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Music Review: Band of the Week – Phil Ayoub – Schoolbus Window Paper Heart

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This week’s Band of the Week, singer-songwriter Phil Ayoub (pronounced A-yoob), is a deep-thinking, deep-feeling, quintessential all-American boy from Boston. Former frontman of indie rock band Riverside Train, Ayoub decided to go solo when the band broke up.

A prolific songwriter, he had over 40 of his own acoustic demos all ready for an album when fate intervened. Ayoub saw an ad on a local trade website for musician/producer, Tim Bradshaw, who was looking to work with local talent, and an accidental partnership was born.

Bradshaw, long-time keyboard and guitar player for David Gray, who had not long ago moved from London to New England, loved the demos that Ayoub sent him and signed on to produce his debut solo album. Schoolbus Window Paper Heart is a warm, apple pie and cold beer album with the strong American music influences of Ayoub and the Brit rock influences of Bradshaw.

ThoughtfulAyoub’s extraordinary ability to paint a deeply stirring, sweetly poignant picture with emotive, insightful lyrics and pure natural music, combined with Bradshaw’s time-earned experience and production know-how, have put a smooth polish on Ayoub’s personal, frequently humorous thoughts and experiences. This amazing debut album is filled with beautiful, deep, often playful lyrics, acoustic guitar, jangly synth and of course, Ayoub’s earthy, gentle, sensual vocals.

Although produced and, in some places co-written, by a David Gray-ite, this album is easily better than anything Gray has done and has a much stronger rock and pop flavour. The opening track, “White Feather”, is a good example of this, even as the weakest track on this very strong CD. Ayoub says, “That song, which I think is pretty much one of the only very clear songs on the album, was written in the few days after 9/11 and is about the events of that day. Basically, from the perspective of someone like myself… someone who was not directly affected — in that I didn't know anyone involved — but who was still deeply affected nonetheless.” This track opens with Dylan-esque harmonica leading into electric guitar, synth, and drum that lead it away from that particular rock-god style of song.

“Lying And Stealing” is about a break-up but not seen from the heartbreak side. This strong song with a pop feel to it is about that moment when you know it’s not going to work and you begin to ask yourself why. According to Ayoub, when his relationship ended he “was questioning myself a bit, about how I approached the relationship, as well the other person’s expectations… I was with someone who wanted a relationship with all flowers and sunshine. But no real relationship has that.” The acoustic hook at the beginning of this track complements the synth and electric that soon join it and together warmly embrace Ayoub’s fabulous vocals.

“River to Ocean” has a power-pop current running right through it. About releasing yourself from the fear of disapproval, this track is a joyous, effervescent expression of Ayoub’s desire/dream/wish to let loose the shackles of social confinement we have all experienced in our lives.

Easily my favourite track on Schoolbus Window Paper Heart is “Low (or Libra)” possibly because I am a Libra, but mainly it is the moody sensuality of this track. Here Ayoub explores the middle ground “that I tend to live in — as a Libra, of course. There’s a desire for greatness, which is tempered or balanced by realism, one’s common sense, or in some cases outside forces or obstacles that you allow to keep you from greatness.” This arousing song has a deep but never overbearing feeling of melancholy that makes it a departure from the rest of this remarkable album and a stand-out track.

The sweetly-romantic “Goodnight Kiss” maintains the singer-songwriter feel of the restSchoolbus Window Paper Heart CD Cover of the album, but on this track there is a more acoustic folk feel. This love song will appeal to everyone with lyrics like “I’d drive all night/ to kiss your check in the morning/ The dawn it don’t deserve your light.” It’s enough to put a smile on your heart.

Phil Ayoub’s debut album Schoolbus Window Paper Heart is filled with poignant, honest romantic lyrics and simple melodies coupled with pop hooks that will keep you hooked from the first track to the ironically funny secret final track. If you would like to listen to Schoolbus Window Paper Heart you can find it on Phil’s website or his MySpace space. Or better yet just got to CDBaby and buy it — Christmas is coming!

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About A.L. Harper