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Review

Wausau band creates unique identity

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October 28, 2010

When discussing music, a “hipster” friend once told me, “nothing is original anymore. It’s all just variations on the same old stuff. Every band sounds just like the last one; the only original artists are the ones that start new genres! Any new band sounds just like their influences, and only like their influences.”

This statement that there is nothing original in music anymore might be somewhat true. For example, I can name about six different bands that sound exactly like Fall Out Boy. However, for every one band that sounds like one of its influences, there is another that takes those influences and creates a truly unique and beautiful album with their own style and intrigue. Ryan Flannery and the Night Owls is one such band that has the ability to pull elements from their influences and, at the same time, make it truly their own.

Ryan Flannery and the Night Owls started their musical journey in Wausau, Wis. Ryan Flannery, lead singer and pianist, played solo for several years until 2008. He met up with drummer John Burgess and then guitarist Brian Klippel. In 2010, Klippel was subbed out for guitarist Tom Kallio. The band has played gigs in and around Wisconsin, but has now moved out to the Twin Cities.

The band lists their influences as The Beatles, Randy Newman and The Kinks among others. Their largest influence is without a doubt Elton John. Their self titled EP was released in February 2010, and it features six very impressive tracks. Not only does Flannery tickle the ivories beautifully, his voice is soothing and easy to listen to. Beyond that, the guy has completely orchestrated the album, including some cello, saxophone, trumpet, flute, xylophone and clarinet.

Burgess’ drumming and Kallio’s guitar act as a very important compliment to the already large cast of musicians on the album. Kallio stands out best on “Black Palms,” a easy going and light tune, but the riff that he has comprised for this piece gives the track an island-like feel; even though the song is about being poor, the music gives the lyrics a feeling of “oh well, it is what it is!” Burgess makes solid appearances on all of the tracks in the album, but also plays quite well on “Black Palms” with some simple, yet impressive drum fills throughout the piece.

“Look What the Cat Dragged In” has an intro that feels very much like Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s All Right For Fighting.” The album is driven by piano, much like the work of Elton John, but as I have mentioned before, Flannery and his band have done a fantastic job of paying homage to the greats of the past while still making this album their own.

The orchestrations added to the tracks give this album a truly unique feeling, and although you can obviously pull out specific influences, the more you listen, the more this becomes Ryan Flannery and the Night Owls, not Elton John, Randy Newman and others.

Each track has a distinct feeling that goes along with it. For example, “Midnight Run” has a very old school Broadway feel to it. While listening to it, I could picture this piece being performed by a high school theater troupe for their newest musical production. During “A Whim and a Prayer” I got the distinct feeling of flying while listening to Flannery’s insane piano skills. Again, all the influences are still there, but the Night Owls know how to create their own music and emotional response from the listener.

There you have it folks-in a single review, I have been able to both promote a band that I feel has a really bright and exciting future and perhaps more importantly, disprove my hipster pal for the second time. (Jon, 2. “Hipster” buddy, 0.)

It goes to show you that influences on bands are okay; we should embrace and look at influences on our favorite musicians.

We should also realize that the best artists can balance taking cues from their influences and making their music their own.  Ryan Flannery and the Night Owls is one such band.

Jon Lyksett is a student at UW-River Falls.