2011 was a pretty good year for Mike Billings. And so far, 2012 has been even better. The longtime Bangor-area musician hasn’t felt this much creative vitality and productivity in years. After all, the wisdom that comes with experience isn’t something you can buy. It just amasses, until you know exactly what to do with your talents.
Duringthe summer, Billings released his second album in as many years, “Re:Connect,” a double disc of brand new material written between the winter of 2011 and the spring of 2012. The album — available now at Bull Moose Music stores — is part of the new wave of songwriting and recording he’s been riding for a while now.
“I think the difference between my last album [‘The Loved Ones’] and this one is that I’m not focusing on just cramming as much into it as possible,” said Billings. “I just want to let the songs speak for themselves. Let them breathe. I can back off a little bit and not be that kind of artist that overanalyzes and dwells on every single detail and never finishes anything.”
To that end, “Re:Connect” builds on the hip-hop influences of “The Loved Ones,” but where that album was chock-full of sound effects and processed vocals, this album returns to what Billings is best at: songwriting and guitar-shredding. Case in point: the controlled burn of rocker “Blue Freeze,” as funky and tight as it is, at times, sinister. In the opposite way, “Vision of Life” is a soulful song that hearkens back to Billings’ love of Stevie Wonder, mixed with the loose-limbed hip-hop funk of the Roots.
If you’ve paid attention to the music scene in the Bangor area in the past 10 years, then It goes without saying that Billings is an effortlessly talented guitarist. Seriously, it kills me how good the guy is. There’s a little bit of all kinds of things in there — Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, John Frusciante, Eddie Hazel of Funkadelic, Tom Morello — all of which can be heard on “Re:Connect.”
“I’m a songwriter, but I’m at heart a guitarist,” said Billings. “I know that that’s what I’m always going to focus on, in the end. So with these songs, I tried to kind of handicap myself and do the guitar the absolute last, so the songs would be good before I even tried to put the guitar on there. I think that really helped.”
The task, now, is to translate the songs off of both “Re:Connect” and last year’s “The Loved Ones” into a live setting. Billings plays with Bangor-based multi-instrumentalist Joshua Strange, who plays drums, and bassist James Cook; his longtime collaborator Josh Mooers, who splits his time between Maine and California, will be joining the band later this year on keys. They are planning some shows in December and January in Bangor, Portland and at Sugarloaf.
“They are all just incredible musicians, and the sound we’re making is really huge and full of a different kind of energy from the album,” said Billings. “The sound is almost too big for a lot of bars, so we’ve got to figure out how to get that sound to a more manageable level. It’s huge. It’s massive. It’s really exciting.”
“Re:Connect” is available at Bull Moose Music stores in Bangor and Portland; it’s also played regularly on WKIT 100.3’s Homemade Jam, on at 11 p.m. every Thursday. For more information, visit Mike Billings’ Facebook page.
Emily Burnham may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out her blog at cultureshock.bangordailynews.com.