Review of "Happy Life" by Dan MacIntosh of Indie-Music.com - August 6, 2010
John Schneider’s photo, on the cover of his Happy Life CD, might lead you to believe his is an album filled with simple country or folk tunes. And although there are a few down-to-basics songs on this recording, there are also some real surprises, too. “I Do Love You (Go Away)”, for instance, sneaks in a clarinet part. In the case of the latter song, Schneider has given us sophisticated pop. Please do not judge this book by its cover. Even so, nothing that comes before it will prepare you for “Dig That Bone”, which is downright funky. There’s harmonica, organ, and a beat that just won’t stop. Schneider doesn’t so much sing it, as mumble it – and quite nicely – much like Leon Redbone. What its lyric is all about, however, is a mystery. “Can’t Get a Job” is also cut from the dance music cloth, yet it also incorporates a snippet of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, just to ward off predictability.
But funk is not the only unexpected musical style found on Happy Life. “Peace of Mind” skips along like a peppy little folk song, whereas “Dance With Me”, with its accordion accompaniment and clarinet – clarinet again! – comes off like a ‘20s song. The saddest song of all is “Together Forever”. On it, Schneider is found alone and lonely, making soup for one instead of spending time with the one he loves. Schneider is a hopeless romantic, one gathers, and he even suggests that all will end well in one particular relationship during “Everything Will Be Okay”. But while “You Are My Woman” asserts confidence with its words, the way Schneider sings it tells an entirely different story. He seems even less sure about his future with the girl than John Lennon did with Yoko Ono, after his ‘lost years.’ Yet with its saxophone and slight nod to ‘50s music, “You Are My Woman” does flow a little like Lennon’s last recordings. I guess big rock stars always have a better shot at getting what they want.
Schneider is at his folkiest on this disc’s title track, which is sung with Laura Baron. It includes lines like, “Happy Valentines Day for the last time.” It finds Schneider waxing nostalgic about how holidays always seemed to bring out the best in his relationship. The song’s final verse begins, “Happy life for the last time, my friend.” It’s a tragic little ditty because it posits that, no matter how good the holidays make us all feel, good feelings alone can never salvage a doomed relationship.
The Happy Life CD reveals a rather complicated John Schneider. He has more musical styles up his sleeve than you might first figure. And the happy life suggested by this album title is more hope than reality. It’s is a fine effort, and a work Schneider can be proud to call his own.