The new double concept album from B.J. Kocen, “Searching for Signal/Old Lake,” is likely to transport listeners of a certain age to the golden singer and songwriter era of the late ’60s and early ’70s.
With a voice that’s textured and emotive, but also accessible in an Everyman sort of way, Kocen draws you in without resorting to artifice or affectation. There’s a vibe to the songs that just feels right.
Despite the seamless sound of the 20 songs, the first 10 took three years to produce and the second 10 took three days. Kocen says using two completely different styles of recording was intentional, his means of demonstrating that neither is better than the other.
“This project is the most ambitious thing I’ve ever done,” he says from Glave-Kocen Gallery, which he co-owns with his wife, Jennifer. “What I tried to accomplish with the people I played with is crazy big, but I don’t think it’s egotistical.”
One reason for the double album was the huge backlog of material, including songs written during his years helping get Ashland Coffee and Tea off the ground as a listening room. There also were energetic love letters written to Jennifer from the turn of the century up through material as recent as two years ago.
“I’m an excitable writer,” Kocen says. “The faucet doesn’t turn off.” He says he wanted to include the best material, but also the stuff he most enjoyed playing.
A self-taught musician, Kocen refers to his music as soul folk and his guitar playing as the worst thing on the record.
“There were times I rose to the occasion and times I could have done better,” he says, sharing that his friend, musician Paul Curreri, once laughingly called him the best fake guitar player he’d ever seen.
“Searching for Signal” was highly arranged and meticulously produced by Lance Brenner in his home studio in Charlottesville and features only one song not written by Kocen, Curreri’s “Down by the Water.” Several more covers populate “Old Lake.”
Here, too, Kocen draws a link to the ’60s and ’70s, when many songwriters recorded their friends’ songs, though rarely the hits. “It feels right, the passing around of songs,” he says, “that spirit of the music. It’s an opportunity for people to hear my friends’ songs.”
Brenner says he found the songs true to the person he got to know during the arranging and recording process.
“That’s the best compliment I could pay a songwriter,” Brenner says. “Finding out and articulating who you are is everything. Listening to ‘Searching for Signal’ is actually getting to know B.J., and he’s a very interesting guy.”
The second set of songs, “Old Lake,” was recorded live to focus on performance with no overdubs — “OK, there were two, but they were really little ones,” Kocen acknowledges — with Adrian Olsen at Montrose Studios in Richmond.
More than 20 musicians play on the record, including: Steve Bassett, Jeff Bunn of Funkadelic, Craig Evans and Brad Tucker of the Taters, Charles Arthur, Roger Carroll in his last session before moving to Chicago, Jim Wark, Jackie Frost, Jonathan Gibson and members of Quatro Na Bossa.
“It was important to me to pay everyone involved as much as I could offer to compensate for all the times they weren’t paid,” Kocen says. “And because they deserve it.”
Many of the studio musicians will be playing at the CD release show at the Broadberry, which will be followed by a vinyl release party at Plan 9 this fall.
Kocen doesn’t expect to become a household name, but acknowledges, “I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m hoping this will blow up.” More realistically, he hopes to simply make people aware of the project and get back in the groove of performing two or three times a month while also booking other acts at the gallery.
“I see myself as a purveyor of the scene, helping other artists get exposure,” he says. “But my ultimate goal is for people to know I’m a singer songwriter.” S
The B.J. Kocen CD Release Party at the Broadberry will be Thursday, Aug. 11, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 and are available by searching on Ticketfly.com.