Eccentric lo-fi legend meets ’90s alt-pop genius? Make it be! (and they do)

rstevie_lg (larecord.com)You may or may not have come across the name R. Stevie Moore. Well you may or may not have done a lot of things, so forget that opening. But back to that name… It has wafted through my musical consciousness occasionally, usually conjuring up ideas of twisted, homemade recordings on cassettes. Which is basically what I’ve read and heard about Mr. Moore (or RSM as he’s known here and there) over the years. And which is exactly on point because out of his 150-plus “releases,” most are just that. With titles like Games and Groceries, Clack!, You and Your Employees, Embarrass Paris, The Day the Earth Stood On Stilts, Tell Laura I Love Herbert, …  The guy is considered a “lo-fi legend” by…the people who consider people things.

jason_falkner (fujirockexpress.com)You also may or may not (phrase repeated to keep this introduction somewhat coherent – which is not always an adjective used to describe the persona and musical output of R. Stevie Moore – but anyway)…uh, have heard of Jason Falkner. Unless you are a late-80s-mid-90s power-pop aficionado with an ear for bands like The Three O’Clock, Jellyfish, and The Grays. All of which contained Mr. Falkner at one time or another. And all of which exhibit overtones of pop genius (that would be The Beatles) and less-household-name-but-still pop genius (that would be, say, XTC). Falkner’s solo stuff, from 1996 through the 2000s, is more of the same…and Falkner himself does indeed count those last two groups as influences.

Okay! So! Throw both these guys into the great rock ‘n’ roll blender, along with a few tablespoons of hard-rock power-riffs, choose the “2017” setting, and hit go! The thick, tasty mixture you’ll end up with is something called Make It Be, a new 18-track CD of (as it says on the promo sticker) “epic proportions.”

Make It Be - cover

Right off the bat, this dynamic duo (ha-ha, “bat,” “dynamic duo” – blog post in the near future, hint-hint) proclaims, or rather, texts/tweets “I H8 Ppl,” an apt introductory interplay of Moore’s gravelly, curmudgeon-ish baritone, Falkner’s (or is it Moore’s) floating falsetto, and a guitar thing straight out of the Dictators’ songbook. Then it’s pow! bam! zap! (sorry), one uniquely-titled power-pop beauty after another.

The XTC factor comes alive on “Another Day Slips Away” (if I didn’t know otherwise, I would swear it is XTC, perhaps with a guest vocalist). Shimmering bubbles of guitar burst forth on the vaguely Beatles-like “I Love Us, We Love Me,” and even more shimmering guitars (and an even more Beatles feel – George Harrison anyone?) appear on “Sincero Amore.” 1960s psychedelia is king on “Horror Show” (the only track written solely by Falkner according to the album’s credits), Big Star joins forces with the Mothers of Invention (yikes) on one of the wittiest song titles ever, “If You See Kay” (yes, say it fast, what’s it spell?), which segues into one of Moore’s Beefheartian (or is it Beefhearty) spoken-word rants, the ode to news-media-induced panic “Run For Your Lives!” And “Play Myself Some Music,” quite possibly the album’s best cut, both musically and lyrically, travels down that XTC road again but with Brian Wilson at the wheel. Turns out that one (and a few others) were originally RSM concoctions from way back – check out the 1986 video!

Make It Be - inside photo (rsteviemoore.com)

Peppered in between are little guitar interludes and the aforementioned RSM wacky poetry that somehow befits a man with a long, blue-dyed beard. As well as “Stamps” (a song that makes buying stamps really rock – it’s about time somebody made that happen), an amusing electro-beat moment called “That’s Fine, What Time?”, a faithful-but-happily-Moore-ish cover of Huey “Piano” Smith and the Clowns’ 1958 hit “Don’t You Just Know It,” an instrumental exploration entitled “Passed Away Today” (which, at 5:41, is usually the one I skip – you know, every album has one of those), and next-to-last-song “I Am the Best for You,” featuring Moore’s best Lemmy growl over the album’s grittiest, guitariest groove. Grrrr.

Make It Be. Not Let It Be, mind you. MAKE it be!! Or else!!

 

photo credits:  larecord.com, fujirockexpress.com, rsteviemoore.com

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Controlled chaos – on the street and on the stage

Metamorphosis_JALC_(greenleafmusic.com)The musicians assemble for the first excursion, an “interstellar” excursion to be sure, but also (take a look outside the floor-to-ceiling windows serving as a stage backdrop) an excursion along the expanse of West 59th Street, a.k.a. Central Park South, in mid-Manhattan. Welcome to the Appel Room, in the Jazz at Lincoln Center complex at Columbus Circle. And welcome to an early-March/late-evening performance of Metamorphosis by trumpeter/composer Dave Douglas and a handful of fellow musicians/composers/improvisers.

This is good old-fashioned (I’m told this genre was pretty popular back in the late 1970s) free-form, improvised jazz…the kind of stuff many music lovers love to hate. But…there is a vast difference between a concert of pop/rock, or even mainstream jazz, and – this stuff. First and foremost, ya can’t approach it the same way. Not at all. This music (yeah, it IS music) won’t have you tapping your foot, nodding your head, or singing along. Well, it might have you nodding your head – and your entire upper body – as the guy next to me starts literally rocking – but that’s beside the point right now. The difference is this sort of semi-improvised, semi-composed jazz is a music best listened to while taking in your entire surroundings, not just watching the performers onstage. In this instance, I’m equally enthralled by the vision of traffic streaming up and down 59th Street, plainly visible behind the musicians as a kinetic display of red and white lights moving, slowing, stopping, turning…small silhouettes of pedestrians making their way across in an attempt to get wherever they need to be in one piece. No collisions, no injuries, no close calls, though everything’s moving at once. Controlled chaos! And therein lies the beauty of something like Metamorphosis, a 12-part realization based on 12 different star constellations, being released one track per month as the “2017 Subscriber Series” on Dave Douglas’ label, Greenleaf Music.

JALC-Appel-Room-the-view-of-the-stage (tripadvisor.com)                 A sea of headlights above the waiting grand piano on the Appel Room stage
                 (image courtesy tripadvisor.com)

On the stage, Mr. Douglas himself, under his white, jazz-guy cap, and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith clutch their instruments, next to a small table littered with various mutes, water bottles, and a mysterious wad of aluminum foil (which Dave will actually use as a muting device further into the performance). Saxophonist Oliver Lake, attired in suit ‘n’ tie, alternates between a full-size sax and one that’s almost toy-sized as he screeches forth sounds that Coltrane was always reaching for back in those Coltrane days. Drummer Andrew Cyrille, bedecked in stylish, patterned sweater and porkpie hat, holds down a beat that threatens to derail this whole freight train at any second (but of course never does). Guitarist Marc Ribot, hunched over his axe so that all you can see is the top of his head, picks out barely-recognizable noises, then, on another piece, strums beautiful, Spanishy stuff. Pianist Myra Melford is a veritable thunderstorm, letting loose crazy chords and karate-chopping the keys like she’s preparing ingredients for a magnificent musical salad. Towering, white-haired bassist Mark Dresser commands his contrabass with fingers, then bow, then fingers again, to the point of – what the hell are those freaky, buzzing sounds, where is that coming from? And percussionist Susie Ibarra sits behind her drum kit grabbing everything from mallets and brushes to bells, hand-cymbals, and rattles, effortlessly juggling it all in a technique reminiscent of some old-world ceremony on some far-off, exotic island.

Metamorphosis - performance pic (youtube.com) Dave Douglas (center) and his Metamorphosis ensemble (image courtesy Youtube.com /  warnesgroup)

As all this is unfolding, cast a gaze up to the high-rise buildings outside, to the winking red lights at the tips of construction cranes, to the plume of illuminated white smoke puffing from a chimney near the iconic “Essex House” sign overlooking Central Park. And cast a gaze back downwards to the street, as cars, taxis, trucks, and buses jockey for position on their way to their inevitable destiny. Again, no collisions, no injuries, no close calls. Only the controlled chaos of New York City. And for a perfect soundtrack, the controlled chaos of Metamorphosis by Dave Douglas and his ensemble of improvising impresarios!

Check out the track “Halcyon Days” here.

Metamorphosis - cover design (davedouglas.bandcamp.com)

Elvis Costello and Brian Wilson were strolling down Bourbon Street…

So anyway, Elvis Costello and Brian Wilson were strolling down Bourbon Street with Chicago’s horn section, a couple of Replacements, and a handful of modern musical hipsters, with the spirit of Leon Russell following along. When all of a sudden, Ray Davies and the Grateful Dead jumped out from a nearby alley. Now there’s a recipe for some nice, if all-over-the-place (and absolutely schizomusical) pop/rock. It’s the latest by the Chandler Travis Philharmonic, entitled Waving Kissyhead Vol. 2 & 1. Just out in February 2017.
chandlertravis-wide-www-npr-orgTo set the scene, Chandler Travis began as a founding member of Boston band the Incredible Casuals, who released several albums throughout the 1980s-90s. Soon after, he quickly formed his 8-piece (now 9) Philharmonic in 1998. Meanwhile he has turned up in other incarnations like the Catbirds and Chandler Travis Three-O. As for the Chandler Travis Philharmonic, that ensemble has produced five albums since 2000 (plus a four-song EP called Waving Kissyhead Vol. 1, which appears at the end of Vol. 2 & 1, hence that disjointed title).

The sound on Vol. 2 & 1 is the above amalgam and then some. The “then some” being the stuff from the EP: the T. Rex guitar and over-the-top Beefheartian (is that a word?) narrative “E,” the happy ska of “Your Wife and Mother” (posing the philosophical question, “Would you save your wife or would you save your mother?”), the Graham Parker/Tom Petty-infused “Human” (featuring chunks of that Replacements-style noise), and the soulful sing-along “Make Yourself Happy.”

chandlertravisphil-album-coverBut before all that transpires, there’s bright, beautiful jangle-pop (“By The Way”), bluesy, organ-driven, tongue-in-cheek-optimism (“Maybe This Is Our Year”), full-out horns-and-keyboard good times (lead-off track “You Got Me Started”), Mr. Costello with crazy sax and trumpets added (“Break The Chains” and “Going Back To Work Tomorrow”), Sunflower/Surf’s Up-era Beach Boys (“Air Running Backwards”), both those last two guys – uh, Elvis Wilson? – yes! (“Sure Gonna Miss You,” the best moment on here), neo-New-Orleans a la Mr. Russell (“When The Moon Shines”), Dixieland jam-band style, complete with Dead-ish harmonies (“Grand Rt St John”), and the wit-and-whimsy of Sparks with Ray Davies onboard (the largely instrumental “Untitled,” whose single verse actually features the word “untitled”)…plus a waltz that’s part peaceful interlude and part insane asylum (“Bobby Brown”) and a funky-beat art-rock mini-epic (what?) (“The Strongman of North America”).

chandlertravisphil-7members-dailygazzette-com

Visually, if their many YouTube videos are any indication (I have never seen them live), the Chandler Travis Philharmonic are certainly a colorful crew, with their array of robes, pajamas, and hilarious headwear. And should these guys rear their hilarious heads anytime soon (there are a number of imminent dates in their native Mass. and one so far in NYC), I would suggest checking them out. In this day and age, we all need some FUN!

chandler-travis-philharmonic-and-the-ticks-social-club-and-pleasure-society-and-auxiliary-marching-band

photos courtesy npr.org, dailygazzette.com, chandlertravis.com