The April Fools’ Self Titled Album

Paul Whyte

The April Fools are a seasoned group of musicians from Minneapolis that have come together to make up this project. Brian Drake leads the group on guitar, vocals and occasionally the electric sitar, Clay Williams plays guitar, lap steel and backing vocals, Ben Kaplan covers drums and percussion and Scott Hreha holds down the bass. There are also a handful of guest musicians on this album. The band wishes to play up here in the near future with Rich Mattson and the Northstars.
While I think this band is experienced and talented in ways, there’s something a little cheesy in certain aspects of this album. I’m not sure if this was on purpose or if the band actually just went with a concept of at times capturing something that resembles bubble gum pop from the late 60s. The album does shift around a little from this feel, but for the most part, there’s not a lot of depth going on here. Not everything in music must be deep, sometimes taking a tongue in cheek approach can work out well, but this album didn’t come across that way for me anyway I look at it. I’ll try to explain as there are some parts that set themselves apart from others.
The album begins with the track “Bertha Marie.” One thing that I can say about this song is that I don’t think I’ve heard a tune about a Bertha before. So, for all the Berthas out there, you finally have a song! The song immediately attacked me with a chorus of completely predictable lyrics. “Oh, Bertha Marie, I could be set free, if it turns out to be, that even a small part of me is a little bit like you.” The verse parts do flesh the song out a little bit more, thankfully. The movie “That Thing You Do” comes to mind with this song. Back in the 60s there was plenty of music like this. A catchy but cheeky chorus hook that drives the song. It still happens to this day in music but this particular feel goes back to early Beatles when they were still covering Buddy Holly songs. In my opinion, this was the weakest era for The Beatles. There were many bands who made many cheesy songs to come from those years and some of them did get some chart topping songs. However, The Beatles did eventually move on from playing what was the equivalent of boy band music for that time.
The next track, “Burning Hand,” is a little more interesting with what sounds like the electric sitar in a mix of psychedelic/blues/rock/pop song. I should clarify that the musicianship and delivery isn’t bad, it’s just a resurrection of something familiar from decades ago but not quite as good or memorable. Do I mention the shaker panned hard to the left? I guess I will because there’s some unneeded additional percussion in this album. It’s distracting. With the next track, “I’ll never understand,” the shaker or maraca is panned hard to the right. Then half way through the song, there’s cowbell panned hard to the left. I’m trying hard to like this blues rock song, but I can’t get over the additional percussion and it only stops for a drum fill at the very end of the song. I get that someone probably wanted to add something to these songs, but this can be looked at a maybe something between a bad call and a mixing problem.  
The track, “The Same Girl,” is a smooth R&B/soft rock tune. There was one name I recognized on the album and that would be Jillian Rae on the airy and subdued strings of this song. It’s not the typical hard driving fiddle style that I’m used to her playing. The opening lyrics are once again pretty cheesy, “you’re not the same, girl/not the one to play this kind of game, girl/I don’t know who you are and that’s shame, girl.” The harmonica in the song is kind of cool at first, but it never stops. Around half way through the song it just starts eating away at you. The harmonica isn’t bad, but after four minutes of harmonica solos on this laid back and grooving song, it’s a little much.
I’m not going to bring this album down too much more but the line, “I’m almost blind but shes oh so pretty, the softest kitty in the whole damned city,” in the song “She’s on My Lips” got harder to listen to each time I went through this album.
So, I guess it’s apparent that I felt this album fell short. The band itself is good and professional sounding besides some parts where they went a little overboard with backing percussion or other instruments. The music is fun and upbeat for the most part and I think a lot of people would be able to get into this band. It should be held in mind that the track listing on the website is different from the download I received. I don’t know which one officially stands. According to their website the sappy pop/rock tune “Bertha Marie” is the second to last track rather than the first, which is probably good.
The songwriting failed to move me in anyway. Even when sometimes the lyrics got serious and strived at something deeper, I was already struggling with the other predictable rhyme schemes that pop up pretty frequently on the album that they lost their intended impact, if hitting the listener with something deep was ever even an intention in the first place.
I’m not saying that lyrically everything needs to be like Elliot Smith or Bob Dylan in lyrical depth. I’m not saying that the cheesy pop from back in the day doesn’t have its moments and that it’s not possible to revisit that style in some way. I’m not even saying that this band is particularly bad. There were just a few things, as I explained, that kept bugging me more and more with each listen. Some people who like oldies and classic rock music might absolutely love this band. I don’t mind that music myself, but I guess I didn’t get The April Fools.       

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