Everything about MERCH sounds like a relic from an idyllic pre-war American utopia that exists only in the minds of those who hold a nostalgia for a time they never experienced.
The lushly layered textures of a 30-piece symphony orchestra above jazzy compositions and mastermind Joe Medina’s own crooning vocals conjure images of Hollywood’s golden age and big band swing. With his second full-length Amour Bohemian, Medina has created an album that feels plucked out of an alternate timeline that could have been, but never was.
While his last album This Betrayal Will Be Our End was something of a despondent breakup album, Medina assures us he’s in a better place this time around, and this new record is a celebration of love and its glorious (and sometimes terrifying) power to change a life. In this sense, it is fitting that Medina draws so much inspiration from the crooners of yesteryear; modern singers speak of love through a filter of jaded detachment, but old jazz vocalists broached similar emotional subjects with a kind of earnest passion rarely seen nowadays. But perhaps the most significant influence on MERCH comes from Val Stoecklin’s 1968 album The Grey Life. The juxtaposition of simple folk guitar and introspective lyrics bolstered by grandiose orchestral arrangements has obviously had a major influence on Medina’s vision for Amour Bohemian. This influence was so significant that Medina went so far as to track down Richard Heironymus, string arranger on The Grey Life, to employ his assistance with the compositions for Amour Bohemian.
“I’d been a big fan of the orchestral arranger, Richard Heironymus, so I tracked him down to an island off the coast of Washington to enlist his efforts on Amour Bohemian.” says Medina. “The orchestral arrangement for ‘The Only Love’ was the first one he worked on, and he pulled out all the stops. I gave him a few motifs and repeating phrases that I wanted, and he just went to town and came up with some extraordinary stuff. I gave him some Gordon Jenkins arrangements off of Harry Nilsson’s ‘A Little Touch Of Schmilsson In The Night’ for feel, and in turn, I worked my ass off with Frank Sinatra’s Tips On Popular Singingbook to pull the song off.
Sometimes I like to imagine myself as a nightclub act at some smoky, seedy and slightly dangerous European jazz spots in my golden years. When I picture this, I think about standards that I wouldn’t feel embarrassed about singing, and that reflect my innate bit of deviancy coursing through my veins. I’m sure I can think of better examples, but even something like ‘My Funny Valentine’ is dark if you know the backstory. And ‘Angel Eyes’ with that last line, ‘excuse me while I disappear’ — I could definitely do that one. So when I go to that place, I try to write songs of my own that would work amongst standards like that. ‘The Only Love I Understand’ is no different, and I think it’s the best chord arrangement of any of the songs I’ve ever written. I’m very pleased with it!”
Listen to “The Only Love I Understand” below.