if you’ve seen any old Chagall Guevara videos, Taylor is a whirling dervish, dancing back and forth, shaking his head (and the long hair that was cut many years ago). Steve Taylor is a great, great front-man, deserving of much more attention.
And this is a band whose time has come, after spending 30 years fermenting its vision and purpose. Halcyon Days is an ironic title for the times in which we live, which are far from perfect (heck, even those dreamy days of the past weren’t really idyllic). But with tongue firmly in cheek, pins to pop many balloons, the strength to push over the icons that dominate society, Chagall Guevara has put together a rock album that’s a worthy successor to their first effort. I’ll even go so far as to say that “Halcyon Days” is the better production and performance.
What’s next? The group plays the legendary Ryman Auditorium in Nashville on July 2. The gig is basically sold out, an amazing honor for a band that’s been on the back burner for 30 years. Then we’ll have to see what the guys want to do. If we’re at all lucky, they’ll continue to explore their great communal gift—producing rock with a purpose and message and a big beat with crunching guitars and outstanding vocals. Perhaps true halcyon days are on the horizon for Chagall Guevara. And for us.
Released By: Self-released
Release Date: July 1st, 2022
- Wade Jaynes / Bass
- Mike Mead / Drums
- Dave Perkins / Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
- Steve Taylor / Vocals
- Lynn Nichols / Guitars
- Tim Chandler / Bass on “Got Any Change?”
“Halcyon Days” Track-List:
- Resurrection #9
- Got Any Change?
- A Bullet’s Worth a Thousand Words.
- Still Know Your Number By Heart
- Halcyon Days
- Treasure of the Broken Land
The second album by the Nashville-based group comes 30 years after their first release—and it’s worth the wait. Powerful guitars, the charisma of front-man Steve Taylor, and lyrics that force one to think make this a standout album. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another 30 years for the next Chagall Guevara record