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Like a travel brochure you'll never get in the mail, EXOTIC ANIMALS & BEACHES OF PENNSYLVANIA was Johnny's 2001 follow up to his acclaimed FIRE project (2000).
EXOTIC ANIMALS contains remixes of songs from FIRE plus then-new material and of older demos and singles.
"FIRE was deliberately a very r'n'b/funk/reggae/gospel adventure, a pivotal recording for me." said Blair. "For EXOTIC, I was still in the FIRE zone, but re-advancing into the jangly power pop and psychedelic humor that I've always been interested in, but still experimenting with gospel and funk."
EXOTIC opens with the guitar-driven "She's Not Some Animal," a single recalling Badfinger, The Beach Boys, Elvis Costello and the Kinks all in one. The lyrics are a slice-of-life from Blair's days living in San Francisco.
On the title cut, Davy Jones of The Monkees lays some zany narration over a bed of a progressive rock band (anyone remember Van Der Graaf Generator?) jamming with a string quartet. The music recalls "spy movie music" but with a twist of espionage in Amish country.
For a 4-track demo, "No Be No Yes Be Yes" sounds like David Bowie at his slickest Euro-pop.
Another highlight is "Dumb Angel." Blair wrote the lyrics from a dream that Brian Wilson was Sunday driving around a town he grew up in. No wonder--the title is from an obscure Beach Boy project.
The edit-remix of "Lighten Up" (the long version is on FIRE) is a delight, with a Brit-pop melodicism and reggae backbeat supporting a great storyline.
"(I Wanna Be In) Pennsylvania" is an ode to Pennsylvania much like those "American tales" the Beach Boys used to make. Mike Roe (of The 77s) makes a creamy cameo vocal appearance on the bridge.
The cover art is by Chris Yambar, an acclaimed writer and graphic artist whose resume includes Alice Cooper, Mr. Beat comics, and The Simpsons.
This is the lighter side of Blair--a good primer if you've never heard his music.
Bonus tracks have been added to the download album:
A cover of Mike Nesmith's "Silver Moon," produced by John Bechdel (Fear Factory, Gary Numan);
A very atmospheric, almost accapella demo of "Swing Low Sweet Chariot/Swing Down Chariot";
and five cuts from a 7/4/03 live set at The Cell Block (opening for The Badlees), including a cover of Nick Lowe's "I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass."
Review from 2/14/02 by Joseph W. Smith III (Williamsport Sun-Gazette): "(Blair is a) protean composer, arranger, producer, and musician...EXOTIC is an engaging assortment...a little rhythm & blues, a little pop, and a little 80s techno-funk mingled with a reggae beat, yet it also tends to sound like The Beach Boys...The surf-song element, clearly tongue-in-cheek on an album the eulogizes Pennsylvania, is quite deliberate. The album's highlight, an infectious pop treat called "Dumb Angel," was mixed by Grammy Award-winning engineer Rusty Richards, who worked with The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson..."
released 11 September 2001
Produced by Johnny J Blair w/John Bechdel, Bil Bryant, & Davy Jones. Recorded at various studios & venues in California, Sweden, Pennsylvania, & Russia. Engineered by John Bechdel, JJB, Tim Breon, Bil Bryant, Josh, Rusty Richards, Greg Sostrom, & others.
All songs written by Johnny J Blair except:
"Exotic Animals" co-written with Bil Bryant, Frank Hakava & Davy Jones
"I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass" by Nick Lowe
"Nobody's Fault But Mine" and "Swing Low Sweet Chariot/Swing Down Chariot" Public Domain
"Silver Moon" by Michael Nesmith
JJB songs Copyright 2001 Word2Soul Music BMI.
Johnny J Blair: bass, drums, drum machines, guitars, keyboards, percussion, vocals on all cuts except...
Vince Alire: saxophone "Dumb Angel"
Donna Bailey: drums & vocals "Silver Moon"
Lady A Blanton: rap "Lighten Up"
Bil Bryant: drums "Exotic Animals..."
Felix String Quartet: strings "Exotic Animals..."
Frank Hakava: bass, guitar "Exotic Animals..."
Davy Jones: narration "Exotic Animals..."
Erik Nielsen: Simmons drums "(I Wanna Bein) Pennsylvania" and "She's Not Some Animal"
Michael Roe: vocals "(I Wanna Bein) Pennsylvania"
Brion W. Wilson: drums "Dumb Angel"
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