Breaking with Tradition
Everyone knows what Harvard graduates do when they graduate. They go to Wall Street. They make lots of money. They gain power and prestige, and hang out weeknights with other Harvard people at the Harvard Club.
So it's no surpise that last Thursday night, two Harvard grads were hanging out with 150 Harvard people. But they were nowhere near Wall Street. They were closer to Central Square. Actually in the heart of Cental Square, in a small honky-tonk called T.T. the Bear's Place. And they haven't got any money, or any power or prestige, really. Come to think of it, they weren't even hanging out. They were playing rock and roll.
Larry J. Restieri '90 and Chris S. Bentley '90 are trying to blaze a trail to the top in the music industry--not as executives at Capitol and Columbia, but as guitarist and bass player for The Barley Boys. The Barley Boys are an up-and-coming progressive rock quartet including lead singer Scott Whelehan and drummer Tim Barnes, both of whom graduated last spring, from Dartmouth and Hampden-Sydney.
The group formed in high school in the Long Island town of Cold Spring Harbor, the stomping grounds of Billy Joel. Though the band can't be the first rock success story from their hometown, they can be novel. Their determination to reject the music world norm of bands who create a false, flashy image for themselves is more impressive than their Ivy League background. They make no effort to conceal or distort their clean-cut image, an image which is a natural extension of the band's honest sound and sincere lyrics. And it is refreshing once in a while to see band members sporting hair shorter than Crystal Gayle's.
The Barley Boys are as earnest in their message as they are in their image. The issues they address in their music reflect a much more pronounced concern with people--both on an individual and societal level--than is common in today's bands. This focus, however, does not extend to the political level. For now, they will leave that to U2. Their commitment to staying real and performing great music about important issues sets them apart from the multitudes of aspiring bands as an anomoly.
Now that the band members have graduated, they say they are focusing their energies on their aspirations. The Barley Boys' self-titled debut album is only recently being widely marketed, and the Anavrin release will appear in Cambridge stores next week. It is a cohesive collection of dynamic tunes that definitely establishes the direction of the band. It illustrates their ability to combine a clean, original sound with thoughtful lyrics. Crisp vocals and a guitar-based sound make them reminiscent of '60 s and '70 s rock. Their sound can be suggested by these categories but is not limited to them. The Barley Boys are a fresh mix of the old and the new, and the combination gives them a trademark sound.
The first cut, "Country Love," is marked in its optimistic exuberance. This upbeat tune mixes the passion and confusion of being in love in the sensitive lyrics. "Love only comes once in a lifetime," they sing, reassuring that "It's not that I don't know what I want and it's not that I don't care..." "Country Love" is a celebration of youth, setting a tone of high energy for the remainder of the album. The move to "Five Forks Road" is a fluid one, which is suprising because its tempo and mood are comparatively relaxed and mellow. The strength of the transitions are only part of the cohesiveness of an album that is bound by its thematic continuity.
The album tackles some sophisticated social and emotional issues while remaining largely upbeat, danceable and and positive. "The Growing Home" exemplifies the personal issues the album deals with, addressesing the friction between teens and their parents. It offers a fresh perspective on this traditional rock topic with its simple yet profound lyrical analysis, "We broke me down, we built me up and together we formed me." They sing the explanation: "I may seem rather reckless and the way I travel free, but I'm just growing up right now and it seems all right to me."
"Take A Breath of Life" also exemplifies the treatment of pertinent personal issues, by showing that if "you dread getting out of bed... wish you were doing something else instead," your wish can come true when you stop accepting "things just the way they are... sell your coffee, sell your paper and appreciate more important things instead." The song is bouyant in its message that we choose the lives we lead, that our happiness is completely within our control. The decisions The Barley Boys have made with their own lives embody their faith in the tenet.
The Boys try to reproduce the inspirational feel of "Take A Breath of Life" in another cut, "Nirvana." Though the song has a similarly danceable tempo and strong rhythm, it lacks the substance of the previous song, focusing rather superficially on the euphoria of love. The song "Four Score" is the only weak link in an otherwise solid compilation. The boy's night out theme is narrow and cliched, and targets the tune to adolescents.
The antithesis of trite "Four Score" is "John," the foremost song of social consciousness for The Barley Boys. It shares the coolness and plaintive tone of their previous number, "Harbortown," but has a strong groove that distinguishes it. "John" applies the intensity of "Harbortown" to the plight of a homeless beggar in the Boston Common. The poignant, probing lines like, "Oh, what is it that plays with our minds that prevents us from doing something human and kind?" understandably, and understandingly, haunt listeners.
In the '80s, college applications to Ivy League schools were more plentiful (and acceptances more competitive) than ever before. It was part of the ethos of the gilded decade, of the dream of making lots of money and keeping it, money that would never reach "John." Harvard, more than ever before, was viewed as a pipeline to the world of corporate banking and high finance. This view obviously held little charm for Restieri and Bentley, the two Leverett House roommates who now sing about the homeless. If they make money, it will be for their music and their message. And if they succeed, they will be the first big-name musicians from Harvard in years.
Their success on a national level, given the quality of their work, is not unlikely, and the group is now actively working on getting a contract with a popular label. Until that time, they will continue to play at honky-tonks (their next engagement at T.T's is December 6) and even at the alumni's old college. The band, which played at a Mather House dance last year, will perform this winter in a benefit for the homeless at Memorial Hall.