Fritz Doddy - The Feeling of
I received my copy of the "teaser" for Fritz Doddy's "The Feeling of Far" back in 2001. I was floored by the quality of the music and the way it tugged at me, and I was looking forward to the completed CD. I'm delighted to report that just a few days ago the completed CD arrived from Mr. Doddy's Tree Fort Studio.
I haven't read my review for the "teaser" (below) in a long time, but I wanted to come at "The Feeling of Far" fresh, so excuse me if there's some redundancy. Those who have the "teaser" will find all four tracks represented at the start of "The Feeling of Far" with the first two tracks switched. Additional musical interludes have been added to bind "teaser" material, and there have been one or two overdubs, but by and large if you were teased by the "teaser", you will find your old friends again.
Fritz Doddy is an enigma in a Yankees cap. He purposely mooned an orchestra to draw a less-than-perfect performance from them, yet he is exacting at his musical craft, as his many commercials and awards will attest. He loves to clown around and push the boundaries, but at home he's a dedicated father with a wonderful family (equally talented, by the way).
In some ways Fritz is struggling with what he sings about in "The Feeling of Far," that as we grow up we lose so much of what we had as a kid. We lose love or may not have love ("a house to go to when it's raining outside," a lyric echoed throughout). We lose the ability to dream freely. We experience fear. We lose the ability to laugh and instead have to keep our kid deep inside, as in "Nothing but Laughter":
Fritz is one of the few who's able to keep and share all of his childhood gifts as a grownup, and he expresses this beautifully in "The Feeling of Far".
My first listen to this album was at work, which is not the right setting for the inaugural listen of "The Feeling of Far." Please do not attempt this. You see, my job since 2002 has been a bit challenging to say the least, and the past several months have been especially hard for me personally as a result. So while half listening and half working, the fifth track, "All the Best", started up with Fritz's daughter Adrienne's innocent:
...catching my attention, leaving the remainder of the tune to break its way through all the usual chaos I was dealing with at work, and the lyrics began to hit home:
I do the best I can, continuing on and on day after day, not seeking any glory or anything, expecting to have some kind of reward eventually, which drives me on...as if any rewards were coming.
"In the Tree," may remind you of a childhood scene. Have you ever seen a kid who's been "ditched" by others---those "friends" who'd promise to be there but never showed? Ever been that kid?
"Cynical Eye" describes those paraded by us on daytime television's Jerry Springer type shows. In a very strong message, Fritz describes Mary who "hates her mother who left her to die"---perhaps not die in the physical sense, but to die as a child, and there's no mystery why Mary is bitter. Viewing them, Fritz realizes he isn't perfect, but he also realizes he doesn't quite understand what those hateful people are going through, as he has no frame of reference:
Much of what we go through in our lives, these ghosts from the past, are dealt with in the rich-sounding "It's Only a Dream". Fritz is made uneasy as "trees whisper secrets" about his past as his dogs chase away those ghosts, but he's not exactly able to put his finger on where his feelings of uneasiness are coming from; they're just dogging him. His daughter watches this and doesn't understand what he's going through, but I can't help thinking that someday she will as she gets older. Without a "place to go to when it's raining outside", living with one's past and what we go through and lose of ourselves growing up wouldn't be "just a dream"---but a nightmare. This drives home the central theme of the album.
The mood of these songs never turns heavy, despite what I see as the messages in them. Plenty of acoustic instruments, layered vocals, and wonderful melodies move "The Feeling of Far" right along. It is an enjoyable listen, and I dare you to try not to sing along with youngsters Jake and Adrienne Doddy on "Nothing But Laughter". The line is: "Outside my window there are blue jays screaming." Practice up.
Susan McKeown worked with Fritz on several tracks, her wonderful voice heard throughout, but mostly on "Amieveliano," which is the tune that Fritz played for many of us at the Mellotron Symposium a few years ago. I was floored by it. Fritz played your standard guitars and bass...and electric sitar, bouzouki and Mellotron. Add in some frame drums. A cello section. A Minimoog making some odd noises at the end. An unexpected break in the middle of heavy percussion followed by Susan gently repeating "Clouds are moving / Through the trees" to bring us back. This and the closing vocal sections will tug at you.
"The Feeling of Far" closes with "The Lonely Path," beautifully orchestrated with a string section and sung in Chinese by Peiwen Chao with additional English lyrics sung by Susan McKeown (and Fritz, of course). Where we've been, what makes us happy as individuals, and what is our own "promised land" is, in fact, a lonely path, as it's ours to walk alone. "The Lonely Path" echoes themes from earlier, tying things together and bringing the album to a fine close.
This close came a bit soon for me, however, perhaps because I allowed myself to get tied into the album a bit and felt it left something unresolved. "The Feeling of Far" is presented more as a series of vignettes, touching on various ideas as it goes and not to an extreme depth but more of a hint, without the overall album building to a climax and release. I am also very likely reading much further into the thematic content of this concept album than originally intended, and maybe that is why I found myself somewhat at a loss when it was through. Much of what I take away from "The Feeling of Far" comes from inside.
Fritz Doddy is nothing short of an accomplished and creative musician, but "The Feeling of Far" isn't full of licks or other musical showing off---it is just solidly played. Fritz seems to enjoy the bass quite a bit, but he also plays synthesizer, mandolin, guitar (acoustic, electric, 6 and 12 string, slide guitar), percussion, electric sitar, bouzouki, kalimba, pots and pans, e-bow, the Mellotron (which is all over the place), and more. Other musicians make guest appearances to fill in with real strings, some percussion, and other instruments. Fritz is the primary lyricist and vocalist, and he does a fine job of doubling and layering vocals without it becoming too much; hardly any vocal is solo. Daughter Adrienne, son Jake, and wife Valerie add their voices as well, as does guest vocalist Ian Lloyd (who reminds me of Lenny Zakatek (Alan Parsons Project)). Fritz's dad tells Fritz that it's time to get up. Rosie and Violet bark (the liner notes list all the contributions to this album, even those of the Doddy's dogs...But they don't say what brand of alarm clock attempts to wake him up at the start of "All the Best"---Fritz? :-) ).
Throughout "The Feeling of Far" Fritz brings up vocal sections from elsewhere, echoing the songs' themes. To hear echoed Jake's whimsical "in the tree", Adrienne's "I've got a house to go to when it's raining outside", Fritz's "And I don't pretend to know pain", Susan McKeown's "slow-ly" (that closes...but also opens "The Feeling of Far") is the kind of thing that tugs at me, as do Susan's vocals on "Amieveliano" and "The Lonely Path".
Mostly pop or soft rock in intensity, "The Feeling of Far" introduces a bit of India in "Nothing but Laughter" and China in "The Lonely Path." You will hear real strings (that sound very woody---nice) and a real Mellotron. "Over You" is a fun White album era Beatles romp (complete with faux British accent). Fans of the Beatles, KLAATU, Thomas Dolby, Eric Woolfson/Alan Parsons Project, Aimee Mann, and Tears for Fears may find a little nugget or two in Fritz's work.
The liner notes list the creative details for each track, and the lyrics are included. The cover art by Drew Roth is a humorous drawing of two marionettes, one with scissors in its hand walking away from its cut tethers, leaving the other marionette behind. I think I know which one is Fritz.
As you may have guessed, "The Feeling of Far" is a "through-composed" or concept album, but don't make the mistake I did and try to listen at work. Listen to it in its entirety (tracks 1-10) in one sitting. Turn off the phone. Find a place where you will not be disturbed. Grab your good headphones. Turn off the lights and put on a candle, and ease back in your chair. Press Play.
At the end of Track 10, Fritz thoughtfully leaves 2 minutes of silence before the "radio mixes" begin, so you will have time to collect yourself enough to press the stop button after Susan McKeown's vocal sample fades.
Have you ever woken up from a dream you can't remember all that well, realizing you are feeling something but don't quite know what it is? "The Feeling of Far" may evoke a variety of feelings, as many of its songs deal with topics dear to all of us. We can only hope that we can bring a little of the kid with us as we go along the "lonely path" we walk down and that we always have a place to go when it's raining outside.
Solidly crafted, not over-done, thoughtful, beautiful, reflective. "The Feeling of Far" is worth a listen for those who appreciate good music but may also want to enjoy an album that can be experienced on another level somewhere, as it will mean different things to different people.