Art In America
I remember hearing Art in America on the radio back in the early 1980’s. It was memorable because they were an art rock band from Detroit. At that time, Detroit was still rock city. They had an interesting sound. They were working a similar sound as Abacab-era Genesis or Rush when they were doing “Spirit of Radio.” They were doing pop songs with flourishes. The group formed around the Flynn siblings, Dan, Chris and Shishonee. I think Art in America remain the only rock band to achieve any level of success with one of their main instrumentalist playing concert harp. (Yes, the same instrument played by Harpo Marx).
I was curious about the band, but after that first album, they dropped off the radar. They did record a second album, but didn’t like the way it came out. They moved to California with the intention of getting a second album that they liked finished. Instead, they drifted off into day jobs and Art in America went on hiatus.
The hiatus might have continued indefinitely if not for producer, David Hentschel. Hentschel (who has worked with Genesis, Queen, and Elton John, among others), was looking for a band to produces and put out feelers to see if Art in America were up to do some sessions. The Flynn’s, of course, said yes, we’d love to work with you.
The appropriately named, “Tales of the Unexpected,” opens the album with a jolt. The tune is mostly instrumental, with bits of movie dialog and environmental sounds dropped in at strategic points. The song bursts forth in a wave of propulsive percussion, bowed bass (courtesy of Tony Levin) and colored by mellotron orchestration. It’s a bold opening that proclaims, hey, we’re still here! “I Am” follows with a lyric about personal growth and evolution. “I Am” also features the most prominent harp parts on the album. “The New Swami” is one of those songs that I alternate between loving and hating. Overall, it’s a good, propulsive rock song with some witty lyrical moments. The chorus on ” the New Swami” grates on my ears for some reason.
The Hentschel sessions make up the first six songs on Cloudborn, The rest of the songs were reclaimed from sessions date back as far as 1983. They’re the band aging in reverse. These tunes wave their Prog Rock flag proudly. “When We Were Young” has a mournful elegance that makes me think of Wind and Wuthering-era Genesis. “Don’t Look Down” sounds like a lost arena rock rouser. The final track blends three songs into an extended mini-suite.
Cloudborn is a welcome surprise from a band I’d nearly forgotten about. It is also a reminder that it’s never too late to realize your dreams.
Bonus Personal Trivia: Art in America began their career as a mostly covers band called Father. When I was I still in high school back in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I bluffed my way into the Bavarian Inn and saw Father play. I liked them enough to sneak into the Bavarian to see them again the next time they were in town. They were the first “local” band I sort of followed.