Monday, August 3, 2009

SHELF LIFE # 1




(As monomaniacal as I might truly be, maintaining a blog of this high degree of purity and insight (heh-heh) gets wearying. I realize I have enough know-it-all-pallies, informormed buds, and sharp hipster connections, that I oughtta let one or two of you bring it on home occasionally. Here’s the basic premise: 1-3 concise paragraphs about a CD (or as we old schoolers still refer to it-an album) that wasn’t necessarily an all-timer, a Blonde on Blonde or a London Calling. Instead, spotlight a possible peripheral release that stands the test of time and delivers on its small promises, or simply executes succinctly and manages to remain on yer personal playlist--- a sideways record, an overlooked effort, a self-contained minor gem, ya know, a record that’s got Shelf Life. Send me your brilliant overview in simple word form, and I’ll post ‘em up, giving my avid and obsessive readers (heh-heh-heh) an occasional breather from the sound of one man pontificating.)


Sylvain Sylvain (RCA), 1979

Anyone who got a chance to catch the last New York Dolls tour had to sit up and take note of forever sparkplug Sly Sylvain, whose spirited presence and pure authenticity helped buoy every performance. Slyvain has long been the most underrated of Dolls, and even I, a long gone worshipper at the junkie alter of Johnny Thunders have often been guilty of giving good ol’ Syl short shrift. The truth is, Sylvain’s first release, the self titled Sylvain Sylvian, actually stands right next to the much vaunted and much more visible first post-Doll releases of his colleagues David Johansen and Thunders. I remember listening to it upon its release and immediately latching on to its simple but catchy tone and undeniable listenability—I just couldn’t (at the time) figure where it landed on the all important youthful Cool Measurement Scale. It just seemed, well, so un-Doll-like, and, yep, un-punk-like, it became a closet listening experience for me when I used to value style and choice over substance and attainment.

Syl’s assembled band includes three members of his Mr. David Jo Doll’s first band, bassist Buz Verno, guitarist Johnny Rao, and keyboardist Bobby Blain, alongside drummer Lee Crystal (Joan Jett) and sax man Jonathan Gerber. Syl, once again an often overlooked songwriter as a Doll, obviously brought a certain esprit to Thunders Keith Richards-gone-punk riff rock and David Jo’s ironic NYC twisting of the Chicago blues. His first solo effort is essentially a straightforward and heartfelt paean to Dion, the Brill Building, and the sweet sounds of 60’s girl groups, with a nod to The Rascals. Best of all, it is all delivered with an unabashed sincerity and unaffected straightforwardness, equally high-spirited and coolly retro, all of it done with a craftsman’s touch.

“Teenage News” the opener, is a bright dash and bash of pure pop, while the album’s most memorable song, “What’s That Got to do With Rock’n’Roll” is an ersatz Rock-Is-It declarative number that the likes of Dave Edmunds, Nick Lowe, or Brian Seltzer would kill to have written. “I’m So Sorry” could have (and should have) been a combative siren song belted out by Ronnie Spector or Nancy Sinatra, and boy, and it’s hard to believe that some sorta hipster filmmaker hasn’t grabbed it for a soundtrack by this point. “Without You” and “Every Boy and Every Girl” are sweetened nuggets written in the same vein (piano driven, do-wah-diddy background vocals, unblushing lovesick pop tales) while “14th Street Beat” is pure retro, but also pure New York, in a thoroughly unaffected way. “Deeper and Deeper” should have been delivered by Willie DeviIlle, another 60’s pop torch song woven with slightly updated stylistics. “Ain’t Got No Home is a decent take on the venerable Clarence Henry classic, nothing ventured, nothing gained, while “Tonight" is a saxophone-filled coda, a neat instrumental finale to a truly neat recorded offering. Tip of the hat to Egyptian-born Syl Mirhazi, epitomizer of one piece of the ever pounding New York sound puzzle, able precursor to the future punk rock sweepstakes, possessor of rock and roll true blood, with a debut solo you almost haveta dance to.

8 comments:

lambgiuse said...

Cheap Trick...live at Budokan. It is no secret that new super group Tinted Windows (members of Hansen, Foutains of Wayne and Smashing Pumpkins)picked this record's MVP Mr. Bun E. Carlos as their drummer. This record is what Green Day would like to sound like today.

mdoggie said...

What is about first borns that compel them to demand “the list of one”? I live with a first born who is always asking “If you could pick one food to eat, what would it be?” If you could choose death by burning or drowning, which one would you choose?” How about I choose to live, baby!. What is it about second borns that make it so difficult to choose the “one thing above all?”

Two solo albums by guys from mega-bands:

John Entwistle’s 1971 “Smash Your Head Against the Wall”; mostly for the title track and its absolutely killer bass line.

Keith Richard”s 1988 “Talk is Cheap”, although it features a number of decent songs including the single “Take it So Hard”, I choose it mostly for the transcendent irony of Keith’s hoarseness belting out “It’s a Struggle.”

Lately? Through the ultimate hipster portal of an NPR interview I have discovered Yo La Tengo, particularly 2000’s “And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out”. In the interview, they are compared to “The Velvet Underground” but for my money, I’d stack them next to another purveyor of the slow-but-sure burn (it’s called ‘slowcore’ according to Wikipedia); Low, from the frozen realm of Duluth, MN.

Scotty D said...

From a Chas Chesler e-mail:

It's like you wrote to me "Here, write something, but I'm gonna pick the album you were gonna write about". You *know* I love that first Syl album!!
Mark picked another one, "Smash Your Head Against The Wall", but my reason would be for the gonzo percussion section of Keith Moon, Viv Stanshall and Neil Inness on "No. 29 (Eternal Youth)"...Chas

Scotty D said...

From Raul Correa on Facebook:

Scott, thanks for writing about Sylvain Sylvain. I remember being at his Lupo's show surrounded by a bunch of disgruntled NY Dolls fans who weren't digging him at all. I still have that album and fond memories of dancing to it with my sister.

skylolo99 said...

Bob Dylan - Street Legal- critics thought it sucked but I still think it's great. He used a horn section and trio of sexy black women singing background. I don't think it's a coincidence that this is the album that came out before his conversion to fire and brimstone old time religion.
I think he climbed into something real evil and he needed to clean his damaged soul after he recorded this album.
Street Legal is dark and scary and full of demons, voodoo and blues ("I bit into the root of the forbidden fruit with the juice running down my leg"). In 'New Pony' he had a pony her name was Lucifer... And the colored girls sing, "How much longer? How much longer?" His whine is fine tuned with hints of tatteredness that now color his vocal pallette. Yes Street Legal is the one I choose. Great album cover too.

diane meloccaro said...

I saw Syl with a band he led and sang for called "The Roman Sandals" in 1984 at CBGB. It was a funk/rock project, and the drummer was this fantastic Latino girl who could really play! I never did find out if they recorded anything, but if they did, I would get it, because the show was probably the best thing I ever saw there!

DarrenH said...

I'll dust off "Rough Mix" by Pete Townhsend & Ronnie Lane. The leaders of two of my all time favorite bands take turns with each others songs backed by an all star WHO's who cast including Charlie Watts, Eric Clapton, John Entwistle, and Boz Burrell. I'm always surprised how many people aren't familiar with this record.

Some may suggest that neither of them have any business singing lead, but I happen to love the venerable quality of their voices - particularly Lane's. His beautiful back porch ballad "April Fool" (with Clapton on dobro) still floors me. As does "Heart To Hang Onto" with Lane taking the verses, Townshend the chorus to a chilling effect - complete with trademark Townsend slashing guitar and Entwistle brass arrangement.

mr. don of shaking said...

NRBQ released Tapdancin' Bats on Rounder in 1984 when they were in a pissing contest with Albert Grossman at Bearsville. Grossman didn't want them making any more records and wouldn't let them out of their contract. Hence, Tapdancin' is entirely stockpiled material, some of it dating back to 1972, nearly all of it weird and wonderful. The tracks don't exactly blend one to the next. They tumble, swurve and bend. It's a curvaceous record maybe. It's also the Q at their loopiest--with the infectious "Captain Lou," Donn Adam's addlepated lead vocal on "Dry Up and Blow Away," and Terry's equally cracked "Come on and Ride." There's the stuff you know from their shows too: "Ain't It all Right," "The Dough Got Low," "You Pretty Thing," and the surprisingly gritty "Big Goodbyes." Do yourself the favor of getting the deluxe edition with all 16 tracks.