Canada's most confusing improvisational band as of late is the historically popular Burt Neilson Band. With seven years of solid touring and an unsurpassable 12 national tours under their belt, the band had the pains of exhaustion run rampant and the touring wheels run dry in early 2002 as the quartet decided to disband in April of that year. After reuniting in January 2003 to mixed reviews, the band again disappeared off the radar after a short, eight-date reunion tour, hibernating in a rehearsal space for half a year to rethink, redefine, and re-approach their sound.

The result of the studio time and new song writing is a focused, re-invigorated Burt Neilson Band and their By The Door, a seven-track, 32-minute effort that shifts the band's gears from jam-oriented to song-oriented. Throughout the band's history, the quartet has been masters at creating technically complicated soundscapes that have won over fans nationwide while being ignored by the industry in the process. Even though the Burt Neilson Band remains one of Canada's largest cult bands, attracting a generous following from Victoria to Halifax and all places in between, their seven years together has been subject to constant ignorance by mainstream media and the major recording industry.

Consequently, By The Door seems like a response to that ignorance, a signal that the band is taking steps to change the way the rest of the world (minus the improvisational community) thinks of their music. Throughout the first listen, the only thing I could think of was the band's intention to produce a song-oriented, focused record, probably so that the mainstream media would finally realize what they have been missing. Yet, even though By The Door looks and feels like a simple pop record, it is far from it. Instead, this record is a perfect testament to the growth--both musically and personally--that the Burt Neilson Band has achieved in the past few years, and the fantastic, albeit different music that has come out of that evolution.

Throughout the record the band, especially guitarist Mike Filipowitsch and keyboardist Jeff Heisholt, go through a unique soul searching mission with the listener, beginning with the somber, quietly building Filipowitsch original "Standing There," and ending with a retrospective ode to touring, Heisholt's bouncy "In The Belly." From song to song, noticeable themes of maturity, acceptance, and moving forward take precedence, using all seven compositions as different means to explore the past of the band, while hinting at the optimism towards the future. Influences like Wilco, Johnny Cash, and even somber songwriters like Nick Drake, along with the heavy country of the Old 97s and bluegrass lines of Bill Monroe shine throughout the half hour, adding to the album's slick, professional sound. The band borrows so much from outside influences it carves out a genre of songwriting that's innovative, original, and heartfelt.

The gem of the record is undoubtedly Heisholt's bluegrass-infused rock ballad "Bored Again," which states "This is the last time/that I want to spend time/away from the good times/I'm through with the bad times." The somewhat cliché yet extremely effective lyric sums up the record perfectly. Change, although difficult to adjust to at first, can be a blessing in disguise. Even though the well ran dry in early 2002 with the old Burt Neilson Band, this album signals a fresh start, one that will be surprising at first, but welcoming after it is ingested a few times.

Shain Shapiro
JamBase | Canada
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[Published on: 3/23/04]

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