During the pandemic, singer-songwriter Bob Perry, a member of the Jersey-based indie-rock band Winter Hours in the ’80s and early ’90s, sifted through his treasure box of previously recorded songs, re-worked his top picks, and also wrote some original tunes. His labor turned into his third solo album, the eclectic and engrossing A World Like This, which will be released in September.
It’s a solid album with more than a few gems. “The songs on this record are from all different time periods of my musical life,” said Perry, who adds that his wife — singer-songwriter Stephanie Seymour (Birdy, The Aquanettas), who also performs on the album — helped him screen the material.
The album has songs to rock out on, others to cry to, and some that invoke empathy and outrage. Some of the material was written in collaboration with other artists, such as George Usher and Edward Rogers
“Collaborating with other writers was something I hadn’t really done much since the Winter Hours days,” said Perry, who lives in Ringwood. “So I started sifting through this backlog of unfinished material and played some of them for Stephanie. If she danced, I took that as a good sign. I picked out 12 songs from the archives and vowed to work on them every day until I had something I would feel good about releasing.”
George Usher said the album “should be heard all at once, each song building on the ones before it. It’s like Bob himself: solid, engrossing and immediately accessible. There’s a rustic charm and beauty that cuts through all of his melodies, including the instrumentals. It’s a pretty diverse program of Americana.
“It reminds me of a Mike Campbell/Tom Petty record.”
“Last Train” — written in 1987, when Perry was in Winter Hours — is the oldest track on the album. He updated it last year with new vocals and horns. “It didn’t really fit in with what we were doing at the time so I shelved it, but I always liked the song,” said Perry.
The first two tracks on A World Like This are particularly strong. The album opens with “Love Is Running Over Me,” co-written with George Usher. It’s a stunning tune with a Southern rock feel that makes me want to move; the lyrics are romantic, clever and poetic, as I have come to expect from Usher.
Usher writes and Perry sings:
It may take longer than I would have thought
If the heart grows stronger, if the thief is really caught
But I see more clearly as the picture turns to gray
Love is running over me
No use waiting for a better time to come
Giving in to fate, giving in to rule of thumb
But the world grows smaller as the moon betrays the day
Usher’s lines, “Love is running over me/I can’t get out of its way,” capture the madness and magic of those first few months of a new love.
The song, said Perry, “goes back to the early 2000s. George sent us lyrics and Steph and I worked it up for a short-lived band we were calling The New Ugly … we had recorded the basic tracks and I discovered them on a hard drive along with the song ‘Wait’ and a few others (that appear on A World Like This).”
The album’s second song, “On and On,” is hypnotic and powerful in the way an ocean’s waves move over you and knock you down. You feel shaken up but refreshed. The song is poignant and catchy, with a dreamy melody enhanced by Ray Nissen’s gorgeous Hammond organ and Seymour’s harmony vocals. Chris Flynn (Crash Combo) plays 12-string electric and acoustic guitar; Frank Vilardi (The Bacon Brothers, The Mar-Tays) adds his perfect beats; and Perry brings us his calming voice and guitar.
The lyrics resonate for those of us who are older and end up in a place we didn’t expect, with some regrets. The tune encourages us to embrace our journey with gratitude and deep acceptance. It’s sweet without turning saccharine and makes me want to slow down and contemplate the years gone by, as I do when I hear Jackson Browne’s “These Days,” though this song is more optimistic.
Years go by while you and I count the days passing by
Hope for good ones up ahead
Older now and things I thought so important yesterday never mattered anyway …
I know I can count on you to get me through
When the darkness gets inside your head,
I will shine a light instead, say the words to you.
He said he wrote the song a long time ago but never finished it. “I really liked the music so I rewrote all of the lyrics and added a bridge. I wanted to record it with a band, but there was this pandemic raging and it didn’t feel safe.”
He contacted Vilardi, who offered to record the drum part from home. “I sent him tracks of me singing with acoustic guitar and bass and he played to those and sent me his parts back,” said Perry. “Since I played a different version of the song when I was in (the band) Tabula Rasa with Chris Flynn, I called Chris and asked him to add some guitar. He sent me back gorgeous acoustic and 12-string electric parts and I added them to mine and Frank’s drum parts and continued to build the song from there. Steph was really dancing now.”
The song, Perry said, is a reminder “to appreciate what you’ve got. Life goes on. Where you thought you were headed might not be where you ended up and that’s okay. It’s part of life’s journey.”
“Wait” represents a more somber side of Perry’s experiences. Backed by Paul Moschella (Kate Jacobs) on drums, Jeremy Chatzky (Ronnie Spector, Loser’s Lounge) on bass and Nissen on Hammond organ, Perry, who is also on guitar, sings: “Love is like a rose in bloom/You can hold it tight, but it might cut you, too/Dying on the vine to do what’s right/Biding time, her petals fading in the light.”
The instrumentals “Ruby,” “New Year’s Day (The Knife)” and “Priscilla” are interspersed throughout the album. “They started out as musical ideas I would record so I wouldn’t forget the chords or riffs,” said Perry. “I do that a lot, starting with music ideas and humming.”
He picked the three instrumentals, he said, because they “stood out to me as pieces on their own. So I embellished them with percussion and weird noises. I like records that take you on a journey and I think the instrumentals provided a nice way to string these songs from different time periods together.”
He compared the instrumentals to “palate cleansers at a fine meal.”
The basic tracks of “Man on the Brink,” which features James Higgins’ blistering lead guitar, were recorded a long time ago. “I had scratch lyrics for it at the time and reworked them countless times and had given up on it,” Perry said. “Last year when I started to get into a groove with some of the others, I wrote a verse and chorus.”
He contacted his friend Bob Darlington, who plays in the band Translator. “I really love Bob’s writing; he writes beautiful poetry and has several books available,” said Perry. “I asked him if he would help me finish the lyrics. He liked what I wrote, kept the good parts and finished it off for me.”
Perry recorded the two newest songs on the record, “Broken Sides” and “The Boy Who Has a Gun,” with Rogers.
“I hadn’t finished a song in a long time and that gave me incentive to go through some (older) recordings … and to look at them in a new light,” said Perry. “I really admire Ed and he really pushed me and gave me a lot of inspiration to make a record.”
Rogers sent Perry the lyrics to “The Boy Who Has a Gun.” Perry, in turn, wrote the music. “I kept hearing mandolin on it so I called up James Mastro (Ian Hunter, The Bongos) and asked him,” said Perry. “He recorded the mandolin and bouzouki parts at his Guitar Bar store in Jersey City and sent them to me over email. I think he was working the counter at the same time.”
Perry released a black and white video for “Broken Sides” (watch below) in 2020. It’s a protest song that calls for all of us to take action to oppose a world where “colors fly at the Capitol bearing symbols and wearing white robes/Lighting torches so everyone knows who you oppose.” The video shows clips of performers Perry and others — Rogers, Seymour, Vilardi, Moschella, Nissen, Rebecca Turner, Don Piper, Claudia Chopek and Real Tom Lucas — singing and/or playing instruments in home studios, protesting a world filled with hate.
“Garrett,” written in 2013, tells the story of a 35-year-old man who was sent to a correctional facility for 90 days for trafficking methamphetamine, and died there. Perry sings that “Garrett’s roommate screamed for help/He hasn’t had his medicine in days … What a man he might have been if he’d got that insulin/Garrett lived, he was tried, Garrett died.” I felt the band expressing the emotional shock of the story through the slower paced and dramatic melodic change toward the end of the song.
The song dramatizes the need for criminal justice reform. “It is a based on a true story about a friend who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Perry said. “He was a diabetic who spent time in jail on a drug charge and died because he didn’t receive proper medical care.”
Winter Hours released several EPs and three LPs, including a self-titled 1989 album produced by Lenny Kaye on the Chrysalis label. Later, Perry joined Tabula Rasa, who released an EP on Cropduster Records in 1995.
He released his first solo album — Light Fuse, Run Away, with Stan Demeski (The Feelies, Luna) on drums, Justin Harwood (Luna) on bass, Mastro on guitar and John Ginty on Hammond organ — in 1999, and his second, American Standardsville, in 2018. He also has played with Amy Speace, Amanda Thorpe, The Other 99, Birdy and Edward Rogers.
He is hesitant about booking shows; like the rest of us, he is waiting to see if COVID cases continue to rise. But with any luck, he will be able to host a live launch of A World Like This soon.
For information, visit bobperry.bandcamp.com.
We need your help!
CONTRIBUTE TO NJARTS.NET
Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net, a 501(c)(3) organization, has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of $20, or any other amount, to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJArts.net to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.