The mail carrier that delivers musical goodies to our office door must think we’re crazy. The postmarks from Finland, Russia and God-knows-where-else must indicate to him that something strange is going on within our office walls. Such titles have a tendency to accumulate like wire hangers, and thus, my new column The Pile, has been born with the expressed purpose of playing catch up with all of those folks who float on the periphery of the Night Times universe. Here is a sampling of the contents of the NT mailbox.
Every Good Boy Does Fine (Kool Kat Musik)
From Pennsylvania, the decidedly polished and 70s-inflected sound of this album packs quite a punch. Brian Kenneth’s keyboard work is pushed to the fore with a refreshing, piano-driven sound and sincere but sometimes mannered vocals. The songs display a solid grasp of pop songwriting savvy that mixes the familiar devices of yesterday with interesting twists peppered with top-rate musicianship. The arrangements hint at a band that can easily navigate through interesting compositional and harmonic hoops. “Backside”, a mid=tempo ballad, goes a long way in bearing this out. in addition to the jazz-tempered “Monet” (including two different versions!) and the ELO-inspired “C-4”. The waltz ballad “Room” builds to a typically pop-anthem-styled crescendo and the tricky, hard rocking “Normal” sounds wistfully like an early Steely Dan cut. Well, written, played and sung. Not bad.
Cheer Leaders United
Heartbreak Satellites (Plastic Passion)
Who would have thought that such pop songs with more than their fair share of twang and nasty Farfisa organ could come from a place like Finland? Heartbreak Satellites was certainly a surprise. At their best, they deliver a powerful punch, as exhibited on the album’s opener, “Ocean Rain”. “Heartbreak in My Primetime” recalls The Proclaimers if they were a little more bummed out. The bounciness of “Room Full of Lies”, with its Nick Lowe / Elvis Costello / Replacements vibe would make a fine single. “Small Time Maniacs” is pure Brit-Pop that works on all cylinders. The only downside to the disc is the almost maudlin, self-pitying end-of-the-world tone that threatens to crush the collection of songs under its own considerable weight. The album is redeemed by its fine production, spot-on harmony vocals and occasional moments when everything works.
Little Pilgrims (Plastic Passion)
Those who look upon the above header with some trepidation can rest assured that the contents of Ben’s Diapers are purely musical and not in any way excretory. The album’s opener, a chiming, strummy little ditty called “Road Songs” recalls Paul Westerberg and Lou Reed. “Punk Girl”, “Mixed Signals” and “The Ugly Truth” come close to touching the face of the god of power pop. These hi-octane workouts contrast with (yet more) backdrops of Finnish twang and down-home harmonica. I’d be interested to see what their next effort will bring.
Silence Manitou (Silencio Records)
Still more Finnish rock: Given Jadecroon’s decidedly modern rock sound, this 4-song EP puts its best foot forward with the opening track, “Silence”, with a great hook and marvelous execution. Although their sound is a little too common these days, those who like in-your-face, drums that sound like trash cans and guitar amps that go to 11 will get a kick out of this EP. “Setting Sun of Today” would slot in perfectly on an alt-rock station’s playlist (for good or for ill). Those looking for something a bit more involved will be disappointed. Better than most of their ilk, Jadecroon definitely fulfills a niche and, by that standard, can be considered a successful release.
James E. Foehner & S. Douglas Golden, Jr.
Soloman Carver: The Misogynist Mark Twain (Self-Released)
The 1970’s saw a slew of studio-recorded comedy albums by the likes of Firesign Theater, Monty Python and Vaughn Meader. This was when people actually had the benefit of an attention span (and perhaps some good grass) to listen to an album from beginning to end that contained mostly spoken word material. When James Foehner handed me this CD at the esteemed St. Louis nightspot Lemmon’s, I was truly dumbfounded that someone had taken the time and effort to make a new comedy album. I was even more stunned to find that the concept and execution were witty, clever and as painstakingly stylized as this disc turned out to be.
The companion disc to a staged production featuring many St. Louis area music and acting luminaries, Soloman Carver: The Misogynist Mark Twain tells the story of the perhaps the most woman-hating American writer our culture has ever (not) produced—well, maybe except for Charles Bukowski. The tone of the production turns Ken Burns’ drippy documentary style on its ear with thrilling political incorrectness and incredible casting. The music, primarily composed by Marcia Pandolfi, is eerily authentic and shows considerable compositional skill that blends in perfectly.
The story follows the fictitious Soloman Carver’s rise and fall as a writer, reporter and public speaker whose hatred of women plagued his writings and utterances, (often mistaken for satire), propel him towards a career writing for the New York Times and reporting from San Francisco, Hawaii, St. Louis, Washington D.C. and numerous other exotic locales, closely following the trajectory of his contemporary, Mark Twain. Like a despicable Forrest Gump, he is consistently the pinnacle in a series of unlikely events of rich historic and anecdotal importance.
His fanciful escapes from peril, audiences with royalty, brushes with death and danger, his prophecies of imminent disaster and his unrelenting assaults on the fairer sex in any given context as the source of all social ills (at one point, he seduces Susan B. Anthony) make for a hilarious platform for some great vignettes and gags. The sweet corniness of some of the jokes makes for a fascinating contrast between the quaintness of the characters and the sledgehammer-like wit and pungent degradation of women from Carver’s character. The production is thus, in turns, goofy and biting and very, very funny. Well done by all involved.
Favorite line: “I no longer fear death. I see it as a great disease-ridden whore—something to be kept at arm’s length until you’re too tired to say ‘no’!”