San Francisco, 1967! The Grateful Dead! Jefferson Airplane!
San Francisco, 1982! Romeo Void! Translator!
Hold on, wait – Translator? “Everywhere That I’m Not”? One hit wonder from 1982, just as “new wave” was becoming mainstream and the MTV age was dawning? And the guy who sang (and wrote) that song, Steve Barton, has been making music ever since. A couple of years ago he moved to Portland, Oregon, whereby, he says, “songs just started to pour out of me.” The result is an ambitious three-CD collection (yes, three) entitled Tall Tales and Alibis, due for release March 2.
Each disc is presented as its own album, with its own title. Disc one, “Star Tonight,” is largely electric guitar and voice with some occasional drums and keyboards. Along the way, there are flashes of fabulous pop-rock: Beatles, XTC, Robyn Hitchcock, Guided By Voices, Cheap Trick. Highlights include “Little Rule Breaker” (like Robert Pollard and company with George Harrison’s guitar), “Shadow of the Bride” (go ahead, try not to sing along with the “I don’t know what to do” chorus), “When She’s Lost Your Mind” (sparkly psychedelia a la Mr. Hitchcock), “Levitate the Pentagon” (named for an actual plan to levitate and exorcise the Pentagon by hippie activists in 1967), and “Hey, Buster Keaton” (nice ode to the 1920s film comedian and a perfect melding of John Lennon with Jonathan Richman, with George showing up again for a guitar solo). The disc ends with the title track, “You’re A Star Tonight” – the Cheap Trick-esque one – give it some heavier drums and it coulda been an outtake from Heaven Tonight or Dream Police.
Disc two is entitled “Shattered Light” and portrays a much darker, moodier…uh, mood. Some of the songs (“Northwest Girl,” “Tearing Out the Roses”) are a bit Tom Waits-ish, if Tom sang without his trademark growl. At times Barton’s baritone even approaches the introspective darkness of Leonard Cohen (“I Count the Minutes” and the bluesy “Haunt Me Tonight“). There’s a cover of Sinatra’s “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” with very un-Sinatra jangle-guitars. The disc’s closer, “Stare at the Sun Tonight,” poses the question “Is the world what we make it, or does it make you and me?” Maybe a little of each…
On to disc three, “Before I Get Too Young.” With a full band including drummers Dave Scheff from Translator and Pete Thomas from Elvis Costello’s Attractions, Nelson Bragg on percussion, Derrick Anderson on bass, and Marvin Etzioni and Willie Aron (both of whom co-produced) on guitars, keyboards and vocals. “Wake Up in Roses” gets things off to a rousing start with a Lennon-fronting-the-Replacements vibe. “She Is the Girl” features Barton’s low-register again and some spooky-but-soulful organ toward the end. “Gimme Your Hand” would be at home on any Rolling Stones album, while the two-chord chorus of “Where Did I Go Wrong” and the psych-punky “Before I Get Too Young” are straight outta any 1960s garage. And speaking of the Stones, the band turns out a rather glam-rocky rendition of “Dandelion”…followed by the touching last track “I Fly,” an acronym for the irrefutable statement “I fuckin’ love you.” Now there’s a sentiment for Valentine’s Day!
Images courtesy pinterest.com, numbersnightclub.com, en.wikipedia.org, popdose.com, mapanare.us, etsy.com
“Before I Get Too Young” preview courtesy popdose.com
Note: the Romeo Void/Translator poster is actually from a Houston gig, but since it’s a cool period poster with both bands listed, there it is.