Posts Tagged ‘Bar/None’

The dB’s: Falling Off the Sky

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

An older, wiser dB’s return to canny pop action

Way back in the early 1980s, when only graduate students and industrial researchers had access to the Internet, information about bands spread much more slowly. And so the dB’s first two albums, originally released on the London-based Albion label and imported back to the group’s native U.S. shores, were difficult to learn about, harder to find, and even trickier to put into context. Bits and pieces of the group’s background eventually circulated, with Chris Stamey’s tenure as Alex Chilton’s bassist providing a tantalizingly obscure connection to the ultimate cult pop band, Big Star. Stamey, Gene Holder and Will Rigby’s earlier work as Sneakers also resurfaced, providing a link to Mitch Easter, and thus to REM, and eventually scenes in Georgia, North Carolina, New York and beyond.

A special edition of the group’s second album, Repercussions, was accompanied by a bonus cassette of their debut, but even this promotion couldn’t push the records from great reviews to great sales. Stamey left the band to pursue a solo career, and Peter Holsapple led the band on albums for Bearsville and IRS. College  radio managed to launch REM into the mainstream, but the dB’s (despite an opening tour slot for their Athens-based comrades) couldn’t convert cult popularity into commercial success. The group disbanded in 1988, spinning off solo careers, occasional collaborations (particularly between Stamey and Holsapple) and eventually a new edition of the band for 1994’s IRS-released Paris Avenue.

Thirty years Chris Stamey left the original quartet, they’ve rejoined for Falling off the Sky. Three decades on, their voices are still easily recognized and their musical ideas still combine easily, but the result is something different as fifty-somethings than it was as twenty-somethings. Their fans have aged as well, growing from college students into parents, witnessing the group members’ various pursuits, and seeing what was once considered alternative co-opted by the mainstream. So while the album doesn’t crackle with the reinvention of the group’s original debut, the musical affinities – the interlacing of vocals, the rhythm section’s play against the guitars – are still full of life, and connect strongly to the dB’s origins.

Peter Holsapple’s aptly-titled opener, “That Time is Gone,” suggests the group was acutely aware that a reunion could easily slide into limp nostalgia. With a rhythm guitar that touches on the Gun Club, a twist of Sir Douglas in the organ and a maddeningly insistent guitar figure, the lyric of middle-age awakening is like a weary postard from a well-traveled musician. Holsapple neither celebrates nor laments the passing of time, but notes it as an inexorable fact and moves on. Stamey deploys his nostalgia more abstractly, writing wistfully of lovers whose flame has flickered out, and matching Holsapple’s mood of disappointment without disillusion. The bitterness of the songwriters’ early years has mellowed appreciably, though Holsapple’s “World to Cry” offers some pointedly snarky recrimination.

The album closes with its title song, also the set’s most nostalgic, with vocal harmonies and counterpoints that twine around a lyric full of memories. The band’s off-kilter craft is as fine as ever, with Stamey’s love of psych-era Beatles threaded deeply into “The Adventures of Albatross and Doggerel,” drummer Will Rigby’s “Write Back” offering up his first song on a dB’s record, and Holsapple’s high, yearning vocal on “I Didn’t Mean to Say That” adding a particularly riveting performance. The foursome doesn’t imitate their earlier selves, as many reunions are wont to do, but their current-day selves prove sufficiently vital to carry the legacy, creating in an album that stands nicely alongside their first pair. [©2012 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | That Time is Gone
The dB’s Home Page

Richard Barone: Glow

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

Eclectic collection of sounds from throughout Richard Barone’s career

Richard Barone was introduced to listeners as the lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter of the legendary Bongos. Their recording career spanned a handful of singles, two EPs and two albums, but their impact on the Hoboken music scene – and on Hoboken itself – was much larger. Upon the band’s dissolution, Barone developed a solo career that garnered critical notice and fan support, but flew below the radar of the mainstream record buying public. He released an album every few years for a decade, bookended by the live recordings Cool Blue Halo in 1987 and Between Heaven and Cello in 1997, and continued on to produce other artists and collaborate on theater projects. Though he oversaw reissues and compilations of earlier material, this is his first collection of all new solo material since 1993’s Clouds Over Eden.

What makes this album particularly special is Barone’s collaborations with producer Tony Visconti. Barone’s a well-known Bolan-ista, having covered “Mambo Sun” with the Bongos and “The Visit” on his first solo album (and “Girl” here). Tony Visconti was the producer of those seminal T. Rex sides, and had Barone had his way, Visconti would have produced the Bongos 1983 RCA debut. But the label declined, and the pair had to wait another twenty-seven years to collaborate. Surprisingly, for all of Barone’s glam-rock influences and Visconti’s glam-rock bona fides, the cache of vintage instruments they tapped (including E-bow, stylophone, mellotron, moog bass, chamberlain) and sonic references they make (such as the opening of “Candied Babies” borrowed from the Bongos’ “Zebra Club”), the results sound neither nostalgic nor out of time. Instead, the productions combine elements Barone’s explored throughout his career, including slithering glam rock, power-pop chime, cello-lined chamber pop, and punchy dance floor beats.

The lyrics sway from weighty contemplation of middle age to the title track’s celebratory call for shucking off emotional limitations and living freely in the moment. Barone is neither morose in his backward glancing assessments nor blindly exuberant in his forward looking proscriptions, but seems to be discovering original emotional territory in new experience; even the fatalism of “Yet Another Midnight” is expectant rather than downcast. The notions of return and unspoken feelings are threaded through several songs, including a visit to old stomping grounds in “Radio Silence” and the uncertain romantic resurrection of a co-write with Paul Williams, “Silence is Our Song.” The latter production is shorn of Visconti’s ornamentation, pared to guitar, piano and cello for a live performance on Vin Scelsa’s Idiot’s Delight. A second co-write, with Jill Sobule, yields the terrific “Odd Girl Out” and its story of a pre-Stonewall lesbian.

Visconti’s rock productions are ornate and imaginative, though on “Sanctified” the volume interrupts the inviting, quiet groove established with the introduction’s combination of voice, strummed acoustic guitar and mellotron. The album closes with a lush instrumental version of the title track, finishing with a lovely coda of violin and cello. Barone was obviously quite excited to finally work with Visconti, and he sounds energized and vital throughout. His new songs retain the hooks and melodic innovations of his earlier work, and his lyrics have grown concrete in character and concept while remaining poetic in their words. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Glow
Richard Barone’s Home Page
Richard Barone’s MySpace Page

Freedy Johnston: Rain on the City

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Inviting, open-ended album of loss, loneliness and meandering hope

Freedy Johnston opens his new album, his first new material since 2001’s Right Between the Promises, with a ukulele strum and a lyric that searches optimistically for answers. The quality of his voice against the stripped-down arrangement highlights the arresting, bell-like clarity of his tone, and the lyric playfully strides between a literal ode to a found coin and a metaphorical hand outstretched to a lost girl. Producer Richard McLaurin leavens the ukulele’s chipper tone with more quizzical and unsure dashes of lap steel and Hammond B3. The arrangement’s subtlety is a perfect balance to the lyrics’ provocative queries. The same vocal quality cuts through the electric arrangement of “Venus is Her Name” as Johnston hits and holds piercing country-tinged notes.

Johnston has returned to the character and scene studies that attracted fans to his earliest works. “Rain on the City” animates rain as a character and evokes the painterly way that Paul Simon projected human emotion on observed imagery, and the tearful goodbye of “Central Station” couches its discomfort in keen observations of worn station details substituting for eye contact. The album isn’t all texture and mood, however, as Johnston writes lyrics of romantic strife and McLaurin happily indulges the songwriter’s need to rock. The power-chords and strings of “Don’t Fall in Love with a Lonely Girl” may remind you of power-pop artists like Adam Schmitt or the Smithereens, and Johnston sings with open-throated abandon on “Livin’ Too Close to the Rio Grande” as the band bashes and twangs.

Stretching out, the baion beat of “The Other Side of Love” signals the sort of heartbreak common to early ‘60s productions by Leiber & Stoller and Phil Spector, but here it’s dressed in rootsier instrumentation; “The Kind of Love We’re In” floats along on a gentle bossa nova rhythm. The closing “What You Cannot See, You Cannot Fight” suggests a father’s entreaty to a son deeply troubled by his mother’s passing, but Johnston’s lyrics are sufficiently open-ended to leave room for personal interpretation. The album’s catchy melodies ease you aboard, and the rich threads of loss, loneliness and meandering hope invite you to make these songs you own. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

MP3 | Don’t Fall in Love With a Lonely Girl
Freedy Johnston’s Home Page
Freedy Johnston’s MySpace Page