Jose Mercury News
March 6, 2008
Whenever I buy a new album, the first thing I do is devour the liner
notes. (I'm also the type of cinema patron to sit through to the very
end of the credits - much to the annoyance of my amazingly patient movie-viewing
companions.) Curiously, I do the opposite whenever music is passed along
for me to listen to. I do that so that each track is a surprise the
first time through and I'm unaware of any special guest musicians or
addition of interesting instruments.
Once I had finished listening to singer-songwriter-multi-
instrumentalist Gunnar Madsen's fun, diverse new album, "I'm Growing,"
I immediately went to the CD case to learn the details of the 15 creative
numbers. The Berkeley resident's liner notes are like mini-essays and
come across as naturally as a seasoned performer's between-songs banter.
So I appreciated the music of "I'm Growing" (to be released
March 18 on Gee Spot, Records) even more after reading about it.
There is something rhythmically unusual about the Caribbean-sounding
fourth song, "Sun Comes Up." Madsen's happy singing is backed
by his own vocal bass line and percussion, with the only other sounds
coming from his hand-clapping and drum programming.
Full of Madsen's multi-tracked vocals and piano, the fifth selection,
called "Mozart's at the Window," I later discovered, sounded
very familiar; turns out it's based on Wolfgang Amadeus' famed Symphony
No. 40. Again in his liner notes, Madsen explains that in the first
music theory class he took in college, everyone was recalling ways that
they had been taught to remember the melodies to great classical works
when they were young - such as "Ba-NA-na-NA" for Beethoven's
One method he was introduced to was, "Now Mozart's at the window/Let
him in, let him in, let him in" for Mozart's 40th. Years later,
he made that the lyrical basis for a musical homage to that great symphony.
Even the only cover on "I'm Growing," the folk song "Shenandoah,"
has a distinctly Gunnarian sound to it. Though he learned the song in
the comfort of a classroom back in elementary school, he gives it a
campfire feeling by adding the sounds of a recorded creek as well as
crickets and zephyrs to his heavenly vocals.
Madsen's music may already be familiar to many. He was the founder of
the self-effacing a cappella group the Bobs and wrote the score for
the classic video game San Francisco Rush.
"I'm Growing" is available at Amazon, CD Baby and iTunes Music
Store (ITMS). His Web site is at gunnarmadsen.com.