New Review For Next Stop, Willoughby by Brian McElhiney

 

Brian McElhiney
The Bulletin
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Musicians have been a huge part of Central Oregon’s rapid growth over the last decade or three, and we’ve got our fair share of “big names” in and around Bend (including one who just made his performing debut at Les Schwab Amphitheater this week).

Enter John Batdorf, who moved to Eagle Crest in Redmond with his wife in August 2015. The ’70s folk-rock singer-songwriter, known for his work with the bands Batdorf & Rodney and Silver, has been experiencing a career renaissance in the last decade or so, releasing six solo albums and touring again after years of session and soundtrack work (including a stint composing for “Touched By an Angel”). Most recently, Silver was back in the spotlight when its hit “Wham Bam Shang-A-Lang” was featured on the soundtrack to Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.”

Despite this, Batdorf has kept a low profile locally, but he said he’s looking to change that with his sixth studio album “Next Stop, Willoughby,” released in April. The album, recorded alone by Batdorf in his home studio in Eagle Crest, is in many ways a love letter to Central Oregon, beginning with the first number “Willoughby.” The song and album derive their titles from the idyllic train stop featured in the classic “Twilight Zone” episode “A Stop at Willoughby,” with Batdorf paying tribute to the show and his new home (the final lyrics: “We’ve found our Willoughby”).

Batdorf has mentioned Paul McCartney (in particular his 1970 solo debut) as the inspiration for self-producing and playing all the instruments himself. But there’s plenty of the former Beatle in Batdorf’s intricate harmonies, welcoming hooks and lush arrangements. “I’m in Love With You” is an unabashed love song that continues in the comfortable, rooted vein of “Willoughby,” while “Take a Look at You Now” is yearning folk-rock, highlighted by Batdorf’s straining tenor.

The overall feel on these songs is a musician taking stock of his life’s work, finding happiness in family and home. But Batdorf, who also performs at addiction recovery conferences around the country, isn’t getting too comfortable, either: “They Can’t Have Everything” is funny, pointed look at income inequality and politics that argues billionaires “don’t really give a flying you-know-what” about those less fortunate than them. Meanwhile, the gorgeous ballad “The One That Got Away” finds Batdorf grappling with regret in one of the most affecting songs on the record. Batdorf has a handful of solo Pacific Northwest dates this summer, and hits the road for a more extensive U.S. tour in September. Be on the lookout for more local shows from the songwriter, too: “Now’s the time to go out and sing about it, because I wrote about this place,” he said.

 

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