It is difficult to determine whether an album cover affects how you feel about the music contained within, or if some cover art is just particularly representative of the musical content. Either way, Russian artist Erik Bulatov's painting Red Horizon perfectly fits the music created by the Four Bags on Offshore. Certainly the whirling whimsy of accordion and the gentle warble of clarinet recall the lazy innocence of beachfront excursions. Yet a melancholy urge towards a stilted mannerism pulls these ditties in an enigmatic direction.
The Four Bags' novel lineup features Brian Drye on trombone, Tom Aldrich on accordion, Sean Moran on guitar, and Michael McGinnis on saxophone and clarinet. The sound the band achieves recalls, in both instrumentation as well as mood and spirit, the Beatles' side trips into vaudeville and music hall, such as "When I'm Sixty-Four and "Honey Pie. "Beach sounds like the soundtrack to an elderly couple's enjoyable Sunday drive to the shore. Elsewhere, "Humble Daisy, composed by Andy Partridge, is arranged with the same lovely lushness that Brian Wilson might summon.
Offshore is an impeccably performed album that puts a great deal of emphasis on group dynamics, often recalling chamber music. At the same time, there is inevitably a certain chilly detachment about the project, which makes me wonder if the album is less a statement than an exercise. No doubt, there is pleasure to be found on the album, but one must wonder how much depth is to be found in repeated listening.
Personnel: Brian Drye-trombone; Tom Aldrich-accordion; Sean Moran-guitar; Michael McGinnis-saxophone and clarinet