Spinoza's Dream (2016)
WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING
"It isn’t often a concept album based around the theme of classic philosophers comes along. However, that’s the case with this new release from Al Stewart’s guitarist, Dave Nachmanoff, Spinoza’s Dream. Nachmanoff has a Ph.D in philosophy and here he has melded his two worlds and passions to create this interesting song cycle...an interesting and different gathering of songs. Sophisticated but never pretentious or ponderous. A very fine (or actually refined) effort."
- Rob Ross, PopDose.com
"Dave Nachmanoff has lots of friends, which is why Tim Renwick, Mark Griffiths, Stuart Elliott, Peter White & Al Stewart all appear on Spinoza's Dream. Each song is linked to the ideas of a particular philosopher- Stewart's suggestion, apparently- and you know what, it's damned good, particularly if you need an introduction to Kierkegaard."
-R2 Magazine in the UK
"Singer-songwriter albums with philosophical themes set alarm bells off in my head, so I confess I approached this one with a bit of trepidation. But Nachmanoff approaches those themes with humor and subtlety, generally opting for communication rather than for showing off how smart he is. He also has an impressive stylistic range, jumping from quietly sprightly folk-pop to Tin Pan Alley jazziness to bluesy rock and back again in the space of the first four tracks. And here’s a fun pop history nugget: the session players on this album are the same guys who played on Al Stewart’s 1976 hit “Year of the Cat.” "
- Rick Anderson, CD Hotlist
In many ways, Dave Nachmanoff’s latest album, Spinoza’s Dream, isn’t really Spinoza’s at all. Or even Nachmanoff’s, particularly. It’s sort of every musician’s dream, at some point in his life: “Hey, what if we got the old band back together, just to see what it’d be like…”
In this case, it was the critically-acclaimed powerhouse that had backed Al Stewart on his breakthrough 1976 album, Year of the Cat. Nachmanoff wasn’t starting from ground zero, exactly, given that he’s been touring with Stewart for a decade and a half, but this particular band — those that had survived the intervening 40 years — spanned the globe from Southern California to the UK, so wrangling them into a studio for a project was going to be no simple task. As they say, you gotta go big or go home, so Nachmanoff went big and left home, armed with phone numbers, introductions, a few songs, and a dream. Destination: Wales.
In addition to musical legends Tim Renwick (occasional Pink Floyd, Elton John, and Eric Clapton co-conspirator, as well as a YOTC stalwart), smooth jazz superstar Peter White (a member of Al’s recording and touring bands for well over a decade), and Stewart himself, Nachmanoff also rounded up drummer Stuart Elliott, harmonica player Graham Smith, bassist Mark Griffiths, and vocalists Robin Lamble, Dave Ellis, and Boo Howard, all of whom (except the last) have either toured or recorded with Stewart. Bringing the sound all together was producer Martin Levan, who had helmed John Martyn’s Grace and Danger and Ralph McTell’s Water of Dreams, among other critical favorites.
Nachmanoff was uniquely positioned to bring this Dream to fruition; not only is he a professional musician of some consequence (SingOut! praised him for his “heartfelt, inspired songwriting . . . with a delivery both biting and assured”), but he also holds a Ph.D. In Philosophy from the University of California. Unlike the beery Monty Python observation that “David Hume could out-consume Schopenhauer and Hegel,” Nachmanoff’s insights are perceptive, targeted, and infused with both scholarship and humor. To wit, when confronted with Nietzsche’s concept of the Übermensch — not a taxi driver, incidentally — he responds thusly: “From the boardroom to the bedroom/He’s the master of the deal/With eyes as cool as ice and nerves of tempered steel/He’s got a taste for subterfuge, he’d make the perfect spy/Well, if that’s who you are looking for…/I’m just not that guy!”
Dave Nachmanoff might be selling himself a teeny bit short there, as he has shared the stage not only with Al Stewart, but also with Alison Krauss, Cheryl Wheeler, Steve Forbert, Firefall, John Wesley Harding, and many others, at venues ranging from The Bottom Line to the Glastonbury Festival. His catalogue runs to a dozen albums, not to mention the Uncorked collection he produced (and played on) for Al Stewart.
With tracks that reference the likes of Kant, Camus, Sartre, Kierkegaard, Aristotle, and Leibniz, among others, one might imagine the album is obliquely brainiac and difficult to digest; nothing could be further from the truth. It’s immediately accessible, both musically and lyrically, to any pop music fan whose IQ exceeds Paris Hilton’s weight. Hell, to any pop music fan whose IQ exceeds Paris Hilton With tracks that reference the likes of Kant, Camus, Sartre, Kierkegaard, Aristotle, and Leibniz, among others, one might imagine the album is obliquely brainiac and difficult to digest; nothing could be further from the truth. It’s immediately accessible, both musically and lyrically, to any pop music fan whose IQ exceeds Paris Hilton’s weight. Hell, to any pop music fan whose IQ exceeds Paris Hilton’s IQ.
Is it Year of the Cat? No. But neither is this. 2016 is the Year of the Monkey, and the monkey is characterized (zodiacally speaking) as being “…smart, clever, and intelligent. They are lively, flexible, quick-witted, and versatile.” That fits Spinoza’s Dream like a glove… whether you’re in a “morning from a Bogart movie” or not.
I was a huge Al Stewart fan growing up, and saw him for the first time in 1985 at the legendary Royal Albert Hall in London. I fibbed my way backstage and met Peter White, his longtime guitarist. Since my teen years, I had dreamt of playing guitar with Al, and through Peter I wound up meeting him in the late 90s and by 2001 I became his touring partner. In 2006, I retunred to the UK for the third time with Al, and this time we played with a full band at the Royal Albert Hall! In 2013, we came back, joined by most of the original musicians who played on his "Year of the Cat" album. We got along well and it occurred to me that it would be a dream to record with these guys…
In 2014, my good friends Phil and Jean Wilson told me about a wonderful studio in the countryside in Wales that belongs to Phil’s college friend, Martin Levan. It looked lovely, but it seemed unlikely that I could ever record there. A month later, Al and I played at the Cropredy festival with Tim Renwick, the guitarist who played on many of his classic records. While over in the UK, I spoke with Tim, Stuart Elliott (Year of the Cat drummer), and Mark Griffiths (who played at the Royal Albert Hall with us), and they all said they'd work with me if we recorded in the UK! I contacted Martin, and he said he'd be willing to work with me. This was great stuff, but I had two problems: I had no budget, and I had no songs! Over dinner with Al one evening I mentioned that I’d always wanted to do a philosophically-themed album (I have a PhD in Philosophy), and he enthusiastically encouraged me, suggesting that each track could be linked to a particular philosopher. For the rest of 2014, I went on a bit of a writing spree and started recording rough demos. Meanwhile, I was quietly speaking with some of my fans/friends/supporters who I thought might be interested in the project and who might help me raise the funds that I needed to record.
In 2015, we came back to the Royal Albert Hall for two shows with a full band, under the musical direction of Peter White. Somehow in the midst of this, I asked Peter if he’d be willing to play on the album and he agreed! While touring, we bumped into Graham Smith, who played harmonica on two of Al’s records, and he also agreed to play on the record. And I saw Robin Lamble (who played bass and sang with Al for quite a while in the 70's and 80's), who told me that he was living in Wales. In June, by some miracle, the budget for recording was there, in the form of some very generous donations and loans from a small number of people! I booked the studio time and flights and coordinated with the musicians and continued to work on the songs.
The bulk of the recording was done over a three week period in July and August 2015, with the core band (Stuart, Tim, Mark and myself) playing more of less live without a click, just as they would have done in the 70's. Martin Levan was not only an incredible engineer, but turned out to be a great vocal coach for me, getting performances that I actually liked (most singers don’t like to hear themselves sing). We worked 10-14 hours a day, because there was a limited time-frame, but got 11 songs down (including one that I wrote the day I arrived there). We brought in Dave Ellis and Boo Howard, a wonderful folk duo that have sung together for over 30 years – and Dave played on a few tracks of Al’s “Modern Times” album. Then as I was getting ready to leave, Robin Lamble and his wife Sarah came over to visit the studio (they live fairly close by) and I asked Robin if he’d be willing to make a cameo appearance on backing vocals. It was sounded so great that we asked him to come back after I left Wales and add vocals to a bunch of other songs!
Last fall, after I returned to the US, Martin continued to work on the tracks, and Al, Peter White and Graham all sent in parts via the internet! We tracked down Colin Elgie (who illustrated the cover of “Year of the Cat” and designed the logo) and he agreed to design the cover and artwork. Anne Burghard (a very talented journalist, musician, photographer and videographer) came over to the Albert Hall and to Wales and got wonderful shots, many of which will be in the booklet, and at the same time shot video footage. So, she has been hard at work editing all this material and we will have several music videos, as well as a short “Making Of” documentary piece soon. Mixing and mastering is complete. We are in the home stretch and aiming for a May 2016 release date. I will be doing my first solo European tour in April and May of 2016 to promote the new album. It's been quite a journey so far and it's not over yet!
NOTES AND REFERENCES
1. That Guy· Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844 - 1900). One of Nietzsche's more striking images was of the 'overman" who is a "value-creator' not subject to common moral codes established by others. It's easy to imagine 'that guy' in the song as a sort of Nietzschean overman.
2. Temptation ·Aristotle (384 - 322 B.C). Aristotle wrote on many philosophical topics, and in the Nicomachean Ethics he wrestles with the problem of 'Akrasia; or weakness of the will.
3. One Black Swan • Giordano Bruno (1548 - 1600). Because of his heretical views on cosmology and other topics, Bruno was burned at the stake by the Inquisition. This song mentions Bruno, but it is really mostly about the frightening rise of dogmatism and pre-Enlightenment thinking in our times.
4. Never Enough· Soren Kierkegaard (1813 • 1855). The notion that we are always striving for more, is captured in this quote from Kierkegaard, 'If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating, as possibility!' (From “Either/Or:A Fragment of Life).
5. Spinoza's Dream· Benedict (Baruch) Spinoza (1632 - 1677). Spinoza was born into the Jewish community in Amsterdam, but cast out for his heretical views, which denied the literal truth of Biblical texts and argued for a pantheistic view of God.
6. No Matter How Close • Jean·Paul Sartre (1905 -1980). The song is really about 'solipsism' (the view that we are unable to really know anything outside of our own minds). In his book 'Being and Nothingness' Sartre claims that most of us are in a state of self-deception with regard to other people, treating them as "beings-in-themselves' rather than 'beings-for-themselves' (as objects rather than persons).
7. Bruise· Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804). Kant argued that we should treat others as “ends in themselves, never simply as means to an end.” In war, this “Categorical Imperative” must be violated, and as a result soldiers often suffer what is now being called "moral injury.” The song was inspired by a radio piece on the US military's dawning recognition of the concept of “moral injury.”
8. The Painter· David Hume (1711 - 1776). The painter in the song sees himself as he was, but the question remains; in what sense is he the same person? According to Hume, there is no 'substance" (mind or soul) to a person, but just a series of impressions. But from the inside we don't think of ourselves as a series of impressions, so Hume's view requires a suspension of common sense.
9. Another Small Delay· Albert Camus (1913 - 1916). The characters in the song are separated by bureaucratic and governmental forces beyond their control, but still hope for a brighter future in much the way that Camus argues for human rebellion in the face of humankind's predicament (that we are mere mortals in a vast and meaningless universe).
10. Time of War· Thomas Hobbes (1588 - 1689). Hobbes described a “state of nature" in which life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. I changed "state of nature" to 'time of war" and switched the word order slightly, but my modern tale of refugees from war is pretty close to his description.
11. All Good· Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646 - 1716). Liebniz believed that we live in "the best of all possible worlds' (a view satirically lampooned by Voltaire in 'Candide"). Hearing people (including myself) using the modem phrase “It's all good..”, I thought of Leibniz, and how ideas wind up resurfacing in different versions over time.
more reviews of "Spinoza's DREAM"
DAVE NACHMANOFF/Spinoza’s Dream: No one is ever going to accuse Nachmanoff of indulging in humblebrag. I first heard of him a few years ago when it just seemed like he was a side kick come lately of Al Stewart in Stewart’s post hit years. Surprise! This cat is more like a guitar folk rock version of Denny Zeitlin. Putting the things he’s always wanted to combine in purely his own way, this album is the result of hanging out in England for three weeks with like minded first call folk rockers that were all in synch. A real treasure of a folk rock session that organic ears are going to flip for, there hasn’t been stuff like this so consistently hot since, dare I say it, the pre-disco years. Not exactly a post card from another time zone or a time piece, the only throwback here is a return to the kind of killer under the radar record that fueled rabid cults. A winner throughout by one whose the better for paying dues and none the worse for wear for it. TR 012"
- Chris Spector, Midwest Record
"Nachmanoff’s latest solo album, Spinoza’s Dream, features 11 songs, each with a connection to a noted philosopher, from Aristottle to Kant, Camus to Hume. And if that sounds like an overly weighty proposition, don’t be put off, that’s most definitely not the case. For these thoughtful lyrics come wrapped in melodic arrangements that are redolent of the early ‘70s, helped on their way – on the album at least – by some of the “Year of the Cat” musicians: Tim Renwick, Peter White and Al Stewart himself."
- Jim Welsh, Radio Summerhall
"I'm listening to Dave Nachmanoff's new release "Spinoza's Dream" once again. And with each listen I like it even better than the previous one. This is such a rich album on so many levels. Intelligent and well-crafted lyrics, each tied in some way to a philosopher. This is a CD that will both entertain and teach you. Dave's vocals on this very well recorded album are spot on and blend well with the topics of each individual song. He also has an amazing band for this effort, most of whom played with Al Stewart on albums such as "Year of the Cat" in the 1970s. I heartily recommend "Spinoza's Dream". It's Dave at his very best."
- Joe Clark, CDBaby Review
"This is an incredible 'stand-out' album by Dave. There is so much to love here. Not only are there eleven fantastic songs but the whole album feels like an 'event'; the whole is greater than the some of its parts sort of thing (with the parts being superb to start off with!). Dave has played with Al Stewart for many years and here he has used many of the same musicians who played on Al's Year of the Cat album and he has created the same 'feel' as that iconic album. From the 'open-up' sleeve design (a la Year of the Cat) to the sleeve notes it has a depth to it that means you are not only just hearing the songs but living them as well. Back to the songs, My favourite is Never Enough which reminds me of Sand in your Shoes from Year of the Cat but like YOTC every song is a classic in its own way, with glorious melodies, superb arrangements and production and, of course, great guitar work (Tim Renwick!!) and lyrics. I hope Dave tops this album with his next one but I think this is Dave's YOTC, I only hope it does for him what it did for Al!!!"
- Graham Sutherland, Amazon Review
"What do Aristotle, Nietzsche and Giodano Bruno all have in common? They and eight other philosophers are dancing together in Spinoza’s Dream, the latest musical collection from Dave Nachmanoff, the guitar genius who has been a sideman for legendary musical icon Al Stewart for years.
In his new CD, Nachmanoff steps out from the sideman shadows into the spotlight at center stage. As a master musician he weaves together his love and his passion in creating an eleven song set, each song written with an eye and an ear toward historical philosophers. Much like Al Stewart, Nachmanoff writes from the deep recesses of history, bringing characters to musical life. Nachmanoff has not only been writing, singing and playing music for most of his life (this is his 11 th release), he also earned a Ph.D. in philosophy along the way. In Spinoza’s Dream, recorded in Wales, he creatively ties those two loves together in a surprisingly successful way.
Spinoza’s Dream is crisp, clean, and clear, amplified by outstanding musicians, who provide the glue for the project. The production mix is excellent!
Spinioza’s Dream was produced by award winning producer Martin Levan. And the list of musicians reads like an Al Stewart reunion, including Tim Renwick (Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton), Mark Griffiths (Cliff Richard, The Shadows), Stuart Elliott (Kate Bush) and several others. The synergy is sensational.
In addition to the well-crafted stories-in- song, Nachmanoff’s guitar playing is spot on. It’s no wonder Al Stewart uses him as often as possible. If you are a fan of Al Stewart, you will absolutely fall in love with Dave Nachmanoff. The similarity is delightfully uncanny.
The CD begins with That Guy, who many of us sometimes wish we could be. And the CD ends with All Good (“It’s all good. Everything’s exactly as it needs to be …”). . In the title cut, the focus is on Dutch Philosopher Baruch ‘Benedict’ Spinoza who died in 1677. He was raised as a Portuguese Jew, ostracized for his views on the Hebrew Bible, and excluded from Jewish society at the age of 23. His 'day job’ was as a lens grinder. (They called me heretic, but still I’m blessed . . . )
The cover of the CD will also draw comparisons to Al Stewart. It was created by noted illustrator Colin Elgie, who did the cover for Stewart’s Year of the Cat album cover in 1976. Spinoza’s Dream is exactly what it needs to be: a musical train ride through time and space through the eyes and heart of a kind and gentle lover of music and history. Listen to the first cut, then sit back and enjoy the musical ride!"
- Neil Scott, iHeartMedia - Seattle; Recovery Coast to Coast Radio
LINKS TO ARTICLES & INTERVIEWS
Sacramento News & Review writeup about CD release concert, July 2016
Elmore Magazine, May 2016
Milkcrate Premiere of "Never Enough", March 2016
For The Country Record, March 2016
"Temptation" chosen as Top Ten Song of Alternate Root, 5/14/2016
In studio appearance on nationally syndicated "Overnight America" radio show, August 2016
Nakedly Examined Music podcast interview (July 2016)
Dave on "Good Day Sacramento" TV Show, July 2016
Dave on KDVS, July 2016
Capital Public Radio's "Insight with Beth Ruyak" Interview (July 2016)
Dave on KVMR, June 2016
Dave on Overnight America (May 2016)
Rob Ross of PopDose comments on Dave's new album on Overnight America (May 2016)
Radio Summerhall interview, April 2016
Dave in studio on KVMR (February 2016)
Dave in studio with the The Folk Brothers (Bill Wagman and Peter Schiffman) on KDRT (December 2015)