Outer Voice by Stephen Jay

A Review by Mark Rowe

Outer Voice is an interesting collection of songs written and produced by Stephen Jay, combining funk, reggae and African-based grooves. Stephen may be most familiar as the bassist with the Weird Al Yankovic band, but this CD shouldn’t be presumed to be just a “bass album.” It has a much greater depth and diversity of music than is usually found among albums typically released by bassists.

Stephen plays 4-string, 8-string and 12-string basses on this album, as well as flute, guitars, accordion, keyboards and a variety of diverse percussion instruments. Steve also does most of the lead and backing vocals.

Pete Gallagher is excellent on drums (Pete and Steve perform together in a bass / drums duo called Ak & Zuie) plus there are several other guest artists.

There are thirteen songs on Outer Voice, a full hour of music. Two of the songs were recorded with a 12-string bass and five were recorded with an 8-string. Stephen's son Miles sits in on double bass on one tune. As an added bonus, Outer Voice features the late Joe Higgs (often called the Father of Reggae) performing vocals on the track "Secrets of Freedom". Recorded in the 90's when Stephen was Joe Higgs' bassist, this "lost" recording of one of Reggae's greatest voices sat in the can for nearly a decade before being rescued, re-mixed and re-mastered for this album.

A close-up of Steve's Dean Rhapsody 12 is featured in the liner notes.

While there are many different instruments and sounds, the songs themselves exhibit a masterful simplicity and sophistication commensurate with Stephen’s extensive background in composition. He draws upon his three years living in Africa for some of his song ideas and inspiration. As a bassist, Stephen uses the 8-string and 12-string basses in ways that are truly unexpected and unique to him. These include unusual tunings and stringing techniques, as well as a style of playing that is seldom encountered with multi-string instruments.

Here are my favorite songs:

“Outer Voice” – The title song starts with an interesting two-minute bass / instrumental intro that is somewhat reminiscent of Pink Floyd. Stephen plays a combination of 4-string and 8-string basses, with the 8-string strung with doubled high-octave strings. Steve says, “When you string an 8-string bass that way it turns it into the world’s largest bouzouki.” This gives the intro an effect similar to a 12-string bass but with added melodic possibilities.

"Boyozo" - Lightning-fast bass riffs and a solid groove. And who ever said you should only sing in English? At first I thought it would have been a good idea to include an English translation with the rest of the lyrics, but now I'm glad Steve didn't do that. A little mystery in one's life is a positive thing.

“Now Is In Blurland" – A hypnotic song that sneaks up on you, I found myself unconsciously humming the tune. It features multiple bass tracks and cool bass leads.

On “Umma Umma Umma” and “”Odds Bodkins” Stephen plays a detuned 12-string bass, with one of the high octave strings tuned to a 5th. It gives the instrument an unusual, seldom-heard tone. Add in the unconventional vocals and the other strange instrumental parts and you have two truly novel tunes. Wonderfully bizarre!

The bottom line on Outer Voice - Excellent musicianship, solid grooves, well recorded (I wish my recorded bass tones were this good!), with intelligent and meaningful lyrics. I'm looking forward to hearing more!

For complete information about this and other albums produced by Stephen Jay on the Ayarou label, check Stephen's website: http://www.stephenjay.com/cds.html

 

Steve and Mark backstage after a Weird Al Yankovic concert in Missoula, Montana