YOU’RE AMONG FRIENDS – Album Review: “Start Making Sense”

You're Among Friends Start Making Sense

Cleveland, Ohio-based band You’re Among Friends are most definitely among friends at this blog. Their laid back style of funky, blues-infused folk rock seems to channel Steely Dan, The Grateful Dead and even a bit of Elvis Costello, and always makes for a pleasurable listen. That comforting low-key vibe, combined with their thoughtful, down-to-earth lyrics about this crazy thing we call life, has a way of making me feel that everything’s gonna be alright. And boy, we can all use more of that right now!

I’ve had the pleasure of featuring them twice on this blog, first in June 2017, when I reviewed their 2016 album As We Watch the Years Go…, and again in January 2018 when I reviewed their EP One Day You’ll Look Back. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the bottom of this page.) They’ve just released their latest album Start Making Sense, which dropped May 8.  It’s their first release in two and a half years, and they sound better than ever.

You’re Among Friends was born in 2007 when guitarist and vocalist Anthony Doran and bassist Kevin Trask – who’d both played together in another band – rechristened it with a new name and began reworking songs from the previous band’s repertoire. They released their debut self-titled album in 2007, then soon followed up with an EP and double single. As the demands of life, work and starting a family took more of their time, however, the band went on a hiatus in 2011 that lasted four years. Once they reconnected in 2015, they began working on the album As We Watch the Years Go…, with songs inspired by their life experiences as well as the passage of time and how it affected friendships, relationships, and the band itself. Their follow-up EP One Day You’ll Look Back continued to explore some of the themes first addressed by the album.

Like more than a few bands, You’re Among Friends has struggled since their beginnings to find and keep drummers. They’re now on their seventh drummer in the person of Mike Janowitz, who appears to be a perfect fit. In a recent interview with Jeff Niesel of Cleveland Scene, Anthony commented “Mike is great. We have had some drummers who are great technical drummers and skilled, but they often treat us like we’re a stepping stone to the next gig. And then, we’ve had some cool, nice guy drummers, who aren’t that great at drumming. Mike is the best of both worlds. He’s the best drummer we’ve ever played with.”

You're Among Friends composite

Anthony wrote the music and lyrics for most of the songs, and all three members worked out the arrangements together. They began recording songs together for Start Making Sense this past January and early February at Kevin’s house prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Anthony later overdubbed his guitar parts and vocals at his home from late February through early April, then Kevin mixed the recordings from late April through early May at his home. Anthony noted: “We haven’t been in the same room since February. It’s really weird, but we kept going with the album and let it happen naturally.” Mike came up with the album title, and Kevin designed the artwork using a photograph he took during one of their sessions.

Opening track “Trying to Take It All In” speaks to the pressures of trying to keep up with the constant flood of information that can be downright overwhelming these days, and coming to the conclusion that’s it’s really not all that important in the end: “Things move fast these days. And folks who try to say if you’re not keeping up the pace, you’re in the wane. But I’m beginning to think that I could handle the shame. Getting kicked out of the race might be okay. But if I ever move too slow, you should probably know I’m trying to take it all in. It doesn’t matter who’s the fastest, when there’s this much information to process. The avalanche rolling down the mountain is gonna bury us all just the same.

Their song titles let us know exactly what the songs are about, and I really enjoy the almost conversational flow of their lyrics, which are easy to understand and relate to. On the toe-tapping “Waiting For Life to Start Making Sense” they tell us to lighten up a bit and not take everything so seriously: “Take life as it comes. Don’t get uptight. Just keep moving on. Never know about what’s coming next. Seems like the worst could turn out to be the best.” I like Anthony’s guitar noodling on the track as he lays down a catchy little riff, as well as his endearing vocals that remind me of Randy Newman.

The short and sweet “Once the Toothpaste is Out of its Tube” uses a simple but brilliant metaphor to describe how our words and actions can sometimes have more impact than we might realize: “Stuff you put out into the world, might come back around to you. So don’t forget what happens once the toothpaste comes out of its tube.” “Why Do I Dwell on Things?” asks why some of us (me included) focus on the negative rather than all the good things in our lives. “Why do I dwell on things that I can’t change? What good does it do, it just winds me up, and life has to go on anyway.” The funky guitars and bass on this track are really good.

One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Hills You’re Willing to Die On“, not only for Kevin’s wonderful bass-driven groove and Mike’s jazzy drums, but also its message about how so many people today choose to blindly cling to their political beliefs: “Carefully choose the hills you’re willing to die on. Those coattails you ride on get more torn and frayed by the day.” About the song, Anthony explained to Cleveland Scene: “It was during the impeachment hearings that the lyrics came to me. We’re all divided, and we can’t communicate any more because we’re all set in our ways.”

The first thing we hear on “Just Keep Being Nice” are the faint spoken words “That does not count against me. This is the one.” Whether intentional or not, it reveals, to me at least, how funny and real these guys are. They also serve up more funky guitars and jazzy rhythms as Anthony advises us to not let the blowhards and assholes get to us:  “Life is too short to give anything they say a second thought. Smile and pretend you agree that their message has value and meaning as it goes in one ear and out the other. Just keep being nice. And pretend to play the game. Act like you want to win, although none of this means anything.”

On the sweet “On Again, Off Again“, they touch on how some friendships and even love affairs can wax and wane, yet endure through time: “We go from the closest of friends  to the coldest of strangers. But whenever we find our way back here again it seems like no time has passed and nothing’s changed between us.” From a musical standpoint, “String a Few Nice Words Together” is one of my favorites, as I love Anthony’s funky guitars and Kevin & Mike’s cool, jazzy rhythms. The lyrics, however, speak to the singer’s shortcomings with regard to his actions not living up to his words: “Talk is cheap, but that’s always been good enough for me. I understand when you say that my apologies don’t mean anything because things never change. They always go right back to the way they were before.”

Kevin wrote the lyrics for the final track “My Best Friend Is Never Coming Home“. It’s a poignant song about remembering a best friend who’s gone: “So much has changed since you left us. I’ve got kids now. You would have loved them. They would have loved you too. But now you’re gone. I’m all alone. My best friend is never coming home.” It has a languid melody that suits the wistful lyrics quite well, without sounding maudlin or depressing.

With Start Making Sense, You’re Among Friends have delivered yet another thoughtful and pleasing album for us to enjoy. As their name implies, it’s like the return of an old friend with whom we’re able to pick right back up from where we left off. And that, my friends, is a mighty good thing indeed.

Connect with You’re Among Friends:  Blog / Facebook / Twitter
Stream their music:  Spotify / Napster / Google Play / YouTube
Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

YOU’RE AMONG FRIENDS – EP Review: “One Day You’ll Look Back”

YAF EP Art

You’re Among Friends is a Cleveland, Ohio-based band who play a laid back style of funky, blues-infused folk rock that just makes you feel good. Following up on their wonderful album As We Watch the Years Go… (which they released in July 2016 and I reviewed last year), they dropped a new EP One Day You’ll Look Back at the end of November 2017. It’s a short EP, containing four tracks totaling only ten minutes in length, but it delivers the kind of honest, relatable songs about life and relationships the band does so very well. Making the music are Anthony Doran (lead vocals and guitars), Kevin Trask (bass, keyboards and backing vocals) and drummer Frank Mirabelli, a recent addition to, and sixth drummer for, the band.

The first track “I’m Happier Now” is a pleasant, upbeat tune about the happiness and joy a loved one brings to his life: “I can barely remember what life was like before you arrived. So I know I’m happier now. All I know is that I’m happier now. It’s true.” Anthony’s jangly guitar nicely complements Kevin’s humming bass line, while Frank bangs out the mellow beat on the drums.

The guys get philosophical on the funky “Back to Work Tomorrow,” speaking to the soul-crushing routine of a dead-end job, and advising against letting it define your life. I love the rather cynical lyrics to this song, as I think a lot of us can relate to them:

Work your fingers down to the bone
But in the end what do you have to show for it?
Except a few dollars that you’ve already spent
Because the money rolls out faster than it comes in
Well it’s an uphill battle towards a long decline
If you let your work define your life
If you worry about it you will lose your mind
It’s not like you get paid to think
Time flies, even when you’re not having fun
One day you’ll look back and half your life will be gone
Well that’s all time that you’ll never get back
I hope it was worth it working so hard for the man

You Lost Interest First” has a country vibe with an infectious bouncy guitar riff and toe-tapping beat. The song’s about a couple who’ve both lost the feelings for each other that initially drew them together. A catchy, uptempo beat belies the somewhat negative sentiments of “Not My Thing.” With a hint of resignation in his voice, Anthony sings:

It’s hard to make me smile
You can try your best but it probably won’t work
It’s not that I’m depressed
I don’t try to be dark, I’m not a jerk
It’s just that smiling is not my thing
Don’t like the sunshine I like the rain

All in all, One Day You’ll Look Back is a nice little EP featuring songs with simple melodies and compelling lyrics that make for a highly pleasurable listen.

Connect with You’re Among Friends:  Blog / Facebook / Twitter
Stream their music:  Spotify / Napster / Google Play / YouTube
Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

YOU’RE AMONG FRIENDS – Album Review: “As We Watch the Years Go…”

Cleveland, Ohio band You’re Among Friends wants their fans – and everyone else for that matter – to feel welcome and comfortable when hearing their music or watching them perform. Comprised of Anthony Doran (lead vocals and guitars), Kevin Trask (bass, keyboards and backing vocals) and Chris Szuch (drums), You’re Among Friends play a laid-back style of funky, blues-infused folk rock that just makes you feel good while being entertained.

You're Among Friends

You’re Among Friends was born in 2007 when Anthony and Kevin, who’d both played in another band, rechristened it with the new name and began reworking songs from the previous band’s repertoire, all of which had been written by Anthony. When I asked him about how they came up with their band name, he explained:

Kevin was the one who first suggested ‘You’re Among Friends’ while we were kicking around some ideas for a band name.  Around the time we started playing together, Kevin had a roommate who played guitar in a band called ‘Wisconsin.’  At one point, [the state of] Wisconsin was using ‘You’re Among Friends’ as a tourism slogan on their bumper stickers and stuff.  So I guess Kevin’s initial idea for our band name was meant to be a subtle nod to his roommate’s band, but I think it was us wanting to be welcoming to listeners and fans that ultimately won me over.

The band’s had five drummers over the past ten years, and Anthony and Kevin have been through many life changes during that time period as well.  Anthony described the bonds that have kept them together as a band:

“Kevin and I have been through a lot together over the years.  We’ve watched each other get married, start careers, buy houses, have children, etc.  Sadly, we also both had younger brothers who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly.  Over the decade that this band has been around, Kevin and I have gone from being carefree kids in our early twenties to being in our thirties with all sorts of adult concerns, regrets and responsibilities.  Oddly enough, we seem more committed than ever to our friendship and making this band work.

Our outlook on playing in this band has changed drastically over the years.  We used to take a lot of things very seriously and get all bent out of shape when things didn’t work out exactly the way we planned it.  We’ve learned to take it easy and go with the flow, especially when the situation at hand is out of our control.  We appreciate all of the opportunities that come our way to be able to share our music with people.  We also just thoroughly enjoy playing together.  Some groups of guys go bowling or go to ball games together. We go out, drink a few beers and play our songs for people.  This isn’t a bad way to hang out with your friends if you can pull it off.  Sometimes we even get paid for it!”

Based on the kindness and gratitude Anthony has shown me in our conversations by email, I would definitely like to hang out with him and the band over a few beers.

You’re Among Friends released their debut self-titled album in 2007, a solid effort featuring 11 songs. They followed a year later with a six-track EP In Due Time, then dropped a double-sided single Enjoy Life & Half a Thought in 2010.  You can check out these earlier releases on Spotify or Bandcamp.  The band took a hiatus in the early 2010s and didn’t play for four years. As Doran explained to Scene Magazine: “There wasn’t a falling out; it just happened. We started to have kids and had a lot going on at that time.”

Kevin & Anthony

Once they reconnected in 2015, they began working on a new album As We Watch the Years Go…  Seven of the ten songs on the album had previously been written by Anthony and three – “A Way to Get Away,” “Calling Anyone” and “Dreaming of the Past” – were co-written by Anthony and Kevin. As evidenced by its title, the album explores life and the passage of time, and how it’s affected friendships, relationships, and the band itself. Anthony stated that “being able to record those songs for this album in 2016 seemed like we were finally wrapping up unfinished business.” The album’s cover – a photo of a baseball field – is a tribute to their brothers, who both liked the sport, and the album is dedicated to them.

As We Watch the Years Go… was released at the end of July 2016. The band’s previous drummer Adrian Higgins played drums on all the album tracks. Chris Szuch joined the band as the new drummer in July 2016, just in time to play his first show at the band’s CD release party.  The band’s music features nimble guitar riffs, anchored by sturdy bass lines and just the right amount of percussion to keep everything moving along smoothly. I hear touches of Steely Dan, Elvis Costello and The Grateful Dead in their sound, and Anthony’s vocals really channel Randy Newman at times.

The album kicks off with “Years Go,” which serves as the title track and really sets the tone for the album. Lively guitar riffs, accompanied by a bluesy bass line and gentle percussion, make for a mellow rock and roll song. The lyrics are upbeat yet nostalgic, addressing the inevitable passage of time that seems to move ever faster as we age:  “Remember when we were younger, and the summer seemed to last for years. Now the years are passing, summer moves so fast now. All those days disappear. June turns into July, July turns into August. Soon there is the fall, as pumpkins go to harvest. Then comes the snow, where did the year go? Now I’m an age I never thought I would be. It’s not so bad growing older, because you’re here with me.

Kevin’s funky bass has a starring role on “Any Day Now,” a song about staying optimistic in the face of life’s adversities, both big and small. Anthony lays down some tasty riffs on this track. Being an irresponsible, immature screw-up is the theme of “Building Bridges to Burn,” while “Dumb Complaints” is an honest admission of a chronic whiner (a song I can identify with, being a whiny-ass complainer myself). Anthony plaintively sings: “I can hear you loud and clear babe, you’re sick of all my complaints./ I complain no matter what’s going on. Reach for the moment, and it’s gone. ‘Cause I wasted it on dumb complaints.

One of my favorite tracks is the funky “A Way to Get Away,” an ode to the preference for personal freedom rather than romantic entanglements. “Sneak attack, you’re trying to back me against the wall. You got me under siege, but you’ll never get to watch me fall./ I need a way to get away. I’m looking for a way to get away.’ The terrific distorted guitar solo at the end of the song is pure ear candy.

The guys play the blues on “Sour Grapes,” with some nifty Southern blues-rock guitar riffs over Kevin’s buzzing bass line. And the intricate, layered guitar work on “Calling Anyone” is awesome.

Another of my favorite tracks is “Dreaming of the Past,” a melodic ballad that’s a bit of a departure in sound for the guys. The song begins with lovely synth chords that continue throughout the song, overlain by Anthony’s skillful handling of his guitar, proving without a doubt that he’s quite the axeman.

The album closer “Rope” speaks to ridding your life of toxic people who’ve used you and brought you down.  “Give them enough rope, maybe they’ll hang themselves. You won’t have to blame yourself anymore. Don’t make another excuse for the way you’ve been used, by all of your so-called friends.” I really like the jangly strummed guitars on this track. But then, I love the guitar and bass on all their songs!

As We Watch the Years Go… is a fun and mellow album that makes you think a little bit about life in all its craziness as you’re enjoying the music.

Follow You’re Among Friends: Website/Blog /  Facebook /  Twitter

Stream their music:  Spotify /  Napster /  Google Play /  YouTube

Purhase it:   Bandcamp /  iTunes /  Amazon