Call it the Waylon Jennings effect. The man is never remembered without the mandatory asterisk disclaiming the outlaw myth; that he was in fact a family man and homebody. So it’s still surprising when John Tilson, someone you know to be good and kind—a friend and neighbor, no less—makes a record that only reveals more goodness and kindness. Instead of waxing badass or misanthropic, he names his wife and son in love songs. Instead of vicarious living through alter egos, he ennobles his own profession and vocation. (High school math still rocks.)
Vacationist League is in some ways John Tilson’s band. He writes the songs. As a duo, Tilson and multi-instrumentalist Brandon Beavers can be heard around town more or less monthly. Bypassin’ the Barroom has a meatier line-up, fleshed out by drummer Stan Duncan and the musical Swiss army knives Bill DeLeonardis and Carl Snow (who also mixed and mastered). The arrangements never seem overcrowded, and Tilson’s tunes seem to like what the additional players have to say. Of course it helps that the players are all extremely good. “Revoture” is fairly stunning in that rock-band-making-chamber-music kind of way. Other songs—“Quadrilaterals” or “Bypassin’ the Barroom”—are terrifically simple, and seem to pack their punches by giving you the bare minimum to consider beyond a melody with carefully-chosen words.