Review - For Amusement Only - Spafford's Second Studio Album
With much anticipation, Spafford released For Amusement Only on May 4th-- their second studio album and first since the band has taken the country by storm. (Their first, self-titled studio album came out in 2012 when the band was a beloved local phenomenon in the Arizona mountains.) Over the last several weeks, that excitement has been stoked by three single releases: Leave The Light On, Hollywood, and Ain’t That Wrong.
If I had to describe the album in two words it would be damn good. This album is damn good. Luckily for me, I am not limited to two words so I can proceed to gush in much greater detail over this damn good recording.
The first track on the album is Leave The Light On. Of course it is. At 141 live performances, LTLO is second only to Electric Taco Stand in the number of times the band has taken it for a ride. It’s the song that is playing literally every time my wife walks into a room and I’m listening to Spafford, which is pretty much every time she walks into a room. With its seductive reggae rhythms and crazy glue lyrics, it’s a great pick to start the album. Clocking in at just over 4 minutes, it is stripped of the explorations and experimentations that its two jam sections typically produce on stage. But it’s a beautiful version of the song to place in a time capsule.
Next up is another Spafford giant (and one of my favorites) Ain’t That Wrong. At 124 live performances, ATW occupies a seat of honor in the pantheon next to ETS, LTLO, and Weasel. From the very get-go, Spafford has cemented a reputation for improvisation and the studio cut of ATW is just one more shining example why. Although brief, the jam section on this recording manages to convey the electric energy of its live siblings through a brilliant and totally unexpected saxophone part. As revealed in a Relix article, the sax was totally unplanned. Brian met the saxophonist, Jason, and his dog Dewey, while taking a smoke break outside the studio. Naturally, Brian invited Jason into the studio, introduced him to the band and engineer, and three takes later we had this incredible four-and-a-half minute ATW for the rest of time.
Next up is It’s A Bunch, which debuted little more than a year ago in Detroit and has become a versatile weapon in the Spafford arsenal ever since. Sometimes it’s a straight-forward but high-energy instrumental interlude. Sometimes it’s Crystal Bay. Other times it’s highly-elastic, jam-tastic connective tissue in a never-ending parody. For the album, they went with the straight-forward, high-energy instrumental variety and I’m not complaining one bit as I dance around my living room listening to it.
The next track is the only one on the album that no one had ever heard before: Fuel. I don’t know if this song figured into the titling of the album at all, but it features some circus imagery that goes well with the cover art and album title. With a catchy riff and feel-good lyrics, I can picture this song as a fun breather between jam vehicles on the road. Then again, Spafford jams so I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Fuel turned out to be just that.
Next up is another song that debuted in 2017 – Mind’s Unchained, with lyrics written by poet and former lighting director, Chuck Johnson. Of all the tracks on the album, I think this one most closely resembles the live version of itself. I love this song for its mellifluous jams. There are some nice peaks courtesy of the Raven at the end of the jam, although they are not quite as frenzied as what the band has produced onstage so the landing back in the final verse/chorus is graceful, though not quite as stunning as usual.
Once more from the file of 2017 debuts comes our next track, Simon & Lily. I love the way this song gives us Red, Brian, and Jordan’s voices in all their unique glory and beautiful harmony. With gorgeous guitar picking and dazzling lyrical imagery, I am always excited when this song is played and I love the studio treatment they gave it.
All In, which debuted in 2015, is one of Spafford’s most progressive tracks, morphing from southern rock to drum n bass to heavy metal and back again. It is one of Spafford’s most dynamic vehicles onstage and one of the songs that first hooked me. There are some nice flourishes from Red and Brian throughout this version that help to give it some of that patented fire and rage it produces on stage.
Next up is Hollywood, which if ever there was a Spafford song made for an album it is this one. That’s not to say that there haven’t been many, memorable jammed-out versions. But this is a song’s song, complete with heartbreak, train beat, and whistling. The two-part whistling section on this cut is sooooo damn good. If you listen to the Nerd chatter lately, this song is quickly becoming a favorite.
Next up is The Postman. The way this song builds, plateaus, builds, peaks, plateaus, builds, plateaus, is just incredible. I am so impressed by the way this version captures all the intensity, fluidity, and tension that The Postman delivers. Of all the tracks on the album, the playing on this one sounds the most relaxed to me like the walls of the studio disappeared with the opening notes.
When It Falls was officially debuted as an acoustic version during the in-studio performance at Relix on 4-5-2018. The studio cut marks the second known version of the song, which is pure Jordan genius with its lyrics full of natural imagery tracing a journey of struggle and redemption and a sound that harnesses the best of the 90s and fuses it with flecks and flavors of prog and reggae and metal. Will this song evolve along the lines of Eternity as a satisfying set closer or encore slot, or will it follow in the footsteps of Plans as a launchpad for some of the biggest jams Spafford has to offer. Time will tell…
Slip and Squander gets played fairly often. And for good reason. With powerful lyrics by Chuck Johnson soulfully served up by Red Johnson and a soaring guitar solo from Brian that goes up up up up up, peaking in all the right places, this song has a way of waking the soul from its slumber. Great choice for the album.
If LTLO was a good number to open with, Todd’s Tots is the perfect closer. Tightly composed, Tots is a stick of dynamite with a slow-burning fuse. As the song progresses and the fuse shortens, we witness some of the greatest expressions of musical tension and release. With every instrument clear and balanced, this studio version serves up a steaming plate of hot tot fire to send us on our way.
Well, there you have it. After consistently blowing audiences away from coast to coast, Spafford has shown us another side of their artistry with For Amusement Only-- a record of a moment in time when songs new and old collided with power and precision in a dazzling display of musical and lyrical magic.
@Johnny-Love Choice words for such an epic album! I cannot wait to play this for the non achievers!
@mccuem they will see the light when new shit comes to it