The Post-Jaded Life

Singer/songwriter Bart Davenport dares to ditch irony for the downright soft

Question: What's the most embarrassing record you own?

Bart Davenport: I am not embarrassed of any music.

Rock music is supposed to be dangerous. It's supposed to make you feel dirty and sexy and in need of a shower. It's supposed to leave you with weird bruises on your legs and lipstick on your pillow and dented fenders on your T-bird. It's not supposed to make you want to tuck in your shirt. Right? Wrong.

See how fast the old guy is wiggling his hand? That's 
how good Bart Davenport is.
Akim Aginsky
See how fast the old guy is wiggling his hand? That's how good Bart Davenport is.

"I remember crashing over at the Beachwood Sparks' house like five or six years ago after a shared bill in L.A.," says Eric Shea of local hard-rockers Parchman Farm. "[The Sparks'] Brent Rademaker and I were smoking a joint and listening to records in his room, and he put on the Bread anthology, and he said that he liked Bread because it made him want to tuck in his shirt and wear a belt. And he totally meant it. He wasn't being sarcastic at all. That just blew me away."

Watch out, people, the soft-rock revival has arrived. After gorging ourselves on '80s new wave and post-punk, you'd think we'd be setting our retro-music machines to 1991 and the flannel-flying grunge era, but think again. Suddenly it's 1974, and the feeling is breezy.

"When I put on Hall & Oates -- you know, 'Sara Smile' or something -- at [Oakland hipster bar] Radio, the girls just melt," says KALX DJ Roscoe 2000.

That's right, Hall & Oates. Or the Little River Band, Air Supply, the Eagles. All those formerly unhip, ultra-sincere, super-produced, hella-wimpy groups are back in vogue. For recent examples, check out the Autumn Defense's Circles, on which two members of Wilco re-create Paul McCartney's piano-driven smoothness; Josh Rouse's aptly titled 1972, which starts off by name-checking singer/songwriter Carole King; or Matthew Sweet's new group the Thorns, which attempts to duplicate the honeyed harmonies of Crosby, Stills, & Nash.

"To play this kind of music well," says Shea, "you already have to be coming from a life-after-jaded place. You have to live the post-jaded life and you have to live it confidently enough to not give a shit about the negative things that other people can say about it when they're trying to be smart."

This description fits East Bay musician Bart Davenport so perfectly it should be tattooed on his skinny behind.

During the '90s, Davenport co-founded the '60s-styled mod group the Loved Ones and the '70s soul-funk revival outfits the Kinetics and the Supernaturals. While these acts were certainly fun to watch, their rigid blues and R&B styles allowed Davenport little room for personal expression beyond "my baby done me wrong" themes.

"Bart was an extremely talented performer doing stuff that required the suspension of sincerity," says Paul Koehler, longtime local musician and co-owner of Antenna Farm Records.

But when the Kinetics broke up in 1998, Davenport took to writing different kinds of songs -- ones with increased emotional candor and musical experimentation. In a January 2002 interview in East Bay Express, he explained that he "really needed to get out of this lazy retro bubble and listen to more modern sounds and try and be more risk-taking in what I do musically."

Davenport's first solo effort, a self-titled 2002 release on Paris Caramel Records, was a giant step forward. The tunes moved from the quiet solo-acoustic "New Cool Shoes" to the bossa nova shuffle of "Sugar Pie 1 & 2" to the synthy spaced-out ballad "A Clever Girl," while the lyrics told of single mothers, thrifty lifestyles, and love developing fast like a Polaroid. As Davenport sang on "Miami Afternoon," "subtlety's gonna be my best friend."

But while the album showed off Davenport's increased vision, it was something of a scattershot affair. "I'm amazed it sounds coherent at all," he says during an interview at Berkeley's People's Park. "The tracks were recorded all over, in bedrooms and studios, on four-tracks and bigger equipment."

For his new Antenna Farm CD, Game Preserve, Davenport wanted a more cohesive vibe, one built around mid-'70s soft rock. "It's from being a little kid when those records were hits," says Davenport. "That drum sound, that weird mellow rock sound -- it's always felt like home to me. It's the first music I can remember."

In order to replicate the sound of artists like Steely Dan, Al Stewart, and Fleetwood Mac, Davenport and producer Jon Erickson recorded all the sessions with vintage analog equipment. Thanks to the warm production, the record has a remarkable consistency, even with the wide variety of musicians playing on it (including country-rock guitarist Dave Gleason, avant-folkies the Moore Brothers, indie-soul sister Nedelle, and the members of sunshine-pop band Call and Response). Whether it be the countrified twang of "Bar-code Trees," the piano balladry of "Nowhere Left to Go," or a spot-on cover of the Free Design's "My Brother Woody," the tunes sound drawn from the heyday of '70s AM radio, without coming off cloying or dated.

This is not to suggest that all the songs blend together in one gooey lump. There's also the sax-accented boogie-rock sing-along "Euphoria or Everyone on Earth Is So Beautiful, Even You" and the effervescent soul-folk of "Sideways Findways."

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