by Tom Hallett
* RTD salutes the late, great punk rock enigma/guitarist, Johnny Ramone, who passed away on September 15 of prostate cancer at the age of 55.
It's time again for Record Reviews here at the 'Dial, where we'll take a look at a stack of local and national music I've been spinning around the old homestead lately...
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "The Ramones didn't need Mohawks to be punk.
They were four working-class construction worker delinquents from Forest Hills,
Queens, who were armed with two-minute songs that they rattled off like machine
gun fire. It was enough to change the Earth's revolution; or at least the music
of the time. It was an assault. Someone once asked Johnny Ramone why the songs
were so short. He said, 'They're actually fairly long songs played very, very
quickly." —Eddie Vedder
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” —The
Modern Day Tragedy
This Is Your Life
(MDT Music - 2004)
Minneapolis-based trio Modern Day Tragedy lay down the kind of straight-ahead,
no-frills power-chord rawk that the youth of the world oh-so-sorely needs at
this point in time. From the absolutely anthemic opener, "Live N End"
("this ain't no time to start a trend, no/So much for all the shitty things
you bought, yeh!"), to blistering, Ramones-ish axe assaults like "Burnout"
and "Handful Of Ecstacy," This Is Your Life is a loud, brash,
shameless salute to the overwhelming joy to be found in the wild abandon of
playing honest, from-the-gut, punk-pop music. I give these cool cats 50 points
for energy, 40 points for subject matter (come on, if the Ramones were just
starting out, it woulda been X instead of Carbona, and you know it), and 20
points for attitude. What? You say that's 110%? You're damn right it is—just
look at the big, stupid, happy grins on the faces of band members Theo, Ty and
drummer Matt Alleva—these are three rock-happy noise-makers who give it
their all, and who understand the massively important difference between "serious
punk rock" and "seriously punk rock." Crank this one up!
Mermaid On The Rocks
(Capsule Records - 2004)
pop whiz Hofmann made a decent splash around town back in '01 with the release
of his near-glammy, hook-a-licious Crawling Tall album, a collection
of sparkling (mostly) up-tempo nuggets so tasty they fairly begged for a less-than-stellar
follow-up. Thankfully, he avoids that common band/artist malady with Mermaid
On The Rocks, a (loosely) water-themed batch of tunes which span a host
of genres and prove that the young singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist (along
with his merry band of co-conspirators, a stellar cast that includes producer/guitarist
Jacques Wait, Heath Henjum, Steve Isadore, Tom Herbers, Sally Cassellius, Jimmy
Johnson, Andy Schultz, Jeff Waryan, and Mike Wisti) paid close attention in
his self-taught musicology classes.
As a result, Mermaid... reads like what you'd imagine Quentin Tarantino's
or Tom Waits' record collections to be comprised of—a mish-mash of styles
and genres of music ranging from Tin Pan Alley through the Golden Age of Hollywood,
the best of Broadway, and the cream of bachelor pad croon-age from the past
six decades: The title track breezes in on a South Seas vibe, Johnson's pedal
steel calling to your soul like the legendary creatures of the song's subject
matter, Pete cheekily intoning, "Sugar spike that rum/I chew my ice and
I hum/A little show tune/Rodgers and Hammerstein/The blender whines off-key..."
Oh, if Jimmy Buffet could still write a beach tune this alluring, he surely
wouldn't have to be tag-teaming with Nashville's largest corn stars, would he?
"She Balances" conjures images of Rufus Wainwright's dark melodies
of the heart wafting over an aft deck on a slightly tipsy, star-lit summer's
eve; "Chocolate Bug" rides a funky, Booker T.-ish groove across burning
keyboard pumps and scritchy-scratchy, Steve Cropper-ized axe licks. Some moments
(as in the almost-child-like tale, "Little Boat, You Must Wander This World")
on the album seem, on first listen, a bit slow and—dare I say it—mawkish,
but after a few spins, you realize that instead of having to put on a stack
of island, swing, beach, country and show music to entertain yourself or a guest,
you've got it all right here in one package.
This is mood music—which means you either have to be in a certain mood
to enjoy it, or you have to be smart enough to use it to create the mood you
want. Put Mermaid On The Rocks in the player, hit random, and turn your
attention to more important things—like pouring drinks and brushing the
lint off of your smoking jacket. Pete Hofmann and his incredible band of musical
compatriots have created one of the most eclectic, sensuous bachelor pad albums
to come down the pike since Jackie Gleason's heyday, and they've got you covered.
Smooth, oh, so smooth.
One Day Our Whispers
(Benchmark Records - 2004)
Indiana, singer/songwriter Otis Gibbs' voice is reminiscent of a bizarre cross
between the pipes of Joe Henry, Tom Waits and Jon Dee Graham; his music similar
to early, Jayhawks-augmented Henry material like Short Man's Room; and
his material the type of wistful, country-tinged pure honky-tonk one might hear
on the soundtrack to some obscure indie film on the Sundance channel. From the
gorgeous, heart-in-throat opener, "Karluv Most" to the John Prine-inspired
"Small Town Saturday Night" right on through to the foot-tappin',
banjo-and-mando-laden bluegrass ode, "Daughter Of A Truck Drivin' Man,"
Gibbs and his spot-on backing band prove themselves worthy of the aforementioned
influences and many more. A popular live act in Indy, Otis and the band definitely
have the chops, the catalog, and the appeal to start spreading their home-cooked,
heart-worn story-songs out past the fields and railroads of their home territory
and on to some of those roads and road-houses they sing and play about with
such fervor. A tasty, heady Americana cocktail with a refreshing Hoosier twist.
(Yep Roc Records - 2004)
along with about fifteen other various musicians and friends, recorded this
collection of ballads, ruminations and self-examinations over the summer of
2003, in "houses, radio stations, and hotel rooms." Not that you can
tell that by the record's production (courtesy of Moore), which is sparse but
crystal clear, or by the performances, which are heart-felt, aching and immediate.
Moore deals with his introspective, smokey world view in a straight-forward
manner, confessing everything with his tone, very little with his words: "So
take me from my worry," he urges on "What I've Done," over tragic
strums and soft, soaring guitar moans, "As my life will take its own/My
hands have hurt no others/Just my eyes know what I've done ..."
"Caroline" tells a dark tale of lost opportunities and betrayal: "Did
you really think you'd live forever, Caroline?/They all just sold you down the
line/And now you're looking for forgiveness/Every time you shut your eyes ..."
Moore's vocal abilities begin to show themselves here, his range opening up
from the soft hum of the opening track to higher-pitched, almost operatic reaches.
"April" is the perfect hipster/scenester anti-anthem, a jangly, loping
stab at a half-hearted optimism Moore (and his intended audience) probably wouldn't
be happy with even if they did attain it: ""It gets so dark down there/In
your basement room," he sings, "Sometimes it’s days before the
sun shines/And you get so tired that your bed feels like a womb/Sometimes it’s
hard to see the point in trying ..."
"Abilene" is a dreamy, almost woozy warning song about that lil' Texas
town—or, more specifically, what it's done to the song's author: "Oh,
Abilene," moans Moore, "too many sunny skies ..." He's not the
happiest camper in the pop/rock arena, but he is damn good at what he does.
This is one of those rainy-day records that's so grey, so self-involved, so
grainy, that you actually find yourself in a better mood after listening to
it. After all, if life is this fucked up for Moore, how bad could a small overdraft
at the bank or getting shorted on a sack of 'mersh bud be, anyway? As he puts
it in "Ordinary People," another brittle jab at the very rock ’n’
roll elitists who surely make up most of his fan base: "Punctured, painted,
spoiled and jaded/Rebellion by numbers, your studied subculture/Is pulling you
down/And you're digging desperately/To get into the underground ..." In
the end, that self-realization saves Moore from drowning in the very morass
of mellow-dom he revels in, and pegs him as above-above average in today's dramatic
singer/songwriter category. I'd like to say I really, really like this record,
but considering its intended target audience, I guess I should just mumble that
it's pretty good. I guess. Shrug.
That's it for me this week, gang. Tune in next time for more CD/and/or/DVD reviews,
spilled booze and boogie woogie blooz. Until we meet again—make yer own
damn news. ||
If you have local music news, gigs, CDs you’d like
to see mentioned in this column, or you’d just like to complain that you
ARE the smug, self-involved hipster Ian Moore’s singing about in the above
review and you’d like name credit, send replies to: (temporary e-mail)