|Personnel: Chris Simpson (vocals, acoustic guitar, resonator guitar, harmonica); Michael Booher (vocals, acoustic guitar); Jeff D. Klein, Jeff Klein (vocals, mandolin, percussion); Seth Woods (vocals, bass synthesizer, bass guitar, percussion); Brian Hubbard, Brian Hubbard (electric guitar, nylon-string guitar); Ben Lance, John Hoover (electric guitar); Erin Lance (cello, clarinet); Kullen Fuchs (accordion, melodica, trumpet, slide trumpet, trombone, organ, chord organ, omnichord, synthesizer); Ben Houtman (melodica, piano, Wurlitzer organ); Ben Houtman (piano, Wurlitzer organ); Cully Symington (drums, snare drum, percussion); Alex Dupree (vocals, electric guitar, piano, organ, percussion); Jennifer Stephens (vocals).
|In 2004, Chris Simpson halted the recording of the Gloria Record's sophomore album and virtually disappeared, taking an extended leave of absence from the musical craft that had paid his bills for more than a decade. Becoming All Things is his first full-length effort since that departure, and Simpson's new band -- Zookeeper, whose lineup includes members of the Gloria Record but whose style is closer to heartland indie pop than shoegaze -- suits his new disposition. Having taken a step back from music, the frontman now sounds recharged and content. Zookeeper aren't particularly artsy or angsty, two temperaments that ran amok in Simpson's previous bands, and the band happily employs horns and saloon-styled honky tonk piano on the album's most upbeat tracks. There's little posturing here, as well as an indifference toward securing the approval of the fickle indie scenesters, many of whom might criticize Simpson for embracing these newfound sunny sentiments. Regardless, the expansive group (comprised of ten members, not all of whom play on every track) unapologetically tackles full-band rockouts ("Ballad of My Friends"), impromptu jams (the psychedelic, all-too-short "Al Kooper's Party Horn"), and dusty heartland ballads that beg you to raise your pint glass and howl along ("Trumpets"). Much of the record was recorded in live sessions during February 2006, and Becoming All Things benefits from the loose energy that made Springsteen's We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions so kinetic despite its imperfections. There's the occasional drowsy ballad, of course, but even sleepy tracks like "On High" feature enough organ and tasteful trumpet to make them prime candidates for a Sunday morning playlist. Simpson has reinvented himself again, and Becoming All Things finds a home somewhere between the barroom rock of the Band and the romantic chamber pop of Margot & the Nuclear So and So's. ~ Andrew Leahey