Renowned bassist Billy Sheehan delivers a thrilling musical ride on his new solo CD, Cosmic Troubadour (Favored Nations). The album resounds with the wide-eyed joy of creativity, no restrictions, no boundaries, full out, full on, full throttle. Lauded as one of the greatest bassists in rock and roll, (known for his early work with Steve Vai in the original David Lee Roth band, and as the founder of the internationally acclaimed, platinum selling hard rock troupe, Mr. Big), Sheehan's keen musical sensibility permeates the heady grooves and melodic contours that comprise his second solo offering. An ambitious song cycle earmarked by Sheehan's jaw-dropping musical abilities (he plays bass, guitars and provides all lead vocals), Cosmic Troubadour weaves its spell, taking listeners on an imaginative aural journey driven by taut, elastic grooves, virtuoso musicianship and inspired songwriting.
Sheehan handles most of the instrumentation on the record with assists from his friends, drummer Ray Luzier, and Simone Sello, who contributed synth work, some guitar parts and various programming.
Recorded at Sheehan's home studio, "The Digital Dungeon" in Sherman Oaks, California, the album was produced by Pat Reagan (Mr. Big/Niacin/Ritchie Blackmore), who also oversaw Billy's 2001 solo debut, Compression. According to Billy, Pat was the perfect foil in the studio. "Pat has a real good musical ear on a technical level. I'm a seat of the pants player, I don't read music, I don't know theory at all. So having someone around who knows that stuff is good to bounce off of. Like playing with a band, it's always nice to bounce idea off of someone who'll tell you if you've gone too far (laughs) or not far enough. "
Explaining the significance of the album's title, Sheehan reveals, "There's a lyric in 'Back In The Day' about how things used to be, what it was like to play in bands back in the day when it was all about music. When I heard the lyric go by, it grabbed me. The idea of a troubadour was someone who went from town to town and played for the love of music. An original troubadour wasn't in it for the money, it was what they loved to do. I identified with that. I'm really not a money motivated musician or really a success oriented musician, And the "Cosmic" angle pertains to how you can basically go all across the planet and have your image and art transmitted throughout the solar system. "
Sheehan's love of all forms of music colors the album's eclectic grooves. "The stylistic diversity on the record comes from my early days listening to the radio. Radio back in the early Seventies was all over the map. They would play Miles Davis, Hendrix, Three Dog Night, a classical piece, then some obscure blues track from an old blues master. I loved all of that. I tried to infuse that sensibility in the record. That's what works for me as a listener. I'm a sucker for a pop song but I also love some of the most obscure, intricate, heavy oddball things you could imagine. When I make a record I try to make it multi-dimensional, I try to make it a whole palette of color."
Championed as one of rock's top bass virtuosos, Sheehan stresses that the music found on his new solo CD has less to do with showing off his technique and more to do with pleasing himself on an aesthetic level. "I'm a fan of a lot of music, and also a fan of what music does to me personally," Sheehan declares. "In order for something to affect me on a personal level it doesn't have to be amazingly musically proficient. When I play and do something that might be considered technical, if it affects me, I keep it, if it doesn't I don't. I don't think a world champion baseball player who swings at the ball is thinking while he's doing that. Whenever you see any spectacular performance of human ability, I don't think it's a product of thought. It mostly occurs in the moment and it's very spontaneous. Most of Cosmic Troubadour was written off the top of my head. There wasn't a lot of calculation."
Tackling lead vocals on Cosmic Troubadour was both challenging and freeing says Sheehan, "Singing lead vocals is always challenging. I don't really consider myself a lead singer but I can generally hit the notes. Just like a guitar player who is just starting to play, sometimes out of his own ignorance & inexperience he comes up with something cool. As a singer, I think that happens to me as well. It is a challenge. I like to have to climb over that wall. It's very satisfying when your feet hit the ground on the other side."
As for Sheehan's favorite tracks on the album, he feels especially close to "Back In The Day." "Musically, that song has some interesting chord changes and it has a bass solo in the middle. Normally when there's a bass solo a band has to completely change its character, and in this song, the bass solo seems to fit right in."
The track, "The Suspense Is Killing Me", proved to be musically demanding even for a player of Sheehan's estimable abilities. "That's real tough to play on bass. A lot of people think that it's two basses playing at once but it's not. I enjoyed the way it's put together musically. It reminds me of a modern day James Bond theme song. It builds and builds and builds and at the end it just explodes."
The funk-driven gem, "Long Way Home" shares a unique inspiration. "When I started to play that riff in 'Long Way Home' it reminded me of the rhythm of someone walking, which took me back to my days as a kid walking to school by myself in the snow, rain and sunshine. I used to walk alone to school every day as a kid. My imagination would go wild. There would be a whole movie created every day in my mind."
Encapsulating what makes Cosmic Troubadour such an inspired musical adventure, Sheehan asserts, "there's a fun and serious side to the record. I purposefully made a rule for my last solo record and this album, I do not use the words 'heart,' 'love' or 'baby' in the lyrics. I didn't want to get into the sameness of so many other records. So the subject matter of the songs is generally unusual stuff touching on everything from the view of a collision from the back seat of a car, to tunneling to the center of the earth as an analogy to digging yourself into a hole you'll never get out of it. I tried to create a record that would bear repeated listenings."
'Nuff said. Mission accomplished.
Reviews"Bearing the stamp of a musician at the top of his game, the wily eclecticism that permeates the grooves rewards the listeners with repeated spins." - FMQB