Once upon a time in the mid-seventies, there was a New York new wave band called The Shirts, sporting a sound that welded the guitars of Television to the keyboards and vocals of Elvis Costello & The Attractions. Formed in Brooklyn by Robert Racioppo and Artie Lamonica along with singer Annie Golden, the band gigged frequently at CBGB’s, and featured on two of the lengthier songs on the seminal Live at CBGB’s album. Their 1978 single “Tell Me Your Plans,” while remaining in the new wave underground here, went top five in Europe. Alongside several disbandings and reformings of The Shirts, songwriter/guitarist/vocalist Artie Lamonica is alive and well with his band Rome 56. Taking cues from later Shirts albums (2006’s Only the Dead Know Brooklyn and 2010’s The Tiger Must Jump), Rome 56 comes bounding into 2019 with a 5-track EP and an upcoming album.
Last summer the band toured the U.K. and the Netherlands, more recently finishing up a season-long residency at Sidewalk in NYC’s East Village on December 22. Performing an eclectic collection of stuff from their albums (spanning 1999’s Sacred Avenue through the present) along with a Shirts tune or two (the lively, trumpet-infused “Spanish Steps” from Only the Dead Know Brooklyn), plus the seasonal “Coming Home for Christmas,” Lamonica and company bedazzled the cozy group of fans with their cool, Costello-ish vibes. Speaking to Mr. Lamonica after the set, he wholeheartedly agreed with the EC comparisons.
Which brings us to Stranger on a Train, the latest Rome 56 offering. The EP kicks off with the urgent, guitar-driven title track and continues with the ominous “Coffin Song,” the catchy swing of the Kinks-like “Dirty Money,” and the timely “Web of Lies” (more Kinks influence – “Til the End of the Day” with sort of a Dire Straits feel, and the best of the five songs here). The band finishes up on the quiet side with “It’s Raining in Paris” (featuring keyboardist Kathy Lamonica on appropriately Parisian accordion). And if you missed any of their 2018 Sidewalk gigs, Rome 56 will be appearing there again January 25 at 7 pm. Come and check ’em out!
Images courtesy ffanzeen.blogspot.com, discogs.com, amazon.com, allmusic.com, itunes.apple.com, store.cdbaby.com
Rome 56 band photos by me