The Vegetarians have a new album out now! It’s titled, Bill Haley. But first, for those not yet familiar with the act in question, a bit o’ background.
The Vegetarians is a music project launched in 2000 and headed up by Swedish composer, musician, and programmer Hans Annellsson. According to a recent e-missive, this fluid group is to provide “a vehicle” for recording progressive covers of songs by such other acts as Adrian Belew, ELP, Genesis, Peter Hammill, King Crimson, Yes, and Frank Zappa among others. To accomplish that purpose, Annellsson works with a number of different artists including (but not limited to) John Tabacco, Marc Mollan, Napoleon Murphy Brock, John Crowe, John Marshall Gibbs, and Robin Schell.
The act’s rockin’ resume includes early EPs such as 2009’s Fred Zappelin, several previous albums such 2011’s Remustered & Remixed Salad, 2017’s Assorted Veggie Delights, and a growing list of singles including this year’s “Dream of Independence.” The Vegetarians have also performed live at such events as Germany’s Zappanale Festival in 2011.
Also a music teacher at Malmö International School, Annellsson has his own label, Annellssongs, and has put out instrumentals, and additional music in both Swedish and English. Examples of his instrumental work include 2008’s A Pirate In Ambient Waters and 2014’s Scenes & Takes. His newest instrumental release, tentatively titled Goodly Odd, is set to drop before year’s end.
One of his obvious inspirations and favorites is Frank Zappa. In fact, he garnered Zappa’s personal approval to record and release a Swedish version of Zappa’s “Penis Dimension” prior to the performer’s final tour. It can be found on the 2015 disc Från A Till Ö by Hans and Mats Öberg. Annellsson also produced Mats Öberg’s 2019 album Frankful, which features solo piano renditions of Zappa’s music.
Image courtesy of John TabaccoJohn Tabacco, who co-wrote many of the songs on this new release, is an American singer-songwriter, composer, multi-instrumentalist, engineer, and graphic artist. He has engineered, mixed, and mastered music for the past three decades. Tabacco is also the co-founder of SA3. SA3 is a proprietary analog to digital conversion technology for sound and video. His resume includes dozens of releases including solo albums and collaborations.
In a recent communique, Tabacco briefly spoke of the process behind his tuneful team-up with Annellsson. The New York-based artist discussed their “back and forth” recording process. He said: “The main Vegetarian, Hans Annellsson, would send me tracks [from Annellssongs studio] to sing to and if applicable, I’d write the lyrics or add melody.”
The final mix was done in Studio Loftet located in Malmö, Sweden. Tabacco added: “He lives in Sweden [but] it made no difference. He could have been living next door. It was easy to go back and forth.” He concluded: “We’ve done a bunch of music that isn’t on this CD…probably for a future release.”
The Vegetarians’ signature sound is somewhat fluid due to the personal contributions made by each artist involved. It is a bold blend of multiple music genres including (but not necessarily limited to) prog-rock, alternative, experimental, and classic rock ‘n’ roll.
Bill Haley is a 14-track album. Much of the material here was co-written by Annellsson and Tabacco. The album also includes occasional contributions by additional artists.
Track by Track
The album opens on “Everything Is Everywhere.” It makes a fine album opener yet barely foreshadows what is to come. It also somehow sounds vaguely like something by the rock band Phish. There’s something strangely catchy about it too. Annellsson and Tabacco are ably backed by Johan Pilheke on harmony vocals.
The second selection is the blues-tinged track “I’m Guilty.” It’s a song about falling for a woman co-composed by Annellsson, Carlsson, and Wahlberg. Here Annellsson and Tabacco are backed by Sven Bornemark on bass and Jonathan Mehler on lead guitar giving the song an added instrumental impact.
It is followed by a clever cover of “Where’s My Yoko?” a song written by American singer-songwriter Susan DeVita. Pihleke returns with his harmonizing, and Eddie Nystrom is introduced on lead guitar. Tabacco’s male vocal perspective gives the song new meaning as well. (Indeed, while none of these guys are as pretty as DeVita, the song has never sounded better.)
Complete with a memorable melody, the show tune-like “Reptilian’s Folly” takes things in a new direction. Tomas Gunnarsson’s violin and Mans Persson’s acoustic guitar further flesh out the clever Annellson-Tabacco material.
Annellsson and Tabacco need no one else on the pumping piece titled “Louie.” They rock it all by themselves on this individualistic audio reminiscent of such experimental pioneers as Frank Zappa and even to a lesser extent The Residents.
They bring back Nystrom’s guitar for their song “Hucksters.” The basic signature sound remains and yet the song still has its own little identity and modern social commentary.
The Vegetarians display their more progressive side with the experimental/New Wave appeal of “Ones & Zeroes.” Morgan Ågren (Devin Townsend, Mats/Morgan Band, Zappa’s Universe) appears on drums. It has a definite digital sound and a surprisingly universal message about modern society.
The pop piece “Five Little Words” has an almost underlying classic 1950’s feel to it. Here the performing pair import Ylva Schau on harmony vocals, harmonica player Mats Öberg (Mats/Morgan Band, Zappa’s Universe), and keyboardist Dan Bornemark. This is one of only four tracks not co-written by Annellsson and Tabacco. This one was written by Annellsson and Scrace.
The love song “Abigail” also has a nostalgic, classic rock rock ‘n’ roll feel to it as well. Peller Jernryd on lap steel that works surprisingly well despite your rockin’ writer’s preconceived expectation of a country sound.
Indeed, while “Distant Traveler,” includes Magnus Edring on banjo, there is also Fredrik Kronkvist on alto sax, Alexadre de Santana on percussion. Complete with Pihleke on harmony vocals, the unexpected result of the instrumental elements works quite well and syncs with the story.
Pihleke remains on backing vocals on the upbeat, percussive “Fools Of April”. Nystrom is back on lead guitar. It’s a stand-alone song that might be a bit overshadowed due to the placement of the track.
Things slow down a bit on the ballad “Thank You.” It’s a flashback to the past with a nice musical sway to it. It features Sven Bornemark on organ and Pelle Jernryd on lead guitar. Pihleke again provides some harmony to Tabacco’s lead vocals.
“Know Your Role” is the second Annellsson-Scrace cut. Mehler plays lead guitar again. Tabacco’s vocals and Annellsson’s work keep things both consistent and entertaining.
Also included here is “Voices.” This is the third Annellsson-Scrace track. Annellsson and Tabacco are once more left to their own devices on this cut containing a somehow dark unexplainable element to it. Maybe it is the lyrics, the intro, or maybe it’s too close to Halloween as this goes to press. You decide.
The closing cut is “Under Control.” This slightly ethereal Annellsson-Scrace album endnote has a running time of over seven minutes and includes a memorable melody and great harmonies too. Öberg appears on synth, Jernryd encores on lap steel, and Pihleke provides harmonies once again. It’s one final, effective example of just what The Vegetarians can do.
Overall, this eclectic audio offering celebrates common musical ground and yet is rich in its diversity. It is different but not at all aggressively off-putting. It is both fun in its familiarity and yet refreshing in its originality. So check out The Vegetarians’ Bill Haley and discover how much you can enjoy hearing “Voices.”