Quakers on Probation is band comprised of father-son duo Daniel A. Craig and Daniel F. Craig, with bassist Graig Markel. Their self-titled disc is a release is given some weight by a helping hand from Larry Knechtel – a keyboardist and bassist, best known for being a member of Bread, as well as his session work with The Byrds, Simon & Garfunkel and The Beach Boys. In theory, having such a heavyweight session man on hand (and one who’d worked with some of Quakers on Probation’s influences) should have gone a fair way towards making this a decent record.
The opening number ‘Pay It Forward’ starts things on the right foot with a warmish sounding number which has an allusion to Buffalo Springfield and late period Byrds and maybe even a touch of The Hollies. Despite hinting at these classic influences, it’s a reasonable track rather than a great one, due to a rather flat arrangement (bar Knechtel’s keyboard work, providing the warmth) and an even flatter vocal delivery. Some of the lyrics are also quite spiteful: “all the zeroes who were buried alive / or burned at the stake / they rose reincarnate in your madness / and jumped from your cake / like ghosts singing ‘happy birthday fucker’ as you reached for your heart attack / you said if you pay it forward, I say pay it all back”. Those lines have such a vitriolic tone – the kind which may have amused John Lennon – but such anger seems very misplaced here. Also, it’s obvious that most of Quakers on Probation’s budget was spent on this number, since it’s one of only a couple of tracks to feature a real drummer.
‘Your Favourite Song’ continues in a similar style, but there’s something about the arrangement which has a more modern feel. The acoustic shuffle is reminiscent of the slightly more country influenced material from Evan Dando’s 2003 solo debut ‘Baby I’m Bored’, with an appealing use of steel guitar. Slightly more upbeat, but still optimising the country-pop twang, ‘Marysville’ has the kind of user-friendliness of Lowen & Navarro or The BoDeans (albeit their poorer songs) – and really ought to have been the kind of material Quakers on Probation concentrated on, since it’s so obviously what they’re best at. Although very basic, the purely acoustic ‘Yard Sale’ is okay too, despite sounding like a poor man’s Simon & Garfunkel…if they lacked their beautiful two part harmonies.
With the okay tracks out of the way, most of the rest of this album is filled by truly awful casiotone material which sounds like songs written by spoilt thirteen year olds. ‘I Know a Woman’ is a keyboard pop number which features really disgusting, lazy song writing, twisted from a rather drippy poem by Theodore Roethke. Sung rather flatly over some rudimentary keyboards, it’s then made even worse by the use of a trumpet (credited to Billy Joe Huels) which sounds over-processed and not unlike syntheisized brass. Frankly, it smacks of a bedroom recording that someone’s family thinks is great – although that’s honestly no reason to force it upon the rest of the world.
The title track lowers the bar even farther, being a samba, complete with actual synthesized brass. I hope Quakers on Probation are going for kitsch…but even so, this sounds like a poor approximation of a church duo, playing something with the charm of a Carpenters cast-off. No better, the drum machine two-step of ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’ sounds like a karaoke demo. While some harmonies attempt to lift it from the depths of its emptiness, it’s really, really horrible.
‘Lament For the Aging Rocker’ fares slightly better at first, since it features a twin acoustic guitar approach that’s simple yet familiar. It then takes a turn for the worse… With a high, off key vocal, Daniel F makes what he thinks are amusing remarks about classic rock stars not having the edge they once did (Sammy Hagar’s cruise control set permanently on 55, are Def Leppard deaf etc). The line “Do you think Ozzy will outlive Dio” instantly reminds us all that Dio is gone, and despite the supposedly fun intentions, it’s a song now steeped in sadness. Honestly though, since Quakers on Probation have such a fondness for bad song writing wrapped up in casiotone filth, should they really be making fun of anyone? If I were them, I certainly wouldn’t be mocking Axl Rose or Tommy Lee…
Included as a bonus track, a cover of the 1974 Sammy Johns US hit ‘Chevy Van’ closes the album. It’s a fitting way to finish, since Sammy Johns’s original hit was produced by Larry Knechtel. The addition of guest vocalist Colin Spring improves things a great deal and the use of mandolin here, although predictable, has a great retro sound. Perhaps more importantly, by the song’s end, it’s immediately clear that ‘Chevy Van’ is much better than nearly all of Quakers on Probation’s self-written material…
Sadly, Larry Knechtel passed away during post production on this album. Since Larry played on The Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds’, Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, various albums by The Monkees and Duane Eddy, among other things, this is such an unfitting epitaph…it’s probably up there with Orson Welles and his final film being the animated ‘Transformers: The Movie’.
A couple of okay numbers aside, this is an appalling album – not falling too far short of being a terrible waste of plastic. …And to think, reading the band’s (self-written) press release, it actually sounds like something that you’d really want to listen to, with Quakers on Probation being likened to The Jayhawks and Wilco! I hope to Christ that Gary Louris and Jeff Tweedy never find out their fantastic reputation has been sullied in this way.