MEN WHO LISTEN ‘2’ (INDEPENDENT/USA IMPORT)

MEN WHO LISTEN is a Chicago based band formed around guitarist/keyboardplayer DAN POKORNI, who is assisted by the excellent lead singer JEFF ANTHONY and several other musicians on the latest mini-CD ‘2’. The album was co-produced by STYX producer GARY LOIZZO and musically speaking we are listening to high quality American Progressive Melodic Pomprock that sounds like a somewhat more straight-forward version of NEAL MORSE mixed with catchy STYXish melodies. The 4 included songs all have a full sound, starting with the proggy opener “As far as we can go”, which is the best cut by the way, reminding of SPOCK’S BEARD and TRANSATLANTIC. Next track is “Bad days”, an uptempo Melodic Rocker, while the following track “Cast our love away” is a midtempo piece that recalls memories of KING’S X and CROWN OF THORNS. Closing track is the epic ballad “Change in the blink of an eye” that somehow reminds me of DIVING FOR PEARLS, yet with a sort of mid 90s approach. Interesting band and who knows a future full-length CD might see them releasing a sensational record, because they surely know how to create high quality music here. Check them out at: www.menwholisten.com

 

(Points: 8.1 out of 10)

Melodic hard rock comes through in the latest EP from the Chicago based group, Men Who Listen. This four-track release is the Dec 2011 follow-up to their 2009 self-titled debut. Dan Pokorni is the songwriter/guitarist who formed the group in 2008 on the heals of his own solo release. In speaking about the focus of Men Who Listen, he said, “I always loved hot guitar playing and great musicianship in general, but as I grew older I realized the stuff that had the most staying power was a great song. And that philosophy, unconsciously or not, is what MEN WHO LISTEN is all about. (Muen Magazine).”

Other than founder Dan Pokorni, Men Who Listen includes Jeff Anthony (vocals) as well as various of guest drummers and bass players. This EP includes contributions from Emmy award winning drummer Greg Potter on the rock ballad “In the Blink of an Eye.”

Men Who Listen mingles a bit of 80s steady rock in the way of Dire Straits and Robert Palmer with a post-grunge feel akin to Matchbox 20. The EP sets off with the uplifting track “As Far As We Can Go”, followed by the edgier “Bad Days.” This second track is a timely tune, enhanced with revving guitars and steady drums, involving “politicians talking all kinds of nonsense.”

“Cast Our Love Away” builds nicely in its lamenting bitterness. The pouring out of passion in the final choruses does well to balance pop intro which is so neatly rhymed.

The last track is an overly simplistic diddy that unfortunately does not provide much inspiration. The song carries a carpe diem message, but feels more like a modern take on a mid-60s tune such as Spanky & Our Gang’s “Lazy Day.” The admonition, ”It’s now or never to make things right,” is not supported by the music. Yes there’s some stomping and squealing mid-song, but the lyrics sound as if being read off a prompter.

Men Who Listen does alright with steady feel good rock. Their songs include a substantial dose of pop with the occasioanal hard edge. “What do you want the world to do? What do you want for you?” they ask. Be passionate, inspirational, uplifting. Are you listening?

We lauded Men Who Listen in this space two years ago for its production values and putting the craft of songwriting at the forefront of its music. The same holds true on 2, its four-song follow-up. Yet, once the strong, proggy anthemic opener “As Far As We Can Go” finishes, each successive cut is a notch weaker than its predecessor, leaving the listener a tad disappointed that the fourth and final cut just isn’t up to the brain trust duo’s usual high standards of craftsmanship. 

Men Who Listen serve up an extremely well-produced 9-song debut that runs the gamut of rock styles: from the fun, fast, tongue-in-cheeky "I Hate Tom Cruise" and the honky-tonkin' "My Baby's the Bartenda," to the Led Zep-esque chorded "(Dead & Buried) In Your Love" and prog-esque ballad closer "Forever." Proof of the production savvy is found where the band wisely double-tracks the plain-spoken vocals and its crisp sound throughout, making for a solid intro.

Interview with Dan Pokorni (Lead Vox) of Men Who Listen

Chicago, Illinois, USA

 

 

MUEN: Hey there, good to make your acquaintance! Cheers from Vancouver!

 

MWL: Hello Vancouver!  We love ya!

 

MUEN: Well you guys have had an interesting beginning and a rather exciting journey thus far I would have to say!

 

MWL: Yes, we’re an overnight success that took 20 years…

 

MUEN: So it started out with you, Dan Pokorni joining forces with drummer Patrick Doody and bassist Bill Harrison in the Chicago area?

 

MWL: Well, we were all in the Chicago area doing our respective music thing.  I had just put out a solo acoustic CD and decided I would rather start a band than go the solo route.  I contacted Bill and Pat on their web-sites and started making demos with them.  

 

MUEN: And then after making some demos you were able to convince, lure and blackmail :laughs: Gary Loizzo who is Styx’s producer to work his magic on your works? Is that about right? How did you meet up with him?

 

MWL:  Yeah, we realized the production on the early demos wasn’t up to scratch so we started shopping for producers.  We had it down to three guys and finally settled on Gary.  I’ll never forget what he said on our first phone call: “I’ll know in ten minutes whether or not we can work together.”  I guess the rest is history!

 

MUEN: Your debut album was released in June 2009. What has that been like? What has the reception been like?

 

MWL: We sort of feel like the new kid on the block.  We’ve gotten some good reviews – one review called us a poor man’s REM.  We’ve also gotten some lip service, both good and bad, from industry people but that’s how a band evolves, right?  At least we’re being taken seriously. 

 

MUEN: You are receiving airplay as well right? And damn rights as you should! I especially love tracks 5 – (Dead & Buried) In Your Love, track 1 –Pay Me No Mind, track 2 – I Hate Tom Cruise & track 7 – Beneath a Blue and Open Sky.

 

MWL: Thanks.    

 

MUEN: So when are we gonna get together to steal his car and take it for a whirl? :laughs: That’s a great song with tongue in cheek humor! Oh and I’m serious about the car.

 

WHL:  We get more comments about “I Hate Tom Cruise” than any other song!  There is  actually a disclaimer for it on our Myspace page.  People write comments like “…I hate him, too!” and “…Yeah, somebody had to say it!” but the truth is I wrote that song way back in 2001, long before Tom jumped up and down on Oprah’s couch.  The line “I Hate Tom Cruise” just came to me in the shower, one of those rare flashes of inspiration.

 

MUEN: As for "(Dead & Buried) In Your Love," well that one hits home for me. Lyrically it’s a bit dark and jaded. Musically though it makes me dance around in a happy kind of way. I must be sick n’ twisted. Love the misery. Yes? It describes how many of us feel about the dismal side of our loves.  Enough said. I can listen to this one often. Thanks for this song!

 

MWL: Your welcome!  That’s another song that a lot of people like – it actually gives “Pay Me No Mind” a run for its money in popularity.  I always thought the song was too simple, but there’s a grand, universal character to it that seems to strike a chord with a lot of people.

 

MUEN: "Beneath A Blue And Open Sky"…..a lovely melodic piece. It’s a simple but a pretty song that I can’t help but like. Who or what was the inspiration behind this one?

 

MWL: Ha!  Isn’t there always someone to inspire you?  Or sometimes I’m just lucky enough to don my balladeer cap and pull out a tragic love song!  BBOS is usually overshadowed by the rock tunes but we’re pleased with all the different stylistic flavors on the CD.    

 

MUEN: Your band has an attitude that is actually similar to that of us here at MUEN Magazine, which is the fact that it is about the song. The song comes first. If you don’t have the song then don’t bother! Harsh I know.  :laughs:  But you guys seem to hold the same sentiment. Can you elaborate on that kind of mentality?

 

MWL: Well, I can’t speak for the other guys, but coming up I always loved hot guitar playing and great musicianship in general, but as I grew older I realized the stuff that had the most staying power was a great song.  And that philosophy, unconsciously or not, is what MEN WHO LISTEN is all about.    

 

MUEN: I also like the fact that as a band, you don’t appear to be really concerned about the destination as much as you are enjoying being in the moment.  It’s the journey and all the new experiences along the way that make for an interesting ride. Yes? Are you all in agreement with this mindset? 

 

MWL: Sure.  We have short and long term goals that we would like to see happen, but we’re enjoying the process as well.  Smelling the musical roses as it were…

 

MUEN: Is there anything that you are not all in agreement with? What have you fought about in the past? Have you ever had to overcome differences of opinion for the sake of the band? Who makes the final decisions?

 

MWL: There was always a clear vision as to what the songs should sound like.   I would bring in a demo and it would be pretty complete, right down to the solos.  Pat and Bill would add drums and bass and then we would turn it over to Gary.  This process got easier as we kept doing it.  I guess we’ve been pretty good at conflict avoidance so far!      

 

MUEN:  The band name “Men Who Listen” made me smile the first time I caught wind of it. What have you learned as men and as musicians through the art of listening? Or is that just a big fat lie of a name? :laughs:

 

MWL:  Thanks, we knew this one was coming!  Our original name was OLD STORY but we decided to change it before the CD came out.  We’re going to take the 5th on the last two questions so that our better haves don’t kill us!!

 

MUEN: What will you be doing in the next few years? What are your plans?

 

MWL:  Well, we’re adding a new singer – a very big change and we’re going to be upgrading to a new and better recording studio.  Gary is still on board but Pat is going to be taking more of a producer role.  The new singer will obviously add a lot and we hope to add another guitar player at some point.  Hopefully, we’ll put together a live act not too far down the road!    

 

MUEN: Well I for one look forward to new music from you guys, hope it’s not too far off in the distance.  

 

MWL:  We’re already writing songs for a 4-song EP.  Recording will start as soon as we finalize that new singer. 

 

MUEN:  Any tours we should know about? Do you have a band website outside of MySpace that our readers can visit?

 

MWL:  Hmm, no tours yet but hopefully MEN WHO LISTEN will be playing at a location near you one day!  That band web-site is always in the back of my mind but it’s MySpace for now.

 

MUEN: Thanks so much! It has been a most pleasurable experience and my best to you all! Rock on mes amies.

 

MWL:  Likewise.  Long live rock and roll!!

Sleepy Rock eh?!? Not sure if that classification even exists but it seems like an apt genre for this group from Chicago. I really like the cut of their jib; they play it straight as if reading from the guidebook of how to play good without ever exerting themselves. The upside of course is the fact that Men Who Listen can actually write a pretty good darn song. ‘Find Our Way Again’ sounds like it was adapted from a barbershop quartet ditty and the pedestrian playing hardly helps alleviate that particular notion. I do like the guitar turns for all my moaning and you’ve got to love a band that call themselves after a phenomenon that has yet to be filmed in the wild. To sum up, I’m diggin’ it quite a bit. KD

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