Paul Otten, guitarist/vocalist/pianist of the Paul Otten Band, presents a package called "Pleasant Sounding Songs" with a long warning label attached to it on his band's new CD titled Bad Parade. To Otten and his partner-in-sublime/brother Brian (drums), music is like a fruit smoothie — rich, yet pleasant — yet his lyrics can be like shards of glass that you don't notice you've swallowed until they're halfway down your throat. Which is not to say they're bad. Quite the opposite, in fact. They just kind of sneak up on you from inside the song with their sharp observations of the human condition ... and Otten's condition, in particular.
Lyrically (and vocally), he takes a page from the Paul Simon/Billy Joel/Jackson Browne school of storytelling. But he translates the page into "Ottenese" and then back into English without plagiarizing the original works. Musically, he and his brother can go from jazzy Pop to a country-ish twang in a (broken) heartbeat.
Paul Otten began playing music in clubs at age 17 and was a member of a regionally popular band, Porterhouse. After Porterhouse broke up, he gigged as a solo act for a while and then, in 2001, he decided to form a band with his brother.
"I was doing solo gigs, and I was getting bored playing by myself," Paul says. The two brothers had been playing music together non-professionally since junior high, so it seemed like the logical thing to do.
"We're brothers, so all we have to do is look at each other and just kind of know what the one wants the other one to do," says Brian of their natural chemistry.
That familial bond works to their advantage on Bad Parade, produced by local singer/songwriter Brian Lovely, who has also been behind the board for releases by The Swarthy Band and Ryan Adcock. Bad Parade is a catharsis for Paul Otten and probably a welcome break for Brian Otten, the father of young twins.
"A lot of the CD has to do with my divorce, just kind of letting it out and working through it," Paul says. It's fairly easy to chronicle his healing process with song titles like "Leave It Alone," "Everything Burns Out," "Find Myself," "Down Inside My World" and "Turn Another Page." The songs are bittersweet pep talks/observations about picking up the pieces and getting on with it. As Paul wistfully recounts in "Leave It Alone," "Sometimes you need to go your own way/Sometimes love can't survive the journey."
There's a few stops along the way that have a look at other people's situations as well, most notably the withering, Steely Dan-flavored "Rudy," which tells of the joys one might have at seeing a snotty, once good-looking high school classmate go to seed. In the song, Paul humorously tells the not-terribly-sad tale of Rudy's decline: "Rudy never knew my name/Because he was the shit way back in high school/Now he looks like Bill Murray/And apparently his fashion sense has stayed the same/As it was back in '88." Band geeks unite; your revenge is nigh!
The title of the CD comes from another sharply etched portrait, this time of a seemingly mismatched couple, "Boo and Shane." "I've known quite a few couples that you don't think would mix well. One of them will be really up in your face, and the other one is just kind of laid back," says Paul of the song's origin. "But somehow, there's a lot of couples like that that work."
Everybody knows couples like that, but Paul puts a fine lyrical point on such pairings, as he tells of drama queen Boo and easygoing Shane, who is "... sitting through a bad parade, trying to keep out of sight."
With the release of potentially bottled-up feelings through the lyrics and the actual CD itself, life for Paul Otten is a much better parade than Shane's these days.
THE PAUL OTTEN BAND (paulotten.com) performs Saturday at Million's.