Bassist, composer, hired gun, clinician, freelance writer and contributing editor for the Bass Player Magazine Bryan Beller graduated from the Berklee College of Music in 1993 at 22. His music career includes working with other Berklee alumni, with Dweezil Zappa, with Zappa alumni Mike Keneally and Steve Vai, with Shawn “Yogi” Farley (both Vai and Farley get a co-producing credit on the album). In ’03, he released View, his first solo album. ’08 was a busy year for Beller. He had a death-metal escapade with Brendon Small and Mike Keneally in Dethklok, the fictitious band in the Metalocalypse cartoon where both even lend their voices to characters. And he also got married.
Thanks in Advance, his 11 tracks, almost one-hour long second album, is like the diary of a working man (maybe even Beller himself at SWR until ’05). He presses the “Snooze Bar” and starts another “Casual Lie Day”. He takes the “Greasy Wheel” or the “Blind Sideways” and counts the “Cost of Doing Business”. It means to “Play Hard”. He tells us his “Life Story” (and so does The Life of Bryan bio web site). He’s a “Cave Dweller”. In spite of the “Love Terror Adrenaline”, he makes the “Break Through”. At the end of the day, he “Thanks in Advance”, as something has to come out “From Nothing”.
If you like Eric Clapton-like blues (“Snooze Bar”), jazz-funk (“Casual Lie Day”, the only track that includes a brass section), Martin Barre (“Greasy Wheel”), John McLaughlin (“Blind Sideways”), Jimmy Page and Gary Green (“Cave Dweller”, at almost 8 minutes -the third longest track), alternative/pop-rock (“Play Hard”, the only track with sung vocals, by Jude Crossen), Jeff Beck (the title track), then please go get the album. That’s right: this is a guitar-driven album of a bassist. There are six guitarists on the album: Rick Musallam on half of it, Griff Peters on three tracks, Chris Cottros on two, Mike Keneally, Bruce Dees and Mike Olekshy on one each (and even Beller himself also plays a rhythm guitar on the longest track), But there are also Beller-bits (pun intended to the BellerBytes newsletter) that could make it compete for the bass album of ‘08: heavy sostenutto bass lines (“Greasy Wheel”, “Cave Dweller”, “Play Hard”), bass solos (“Casual Lie Day”, “Blind Sideways”, the title track), and even a bass solo miniature (“Life Story”).
“Cost of Doing Business” is an industrial experiment, where Bryan Beller plays everything except for the real drums. “Love Terror Adrenaline/Break Through” is my favorite, the proggest, and, at over 10 minutes, also the longest track on the album. I love the way Mike Keneally builds tension on the guitar. Six minutes into the track, a theme is almost like the one in the end of Yes’ “Perpetual Change”. And there’s also a beautiful guitar part doubled by the bass in the end. “Thanks in Advance” is the only co-written song by Beller on the album: with Mike Keneally, Griff Peters/and drummer Joe Travers (who appears on three tracks) but Keneally doesn’t play on it. With a very touching bass line, guitar part and Tony Kaye-sque Hammond solo, it is my second favorite; and, at almost 9 minutes, second longest track. “From Nothing” is like Genesis’ “Los Endos” with a Scheila Gonzalez (on saxophone) that leaves no hope for anyone else around her (expect no mercy from her), a Hammond delirium by Jeff Babko (who appears on three tracks) and Beller keeping the thing together. It is my third favorite track on the album.
Of the 22 musicians on this album, noticeable appearances include: Jody Nardone (of the Crimson Jazz Trio), piano on the first two tracks; Ann-Marie Calhoun (who played with Beller on Vai’s Sound Theories tour), violins on the second track, Kira Small (B.B.: “now Kira Beller according to God and the State of Tennessee”), Rhodes on the title track.
Beller dedicates this album to Wes Wehmiller, a Berklee graduate, bassist, composer, photographer, athlete, who worked with artists that appear on this album and also played with, among others, Duran Duran, Dweezil Zappa, Eve Buigues, and Lisa Loeb. He lost his battle with thyroid cancer at barely 33, shortly after appearing at NAMM ’05.
Michael Mesker’s romantic, intimate and maybe also mournful, simple but effective graphic artwork includes flowers, candles, a Brancusi-like sculpture, and photos by guitarist Griff Peters, the late Wes Wehmiller, and Leigh Ann Villanueva. Mesker also designed the layout for Frank Zappa’s posthumous album One Shot Deal. If you check Mesker’s web site (under construction) you will recognize his style immediately
Says Beller: “If you liked View, I promise you will not be disappointed in this album. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted to say in music, and I’ve got nothing left in the tank. All I have, it’s all there”. Really? Is that it? Alarming, though. C’mon, Bryan! Maybe after five years?