CD Review: Scott Severin – Birdhouse Obbligato; Severin, Sleepover tonight…

Category: Reviews — Tags: , — @ 1:30 pm June 18, 2010

by Tim McMahan,

Scott Severin and I got into an online discussion via Facebook about his new album recorded with his band, The Milton Burlesque, called Birdhouse Obbligato, the disc that’s being celebrated tonight at a free show at The Waiting Room. Severin insisted that the CD is an excellent example of indie music, while I argued that there was nothing indie about it.

Scott Severin and the Milton Burlesque - Birdhouse Obbligato

Scott Severin and the Milton Burlesque - Birdhouse Obbligato

Upon reflection Severin was right and I was wrong. Birdhouse is an indie album — it’s not associated with a major record label, which is “indie” by its most generic definition. In fact, the album is really indie in that it’s not associated with any record label as Severin paid for its recording (with Joel Petersen at Enamel Studio), mixing and mastering (by Tom Ware), pressing and, conceivably, its distribution. The term is “self-released,” which sounds like a euphemism for being “born again” or having reached a higher mental state — “I’ve been self-released.” We need a better term for projects like Severin’s, since more and more music — whether created by MTV stars or van-imprisoned bands — is going to be self-released as labels erode and provide fewer reasons for anyone to use their services.

So, Birdhouse Obbligato is indie from a business perspective, but from a music perspective — how indie has become defined as an aesthetic — it doesn’t quite fit, at least not in my opinion. Instead, the record falls under a more conventional rock ‘n’ roll definition. It rocks just like the rock music I remember from the ’70s and ’80s; it has an old-fashioned, comfortable FM radio vibe.

I wouldn’t call it “retro,” since that would imply that the artist was purposely targeting a specific style from a bygone era. Only Severin — or a guy who’s lived a life in music like Severin — could write and record an album that sounds like this. There is a matter-of-fact honesty in the approach — a modern band of teen-agers or 20-somethings who grew up with indie music simply could not pull this off without sounding kitschy or phony or “ironic.” But then again, it’s unlikely that someone from that group would want to write this kind of music to begin with. Severin’s sound harkens back to a simpler — arguably better — time when verse/chorus/verse/key change/chorus was the modus operandi. A song like “I Don’t Know,” with its heavy metal chops, Jerry Lee Lewis piano riffs, and cock-rock guitar solo, predates the dawn of grunge, and something tells me Severin wouldn’t want it any other way.

And then there’s the more mellow “Farshtaist,” one of those songs that — after hearing it for the first time — you wonder if it always existed. It’s timeless in the same way that songs we grew up listening to on FM radio seemed to have always been there, and will likely be there after we’ve all gone deaf and senile. The best track on the album, it could easily fit onto any MOR playlist — MOR, as defined in Wiki, is “broadly popular music, but not technically avant-garde; generally, it is strongly melodic and often features vocal harmony technique and orchestral arrangements.” The modern equivalent is the “Soft AC” format.

Severin is not breaking new ground with this album, and I doubt that he wanted to. Instead, Birdhouse Obbligato is a collection of rockers and ballads by a man that is content simply getting his ideas and melodies recorded for all time. In the end, this is who Severin is, and he should be proud of that.

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So tonight’s marquee draws are two CD release shows. The biggest is Scott Severin and the Milton Burlesque at The Waiting Room with Big Wheel (Sarah Benck) and Platte River Rain. 9 p.m. and absolutely free.

Meanwhile, over at O’Leaver’s, it’s Lincoln’s The Sleepover, with Techlepathy and Fortnight. $5, 9 p.m.

Also tonight, Lawrence indie band Cowboy Indian Bear is playing in the Stir Lounge at Harrah’s Casino in Council Bluffs with the one and only Jake Bellows. $5, 9 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2010 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


  • good review IMO, but there is something that bugs me. A few columns down you go on record saying that Jake Bellows is as good or better than Jack Johnson if it wasn’t for marketing, then you repeat that thought with regards to the Mynabirds, an ensemble you seem to relate to. So far so good, that’s really a useful bit of info for those who crave information on local music and the bands benefit from this as well, provided you don’t use this language in a inflationary manner.
    I have not heard Scott Severin’s new disc but when I first heard his previous record I felt that it was “up there”, meaning it was competitive and that is quite an accomplishment for an independent local artist. There are several original bands/ singer/songwriters in the area that crank out original music at a high level, music that doesn’t fit the “indie aesthetic”, all this with tiny recording budgets, zero distribution and sporadic airplay. This hasn’t always been the case, it’s a special moment in time IMO and it will undoubtedly be over way too soon but in the meantime let’s try to recognize it for what it is. It’s music produced independently, free of commercial constraints and utterly relevant to those involved as performers and listeners. It has this old hound excited about local music for the first time in a long time.
    “music that harkens back to a simpler time”, is a line fit for a tombstone and doesn’t really tell me what I want to know which is this:
    Is it a good album for a local band or is it a good album, period?
    Thanks again for caring.

    Comment by Werner Althaus — June 18, 2010 @ 11:07 pm

  • After 7 or 8 listens I was left underwhelmed. The original enthusiasm that I (and the recording artists) originally felt after about the 2nd listen eventually evaporated into the feeling that there is no new territory chartered here and in fact is just another exercise in slightly better than mediocrity. Does Severin believe that by projecting it as “indie” from a business perspective make up for the CD’s banality? Maybe with a couple more listens it will return the original feel though it may be months to get back to it to see.

    Comment by lisadoudney — August 14, 2010 @ 10:08 pm

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