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Music Review: Deer Park Avenue – Stop and Go

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As someone who has been fortunate enough to hear a lot of well crafted music, it especially pleases me to review outstanding music produced by female musicians. I say that because many female musicians are working in a genre of music (rock) that remains dominated by males. Regardless of gender, what grabs my attention? Multiple singers, self-penned material, and strong hooks in the chorus or the bridge.

Deer Park Avenue, a power pop/rock band based out of Sacramento, California, certainly fits the bill with their latest CD, Stop and Go. It is a bewitching collection of eight wise-beyond-their-years rock and roll songs.

Deer Park Avenue is comprised of two sisters (Sarah Snyder: lead vocals, guitars; and Stephanie Snyder: background vocals, drums and percussion). The daughters of a church pastor from California and a mother from India, the girls were often on the move. They spent their teenage years embracing a life of traveling to France, Switzerland, Germany, and New York City. During that time, they also honed their musical skills by singing in church and in various cover bands. Their musical influences include The Beatles, Green Day, The Who, Paramore, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, among others.

West Coast session stalwarts Matt Bissonette (bass, vocals, keyboards, and producer) and Gregg Bissonette (drums and percussion) played on Stop and Go and serve as the group’s mentors. The group officially began in 2009, at the suggestion of Gregg. Stop and Go was recorded at One Way Studios in Sacramento and was mixed by Masaki Liu.

Given their musical influences, it comes as no surprise that Deer Park Avenue enjoys making music with a loud mix of driving guitars and pounding drums. Their songs are often fleshed out nicely with elegant bass, piano, organ, acoustic guitar and three part harmony vocals. The band frequently performs live as a trio or quartet, with either Matt or other musicians filling in on bass, keyboards, or guitar.

Sarah’s vocal sound and style is reminiscent of Hayley Williams (Paramore) and Alanis Morrisette. Sarah has big-time range with her voice. She can belt out a song like Ann Wilson of Heart or sing softly like Ms. Williams does on Paramore’s song, “The Only Exception.” Sarah’s musical versatility allows the band to string together a nice mix of up tempo rock songs and passionate ballads.

The lead-off track on Stop and Go is “Hey Maria,” a fast guitar-driven tale of a woman whose boyfriend struggles to earn the acceptance of her friends and family. The track has a punk/new wave/pop groove. As I listened to the tune, it instantly reminded me of something The Pretenders could have recorded on one of their first two albums.

“Darkness Hides Me” creates an entirely different vibe. The song begins with some subtle percussion, acoustic guitar, and understated lead vocals. All that changes as the song approaches the chorus. An influx of electric guitar and vocal harmonies suddenly changes the feel of the song. As the second verse ends, the tempo increases and Matt’s lush organ brings the instrumental track to a soaring crescendo. This particular arrangement quickly tells the listener that the band has a lot more to offer creatively than merely “Hey Maria.”

“Millionaire” is a song where Stephanie gets to shine, because it is her impressive drum work with Gregg (who has worked with the likes of Ringo Starr and Jeff Lynne) that makes this track spectacular. It begins with a modest use of the bass drum, snare, and rolling tom-toms mixed in with a sparse electric guitar riff from Sarah. Once the opening verse is finished, the urgency of Sarah’s lead vocals comes through over the doubled drum track, along with a flourish of background vocals. On this track, Sarah emulates the vocal tone, delivery, and phrasing of Williams. The instrumental track seems to fit perfectly with the lyrics of the song. It is a situation where the girl is very conflicted about being so entangled with someone who can be both good and bad for her.

“Waiting For You” has a punk/pop vibe. It sounds like something The Go-Go’s would have done in their prime with Belinda Carlisle. It is an upbeat power/pop rock song with a simple message of being around for someone during the best of times or the worst of times. In my opinion, it would make a good choice for a single. Sarah’s electric guitar solo is well placed after the chorus and before the slower bridge section.

“Say Goodbye” is a nicely constructed ballad about not being able to say farewell to someone the way you had envisioned. Instead, the couple engages in an awkward conversation and drums up memories “that can turn into spite or from black into gray.” Sarah’s guitar solo stands out on this track, along with the rhythm piano and harmony vocals in the chorus. The next song, “A Long Way Down,” is built on a similar theme, but is laced with more keyboards, acoustic guitar, and background vocals.

“Over Again” has a fast pace and a powerful rock groove. It’s about the continual need to learn from your mistakes in a relationship and the need to start over again. It revolves around some swirling slightly distorted guitars, keyboards, and Sarah’s epic buildup and soaring vocals at the end of the song. This song, along with “Rescue Me,” were the first songs I heard that got me interested in the band’s music.

“Rescue Me” is probably the most accessible “pop” song on the CD. It is a plea for help in dealing with the sudden and unexpected changes and challenges you face in your life. The guitars are toned down a bit and Sarah’s vocal is a bit lighter and sweeter on this selection. Backing vocals come to the forefront at the bridge. If I had to pick one song on the disc that takes the greatest advantage of Sarah’s versatility and singing range, it would be this tune.

I think the album is an accurate representation of the style of music that the band has settled on – big guitars, with intelligent lyrics, and mostly optimistic viewpoints. The girls make every effort to communicate with their fans via social media, and that same strong work ethic is found on this record. There is no “filler” here. It is a disc where I didn’t skip any songs and is a very worthwhile  addition to your music collection.

I’ve been told that the band will be touring CA and possibly doing some dates in Switzerland very soon. There is also the chance that Stephanie Snyder will be making her lead-singing debut on a song or two. The band has a huge upside, especially with the guidance of Matt and Gregg Bissonette. They are primed for a long run. For more information, please go to the band’s website at deerparkave.com

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About Carl J. Mancuso