Album art? Liner notes? Musician biography? Those staples of music appreciation have largely fallen by the wayside, replaced by lyric videos and a social media landscape that allows you to be “friends” with your favorite artists, seeing them in their homes and in their elements, carefully cultivated though those environments might be.
With the release of “Bob’s Son: R.A.P. Ferreira in the garden level cafe of the scallops hotel,” however, Biddeford’s R.A.P. Ferreira has created an experience that offers up a new paradigm for contextualizing an album and its contents.
Working with Chicago developer Bowman Mars, the album’s release came on Jan. 1 in the form of a 3D virtual space, the so-called Bob’s Son Cafe, where via any web browser the listener – the experiencer – can wander the rooms and sample the wares, the album’s songs serving as mood-setting for wherever you happen to sit or stand.
It is the most innovative album release since Spose’s “King of Maine” app, which functions as a video game where new levels unlock new songs from his “Good Luck with Your Life” album in 2017.
Where Spose’s release was competitive and fun, however (you could throw things at Paul LePage), Ferreira’s “Cafe” is contemplative and reserved, a place where curiosity is rewarded and where he pays homage to Bob Kaufman, an influential beat poet who died in 1986. Friend to Ginsberg and Burroughs, co-founder of “Beatitude,” and published by Laurence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights imprint, Kaufman was known for his true outsider approach to poetry.
Rarely were Kaufman’s poems written down. He performed them in ad hoc spaces, cafes, and bars, wherever there were people. Whether they liked it or not. By all accounts, Kaufman literally did not speak between 1963 and 1975, finally performing in impromptu fashion on the day the Vietnam war officially ended. And like many Black and other outsider artists in the U.S., he lived largely in poverty and earned many of his honors posthumously.
City Lights’ “Collected Poems of Bob Kaufman” won an American Book Award in 2019.
You learn all of this as you wander the Cafe, and Ferreira makes no secret of his inspiration. Click on the right little space and you learn “the reason I called it Bob’s Son is not to be arrogant, but I feel like the only one out here really spittin’ it how I feel regardless of who comes or don’t. I will never stop.”
Like his Ruby Yacht poet-gang mates, his version of music-making is fiercely his own, an extension of hip-hop and rap, a digital pastiche. The cerebral cartoon-lover and toy-maker Pink Navel (who released the intimate and out there “Giraffe Track,” in 2020) helps introduce “Bob’s Son” when you open the front door – or hit play on the album, which can be found everywhere online – with Siri/Alexa-like demands to “play Bob’s Son” in increasingly distressed vocals. And Yachter SB the Moor supplies the album’s smoothest verse on “redguard snipers,” and helps build its catchiest chorus: “New slurs, new verbs, new curves, new nouns, new sounds.”
Ultimately, though, this is very much a solo album and the overall effect is a lot like sitting across a cafe table from Ferreira, kicked back in his chair and effortlessly bending your ear with wordplay that echoes the stream-of-consciousness style the beats brought into the mainstream.
Couple that with the bop-style jazz that infuses the likes of “sips of ripple wine,” which you discover at a piano holding the sheet music for Charlie Parker’s “Blues for Alice,” in the Cafe, and it’s really hard not to wish Maine jazz maestro Steve Grover was still alive, so the two of them could collaborate.
Like Grover’s “Haiku,” Ferreira is a continuation of those beat poets, not simply someone who rehashes or sheds light on them. He is “leveling up,” extending their love for the out-of-joint, the non-square, by reveling in the chaos and the chaotic.
Individual tracks here split and rejoin, bend back upon themselves. “The cough bomber’s return” features a Zappa-esque mid-song segue full of bombast and rock ‘n’ roll. The closing “abomunist manifesto,” a Kaufman poem/screed set to music, concludes with a Neil Young-style country tune, dripping with electric guitar. “High rise in newark” opens with insistent Ferreira riffing, then gets caustic and psychedelic – “color theory and scales/ what is there to say?” – and introduces a crackling in the left channel that might make you think you blew a speaker.
And half the fun is tracking down all of the spoken-word samples Ferreira has bolted in, from the likes of Amiri Baraka and Larry Poons. The Ted Joans bit from “bobby digital’s little wings” leads you to an amazing performance of “Hallelujah, I Love Jazz,” where Joans disses “Dave Brubeck and other phony musicians.”
This is a record you need to spend time with and explore, where every listen turns up another rabbit hole to go down. And you can be sure that Ferreira will keep digging.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at [email protected]
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• Bad Combo, “Local Celebrity” — Frontman Jed Bressette does his best Billie Joe Armstrong on this sarcastic rocker. Catchy as hell.
• Steadman’s Landing, “Everything Burns Hotter” — A Mallett Brothers side project fronted by brother Luke, this pretty and lilting ballad is accompanied by traditional bluegrass burners on the debut full-length album, which dropped last month.
• Bell Systems, “Better Now” — At turns orchestral and digitally pointed, Geneviéve Beaudoin leans into her vocals here and allows them to twist and turn, at times genuinely arresting in their elegance.
• Just Plain Jones, “Bread and Circuses” — The opener of the all-instrumental EP “Where Is Here?,” this piece is the stand-out, with a bit of “Axel F” to it, a crisp snare sound, and a building urgency.
• Tim Winchester, “Feels Like Rain” — A new entry to Maine’s folk/acoustic scene, Winchester has a deep croon and an affection for quiet, ethereal arrangements, full of cello and breathy backing vocals. Look for the full-length, “Into the Open.”
— Sam Pfeifle