I never got to listen to Pet Sounds in its entirety, from start to finish, for the first time. Not in 1966 when it came out, and not in 1988 when I discovered many of its scintillating songs separately on a homemade compilation tape. In the meantime the album’s hits had made their way into my ears on their own. But in the mid-70s there were a couple of under-the-radar groups – Sparks and Wizzard – whose records I listened to all the way through having never heard them before (though I was familiar with a handful of their songs from the bands’ performances on rock TV shows). Those listening adventures were fun, funny, and fulla surprises!
Now take the Pet Sounds experience (what it might’ve been anyway), and add, say, the Propaganda and Introducing Eddy & The Falcons experiences – and you get something approaching my state of mind and ears listening to the twelve tracks on Backward Crooked from the Sunset, the new album by the Chandler Travis Three-O on Iddy Biddy Records. Fun? Completely. Funny? Yes, or perhaps more witty. Fulla surprises? At every turn. And like that beautiful (if slightly over-referenced) Beach Boys album, blossoming with lush instrumentation and haunting harmonies.
The lead-off title track bounces along with lyrics that set the scene: “Lost as lost can be.” “Happy Channy Oberek,” one of two instrumentals on the album, glides in and out with pleasant melodies played by Dixieland horns. The Johnny Cash-style beginning of “All the Little Things” is one of those smile-inducing moments – like when Roy Wood takes Del Shannon’s “Runaway” and, uh, runs away with it on “Everyday I Wonder.” “More Than This Night” features everything from gentle bells to a lovely clarinet passage to a Ray Davies-like chorus to a moody violin ending. The Kinks influence continues on “Settling for Less” – with perhaps the album’s most entertaining lyrical moments and more of that Travis trademark Dixieland. “Salad Days” offers some familiar melodies, including “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” (which I always equate with Alfalfa’s squeaky – and bubbly, haha – rendition on The Little Rascals). The album continues with the hilarious lullaby “Shut Up,” which Chandler describes as “chamber music for the insecure,” and the gorgeous grand finale “Not in Service.” But the centerpiece is the incredible “Disappointment,” which brings it all together with clever lyrics, minimal instruments, and then – with a Wilson-esque falsetto – lets loose with a middle section that simply soars.
The Chandler Travis Three-O evolved out of the much larger Chandler Travis Philharmonic (that ensemble’s Waving Kissyhead Vol. 2 & 1 was reviewed here), when Mr. Travis was invited to play at a couple of smaller venues in his native Cape Cod. Taking bassist John Clark and horns/keys guy Berke McKelvey (plus vocalist and “valet” Fred Boak, who “puts the ‘O’ in the Three-O” – go figure), a new creature was born, simultaneously more intimate and more adventurous. The band’ll be appearing somewhere in Massachusetts nearly every day this summer, so if you’re in the vicinity stop on by!
Images courtesy amazon.com, discogs.com, shop.chandlertravis.com, Cliff Spencer and Bethany Bultman/chandlertravis.com