Scribblers Music Review

Liturgy, “Reign Array.” I was impressed with this band’s song “Quetzalcoatl,” and this one is even more confident in its sacred/pop crossover style. Transcendent, even, in a sensory-overload manner I associate with the religious works of Mozart or Byrd. Yet noisy and sloppy, which makes it even more intriguing—and spiritual—for me. “Reign Array” is an 11-minute opus that has no intelligible vocals for its first third. It’s too loose to feel like an overture or symphony. It feels genuinely like underground church music. Masterful, intoxicating and a little scary, like any good organized religion. “Reign Array” is from the album The Ark Work, due out March 24 on Thrill Jockey.

R.I.P. Danny Schechter

The death of Schechter last week made me realize what a debt I must owe him. I can probably trace some of my own alt-journalist and activist pursuits directly to him. That’s because I listened avidly to WBCN-FM in Boston when I was a teenager, and never turned down the volume (as some of my friends did) when Schecter’s “News Dissector” broadcasts came on. He did longer news shows on Sunday morning, I seem to remember. I went to see him speak a few times, back then and later in life. He was a real celebrity to me. He personalized the news in a way which only the alternative print press was doing back then, and made me care about world events in a way I never had.
It was nice to read the obituaries and realize what a long full life he’d had, despite having to move on from one newscasting job to another as times and trends changed. He made notable documentaries, befriended world leaders and maintained his interests and values. I am living proof of those he deeply inspired along the way.
But back to that earlier point. News was a key part of the better FM radio stations the way news used to be a part of alternative weeklies. Schechter took that as a given. So do I. Wish more did.

Rock Gods #372: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

Jimmy O’Goblin & The Greengages met a bird one evening as they walked down the frog.
The band is one of the few that has played the Kid Nature Playground Preserve in Sparrowton. Greengage drummer Sten’s mother is an administrator at the park, and while the band is still, as they say, green, they were afforded all sorts of special attention for playing there. They were on a outdoor stage with lights and a great sound system on the park’s main drag, which is known as “the frog” because it apparently sounds better than “the green.” The audience included busloads of local grade-schoolers, dozens of Sparrowton staffers and several parrots. There was a lot of extraneous bird noise (and people noise—you know who you are) during the set, but the young, awestruck band did not mind in the least.
“We had a dressing room!,” gushed Jimmy. Technically it was a caretaker’s shack, its roof dripping with bird poop. But still a high-flying adventure.

Tonight: Kitten Heel & The Jellies at the Bullfinch… Patent at Hamilton’s; another science party… Peep Toe, Ruched, Shaft Height, and UV Absorptive at D’ollaire’s, all ages…

Scribblers Music Review

I’ve been feeling snowbound for months out here in the Connecticut countryside. Suddenly summer has started, now I’ve heard The Cool Whips album “Goodies.” I’ve been around for all the golden ages of bubblegum and power pop, and despair that the modern bands that dip into the genre now “just don’t get it.” Most of them are derivated of the already several-steps-removed Apples of Stereo. But the Cool Whips get it. They have the sound and the style, and they downplay the irony or nonconformity, playing songs like “Pink Lemonade” and “Tickle Me With a Featherduster” with straightforward chipper earnestness. They acknowledge their pop forbears with titles such as “Boom Shang-a-Lang” and “Move Over, Aphrodite.” But they also sound like their own band.

R.I.P. Michael Brown: Fifteen Best “Walk Away Renee” Covers

• Willie Loco Alexander and the Baboon Band. From the Boston Incest Album released by Sounds Interesting Records in 1980. Alexander was a keyboardist who dabbled in baroque pop himself with The Bagatelle back in the ‘60s.
• Billy Bragg. A story-song, using the “Walk Away” melody as the soundtrack. Stunning.
• The Four Tops. A genuine hit for the group, which they were still doing when I saw the last Levi Stubbs Tops tour in 1999.
• Arrows. Mid-‘70s British band who had the original hit with “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” in 1975. Their “Walk Away Renee” is very close to the Left Banke version, just a touch rockier. Heavier drum sound.
• Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes. Lush in ways Michael Brown did not consider: bluesy lead vocals, female backing vocals, melodic bass lines…
• Linda Ronstadt. Folksy, with prominent acoustic guitar and, I guess, cello.
• Vonda Shepard. If Nina Simone had covered this song, it might have gone like this. Rangy vocals and all piano.
• Gabor Szabo. Mournful instrumental classical-guitar rendition.
• Somerdale. Wondrous stadium-rock-anthem style version. Hard to know what to make of this; it’s just overwhelming.
• Les Fradkin. By changing a few inflections and scansions, Fradkin shows you how regimented the lyrics to this tune are. Then the guitar breaks free too.
• Terry Reid. Takes the whole thing apart and puts it back together as a Brit-blues exhibition.
Dummy. Loud and fast and gnarly. Kind of wrong.
• Alvin Stardust. Horribly dated—not in a baroque pop kind of way; in a ‘70s studio-pop tricks way.
• Willie Bobo. Hipster jazz rendition. Nothing baroque about this one.
• Karla DeVito and The Roches. Overblown production with soaring vocals and obtrusive horns.
Carol Noonan. Lyrical and sweet and slow.
• Jive Bunny and the Mixmasters. One of those “Stars on 45”-style medleys matched to a steady propulsive dancefloor beat. This one’s made up of Four Tops hits, including “Walk Away Renee.”

It should be noted that there’s a Louisiana band called Renee and The Walkaways, and a 2011 documentary titled Walk Away Renee, about a road trip the filmmaker Jonathan Caouette takes with his mother Renee.
Interesting that most, though hardly all, covers of “Walk Away Renee” choose to retain the violins. Yes, the original coined the whole concept of baroque pop, but the song itself is rather straightforward and could be taken in a number of directions.