(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.