Somewhere under masses of everything in The Phoenix Philes is a cassette tape on which Paul McCartney states that new musicians shouldn’t so much imitate The Beatles but rather write original music “based on the inspiration”. Texas-based singer-songwriter Michael Laine Hildebrandt is doing just that—composing new music based on his musical influences: Electric Light Orchestra, The Beatles, Boston, and even acts such as The Buggles.
This musically multi-tasking “one-man show”, further driven by the success of his 2011 Bubble Gum Orchestra debut disc, Out of this World, recently released his sophomore CD– BGO II. This tribute to tune-smiths of the past is noteworthy work of semi-orchestrated pop rock. Here Hildebrandt handles all the songwriting as well as the orchestral and choral arrangements.
Hildebrandt (lead and backing vocals, lead guitar, bass, DB 33, mini-moog, mini grand piano, Korg XL vocorder/synthesizer, drums and percussion) is the driving force behind the act. On this release he’s assisted by his brother Douglas Hildebrandt (12 and 6-string acoustic and electric guitar). The 13-track album opens on an instrumental intro, “Prologue”, which almost seems to be a part of the following piece.
The second selection is “Today Is Beautiful”. This track is highlighted by the work of guest musician Sugarbomb artist Les Farrington on piano. It’s followed by the upbeat “Loving One Another” which has a good beat and keeps things moving.
The next number is “Distant Song”. This is the longest piece on the release running over 4 minutes in length and yet the average listener will never notice because it is apparent that Hildebrandt is going somewhere already. It features lilting strings arranged by Hildebrandt.
By the time we reach “Blowin’ Away” it is already apparent that while the music is much like Jeff Lynne’s early work, it is not as highly produced and a bit more hip and current. This cut is one of the better bits here due in part to the appearance of Steve Howard, formerly of Paul McCartney and Wings, on the very trumpet he used while working with the ex-Beatle.
“Cloud 9 (When We Were Young)” follows. This is a nostalgic albeit somewhat solemn song and includes some noteworthy guitar work. The overall album sound continues to swell and seems somehow fuller o and perhaps more produced although the vocals maintain a consistency as “To You from Me” opens. On this cut Hildebrandt seems to have taken a page from The Beatles in terms of composition. Much as The Beatles’ “Because” involved classical music this track also sounds somewhat like it was adapted from classical music.
He continues to build something bigger with his “album rock” approach with “Carrie in My Dreams”. This song, however, is not only one of the better cuts but works well as both an album track and as a potential stand-alone single. It’s particularly reminiscent of vintage Boston as well.
It leads into the shortest piece here “Movements in a Major” This minute masterpiece comes in at less than 50 seconds and is much like instrumentals once employed by artists such as The Steve Miller Band, Pink Floyd and Yello. “Oh Can We Save It”, yet another upbeat track, quickly follows before Hildebrandt serves up a “Symphony of Sorrow” which includes more lilting strings while evoking a darker mood overall. Another Boston-like work, “A Trillion to One”, is also included.
The closing cut is another parenthetical piece, the short but sweet, aptly titled tune “Epilogue”. With a running time of just over 38 minutes, the music makes it clear that Hildebrandt has a true respect and love for classic rock bands of the late 1960s and 1970s. His inventive album is both vaguely familiar, wonderfully derivative and yet refreshingly unique. Bubble Gum Orchestra’s BGO II will remind listeners of a “Distant Song” as well as have them feeling like “Today Is Beautiful”.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.