Simon & Garfunkel – The Essential Simon & Garfunkel

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

My first Simon & Garfunkel album was (a dubbed copy of) The Concert In Central Park. For many years, this was the only Simon & Garfunkel I owned, so it was a shock to me later when I heard the studio versions (and also when I learned that the Simon solo songs from the show were not Simon & Garfunkel songs). I still think of the Central Park versions as the relevant lodestars. One more thing. Simon & Garfunkel released five studio albums. They employed an ampersand for the first two (Wednesday Morning, 3AM; Sounds of Silence), switched to an “and” for the third (Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme), reverted to the elegant symbol for Bookends, and then ended things back on the “and” (Bridge Over Troubled Water). This ambivalence – or carelessness – is fucking inexcusable. Just so you know, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel met in elementary school and started out as a duo called Tom & Jerry.

What I Think of This Album

It turns out that you don’t really need that much Simon & Garfunkel. I assume any Greatest Hits comp should suit almost anyone’s needs. This one is fine. Notably (and properly), it pulls almost half of its 33 tracks from Bookends and Bridge Over Troubled Water. And even then it cheats because the final song – “My Little Town” – is not really a Simon & Garfunkel song and they use a live version of “Overs” instead of the studio version from Bookends. So really, they use 17 songs from two albums out of a total of 32 legitimate Simon & Garfunkel songs. Frustratingly, they end up having to split the Bookends tracks across the two discs.

Implicit in this decisionmaking is that much of the early stuff is pretentious crap. I don’t know who decided to group “A Most Peculiar Man,” ”I Am a Rock,” and “Richard Cory” together – I sort of hope it was a cruel joke – but it makes me want to say “I. Get. It. Let’s move on to a different theme, please. Message received.” Also, “A Dangling Conversation” is embarrassingly terrible and all my life I have HATED “Scarborough Fair/Canticle.”

The best of the early stuff is obviously “The Sound of Silence,” “Homeward Bound,” and “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” and even this last one is sort of a squeaker. Which is not to absolve the later material. Paul Simon is consistently an affected wannabe poet. “Overs” is silly and “Bookends Theme” is stuffy. “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” would be more annoying if it wasn’t so boring.

Bookends is an album that one could arguably justify owning (and I did at one point). “Hazy Shade of Winter” is fantastic, and I love “At the Zoo” (especially the harmony near-scream towards the end). “Mrs. Robinson” (later covered by the Lemonheads) is unbeatable and “Old Friends” is pretty good. “America” is also a stone-cold classic – just gorgeous. But again, you could just get a comp and make things easy and more economical for yourself.

There are a lot of live tracks on this – eight – but none of them is a song that matters. Some of the early material was produced by Bob Johnston (Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, the Byrds) and Tom Wilson (Dylan, the Velvet Underground, Sun Ra).

The Best Thing About This Album

Making me realize that Simon & Garfunkel are overrated.

Release Date

October, 2003

The Cover Art

Did somebody order somebody else to find the picture of Simon and Garfunkel in which each of them has the worst haircut of their life?

Shout Out Louds – Howl Howl Gaff Gaff

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 1)

I haven’t followed this band in the way that I should have – third album Work sort of stopped me cold – and that is on me, because Shout Out Louds (there is no The on the album art, so . . . ) make wonderful music. Formed in Stockholm around 2001, the band consists of three childhood friends – Adam Olenius, Ted Malmros, and Carl von Arbin – and two newcomers, keyboardist Bebban Stenborg and drummer Eric Edman. They had a debut EP by 2003 and Howl Howl Gaff Gaff came out two years later (though a different version with the same title was released in Scandinavian countries in 2003).

What I Think of This Album

If you are particularly stingy and brittle-hearted, you could say this album is basically a collection of eleven different variations on the Cure’s “Close to Me” and “In Between Days.” And if you said that, I admit I would laugh. And then I would punch you in the throat, you joyless fucker.

This is an exuberant and exciting burst of Scandinavian indie pop, and it may be one of my favorite albums. It’s just so goddamn colorful and radiant. I particularly love the slight rasp in Adam Olenius’s voice. 

Like any proper Scandinavian art, there is a strong element of lyrical melancholy that provides a nice counterbalance to the thrilling sounds and bloodrush delivery. Somehow, Shout Out Louds have created the happiest sad music ever. Relatedly, I feel like this quintet was at least partial inspiration for the Pains of Being Pure at Heart.

The band’s firework energy would mean little if it wasn’t harnessed to strong songwriting. If energy is all you want, I have some football chants you might enjoy. No, SOL’s brilliance is in their ability to also craft charming melodies with an immediacy that makes them feel like long-lost classics and to arrange the songs in a way that keeps you engaged and craving repeat listens. 

The keyboard work of Bebban Stornborg (particularly on “100°” (I had to research how to do that degrees symbol and I am fucking stoked that I found it)) is undoubtedly critical, perhaps even responsible for the sound of strings (there is no string section credited but that doesn’t mean anything). Beyond that, drummer Eric Edman (and guest drummer Stellan von Reybekie) is nimble and adept. There is well-placed feedback, fuzz bass, xylophone, wah-wah guitar, melodica, some kind of glockenspiel or something, and a lot of other little touches that add sparkle and glitter. 

As this album is cobbled together, there are multiple producers and mixers, but one of them is Björn Yttling of Peter, Bjorn, and John.

This is low key one of my favorite albums.

The Best Thing About This Album

The exhilaration.

Release Date

October, 2003 (Scandinavia); May, 2005 (International)

The Cover Art

You know what? It’s not bad. If this was the cover of a book in my elementary school library, I would totally read it. The shade of green and the placement of the text on my copy is a little different (i.e., more of a forest green and left justified (but not the Gaff Gaff line))

The Essex Green – The Long Goodbye

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 1)

A little-known but wonderful trio, the Essex Green are humble practitioners of the pop arts. Originally from Vermont, where they played as Guppyboy, the threesome of Sasha Bell, Chris Ziter, and Jeff Baron decamped to Brooklyn and became the Essex Green in 1997. Invited to join the Elephant 6 collective, they issued their first album in 1999. The band also had cross-membership in the Ladybug Transistor and worked with Saturnine, a band that included Baron’s sister, Jennifer. As far as day jobs went, at least at some point Bell worked in documentary filmmaking, Baron did recording work, and Ziter was in web design.

What I Think of This Album

Yes, The Long Goodbye borrows heavily from the past, as the Essex Green updates classic ‘60s sounds – from folk-pop to chamber-pop to sunny California pop – but the band does more than just engage in retro exercises. The three have forged an identity on this album, and done so with sufficient self-possession to satisfy fans and sideline detractors. In fact, sometimes it seems like they are showing off and you know what, fucking good for them.

The band flexes its muscles early with the surprising “By the Sea,” which evokes gently rolling English hills with a bucolic flute part and angelic harmonies backing Sasha Bell’s distinctive and sweet lead vocal. Partway through, though, an unexpectedly aggressive lead guitar part appears and the flute part becomes more Summer of Love, leading to a veritable jam that would’ve rocked Golden Gate Park in 1969.

“The Late Great Cassiopia” is the standout out tune, with a Moe Tucker-influenced tom pattern (not a single cymbal is struck during this song, thank god) and a guitar riff that I would murder a close friend for. Bell once again does the honors on vocals, invoking the titular (though misspelled) constellation, New York magazine, and words of deeply romantic devotion. This wasn’t the song that made me fall in love with this band, but every time I hear it, I fall in love with them all over again.

Bell continues to dominate on “Our Lady In Havana,” which unfortunately is not a spy story (please return to this blog for more Graham Greene jokes), but very fortunately benefits from a spooky organ part and impressive supporting string work. Bell is again in the spotlight on the wonderful “Southern States,” offering perhaps her best vocal turn on the album.

The martial “Lazy May” employs an appealing rhyme scheme and heralds a return of the tougher guitar sound, at times evoking the Smiths’ “Sweet and Tender Hooligan.” I think it’s Chris Ziter singing lead, with Bell taking care of harmonies. I can’t say I love “Julia,” also with Ziter (presumptively) on vocals, but it’s also not a bad song.

The trio evokes a trippy, quasi-ecclesiastical Byrds/Band hybrid on “Old Dominion,” with some gorgeous harmonies. “Sorry River” is a lovely tune carried more than capably by Bell, whose voice continues to be a revelation. “Chartiers” is another thoughtful and melancholy pop song, with Ziter offering a tale of love lost (and referencing Chicago).

The band cannot capitalize lyrically on the promising joke of “The Whetherman,” but that doesn’t detract at all from a truly beautiful song, enhanced by strings and steered by Bell’s excellent vocal.

The band carefully constructs “The Boo Hoo Boy,” a meticulously arranged song which Ziter does a nice job with, eventually trapping listeners in its insistent swirl. Closing things out is “Berlin,” a simple and straightforward love song with Bell and ZIter harmonizing perfectly.

Apparently there is a version of this album that contains a short, alleged reprise of “The Boo Hoo Boy,” which references yet another Graham Greene work (The Quiet American), but I don’t have that on my copy. Also, the music publishing is credited to Quiet American Songs. And, album title The Long Goodbye is a Raymond Chandler book (and related movie starring Elliot Gould), so someone in this band really likes the detective/mystery genre.

Gary Olson of the Ladybug Transistor was involved in the recording. Thanked in the liner notes are Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballard of Superchunk (but more relevantly, heads of the Merge label, home of the Essex Green).

The Best Thing About This Album

“The Late Great Cassiopia” is a joy.

Release Date

May, 2003

The Cover Art

Sasha Bell’s comically chaste outfit, complete with flute, and the stuffy, self-important demeanor of Jeff Baron and Chris Ziter propel the New England boarding school scene depicted here to unsurpassed heights. I can’t tell if this is supposed to be a joke or not, but regardless, I really enjoy it. The use of red, black, and white is excellent; not sure about the bird image.

The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir – I Bet You Say That to All the Boys

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 1)

A Chicago band from the 2000s that brought a welcome dose of melody, humor, and sophistication to the Midwest, the Scotland Yard Gospel Choir released three albums before being ended by a serious (but non-fatal) car accident in 2009. Elia Einhorn and Matthew Kerstein formed the band in 2001, gradually adding on members. Einhorn in particular was recovering from a history of serious substance abuse (referenced in several SYGC songs) and found purpose and reward in creating music. The SYGC quickly garnered a lot of critical and media attention, which I only wish had translated into greater success.

What I Think of This Album

So, somehow I jumped from the SA part of my collection straight to the SE part, completely skipping over the SCs and not noticing until I was done drafting the Sex Pistols review. I wish I could say I don’t know how that happened, but I know exactly how it happened, and while I will continue to insist that I do in fact have a strong familiarity with the alphabet, I can admit to an organizational hiccup and some lack of attention. Anyway, on to (finally) the Scotland Yard Gospel Choir.

The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir is basically an earthier, American version of Belle and Sebastian. At least on this album, which is something of an outlier in their catalog, the SYGC celebrates the roughness around the edges, being much less concerned than their Scottish inspiration about creating a pristine (not to say precious) sound. And, putting lie to my description, the songwriting and singing contributions of soon-to-be-departed founding member Matthew Kerstein create some tension within the album, as he takes more of a troubadourian, Dylanesque approach whereas as Elia Einhorn is mostly in the indie/chamber pop camp. In other words, you can tell whose songs are whose on this album.

Kerstein supplies six of the fourteen tunes here, and in general he is the more earnest and serious of the two main songwriters. Even when Kerstein employs the more orchestral approach of his partner, such as on “Bet You Never Thought It Would Be Like This,” the overall mood and tone is downcast and somber. He is capable of bringing energy, as demonstrated by the surging, carnal “She Just Wants to Move,” but even then, there is little joy in his work. 

Two harmonica parts color the tale of questioning and lost bearings that is “Mother’s Son,” easily Kerstein’s best song here. There is a surprising bit of moralizing in “Along the Way,” when Kerstein sings “No one set out to be an unwed mother,” comparing it to being a drunk driver or an adulterous partner. This jarring lyric throws off an otherwise heartfelt and apologetic plea for understanding.

Einhorn on the other hand demonstrates a playfulness and sense of humor, though this leaves him open to the comparisons with Belle and Sebastian and the Smiths. That said, the melodies, lyrics, and arrangements are wonderful, and Einhorn infuses his songs with heart, making it all sound fresh. His greatest accomplishment is probably the frothy “Topsy Turvy,” with its colorful organ chords and an insouciant, tinny synthetic drum part. “Topsy Turvy” and a few other tracks (such as the zippy “Ellen’s Telling Me What I Want to Hear” – a song presumably about bandmate Ellen O’Hayer and the folky “I Say the Stupidest Things Sometimes”) manage to create their own identity, proving that Einhorn can create compelling songs using familiar ingredients. “Fan Club” is also a standout, with key additions from flugelhorn, Rhodes piano, and cello, and notable for, perhaps with a wink, explicitly namechecking Stuart Murdoch (Belle and Sebastian) and Tracyanne Campbell (Camera Obscura).

Less original are “Jennie That Cries,” which sounds like a hidden track on If You’re Feeling Sinister, and the similar pastiche of “I Know a Girl.” But even in these songs, you can tell that Einhorn is capable of more than mimicry. “Girl,” for example, employs some grounded, gospel-like background vocals (by the Gospellettes, of course) that add character.

The SYGC would repurpose “Tear Down the Opera House” later, but here it exists in rough, almost punkish form. It’s not a style that meshes well with the rest of the album but the lyrics are great (“So tear down the opera house / There’s nothing there for me, only beauty / And I don’t think that’s very appropriate here”) and it’s nice to hear the band get a little messy.

Special props to cellist/vocalist O’Hayer, who contributes the sweet “Would You Still Love Me If I Were In a Knife Fight?” (though it is spooky to hear the prescient verse “I would still love you / If you were in a car crash / Your glasses smashed / Your hair a mess with broken glass”). This is a lovely and delicate song that stands alone on the album, avoiding both the solemnity of Kerstein and the archness of Einhorn.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Topsy Turvy” is both fun and good, though a close second is all the explicit Chicago references in the lyrics throughout the album: the Brown Line, the Art Institute, Symphony Center.

Release Date

October, 2003

The Cover Art

I’m a big fan of the monochrome, saturated cover photo on principle (which the Smiths did well and Belle and Sebastian not so much), but this one goes wide of the mark. It’s lacking in sharpness and definition and seems more like an accidental photo (not even a candid), giving it all a haphazard quality.

Sea Ray – Stars At Noon

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Another lost classic from the ‘90s, Sea Ray’s second and final LP is a true joy. The band was born in Brooklyn in 1997 and self-released a self-titled album that year. They snagged Tobin Sprout (Guided By Voices) to produce a subsequent EP and started generating buzz; this album followed in 2003. I have no idea what happened after that. As of the time of Stars at Noon, the band consisted of Anne Brewster on cello, Colin Brooks behind the kit, I-Huei Go playing the bass, Jeff Shienkopf on keyboards, Jordan Warner singing and playing guitar, and Greg Zinman on guitar. Go has written for the New Yorker and the Observer, and is a schoolteacher. Sheinkopf eventually joined Longwave. Zinman taught at NYU and Georgia Tech, is a curator, and is the author of many works relating to art. Brooks drummed for a bunch of bands, including Samiam.

What I Think of This Album

Cosmic without being druggy, lush without being shoegaze, chamber pop without being precious, and serious without being earnest, Sea Ray’s Stars At Noon album is a resplendent and distinctive work. It’s easy to overcredit the cello and keyboards for making these songs special, but for all their importance, their sounds only resonate because they hang on well-crafted songs ripe with melody and propelled by Warner’s vocals.  

“Sister Gone” is graceful and forceful, like a waterspout making its way to the shore. “Revelry” benefits from the viola of guest Beth Hondl, and this track swells and moves like the giant wave on the cover of Ride’s Nowhere album. How much water imagery can I employ in this review of Sea Ray? We shall sea.

There is a decidedly indie-rock sound to “Quiver,” which is considerably more spiky and dangerous than the surrounding tracks, but the sparkling keyboards and creaking cello help to make it more than just another attempt by a New York band to be dark and moody. The emphatic “LaLaLand” is also on the more rockin’ end of the spectrum, with fine work from drummer Colin Brooks and either fuzz bass or keyboards.

The band returns to its more gentle and melodic strengths with the strange “Stray Dog’s Got It Made,” which references bullets, war, pistol-whipping, “a killing machine,” and sleeping exposed to the elements. “Swear to Your Face” is a compelling ballad, in which Go’s bass provides a strong undertow while Brewster’s cello skims the surface (though I am pretty sure I hear viola in there, too). 

The best song is the fascinating and poppy “Nicholas Ray,” which is definitely about the film director (and also name-checks executive Jack Warner and actor-spouse (to Ray) Gloria Grahame). On top of its supreme melodicism, it also boasts lines like “We’re from New York, not Beverly Hills / And I ain’t ever lost a fight.” Every member of the band makes a crucial contribution to this enchanting song, and guest Anna Quimby adds flute.  

Hondl returns on the melancholic and beautiful “Forge Utopia,” and the album ends with “Hall of Fame,” a brooding and layered piece that erupts into an impressively dense squall. The only flaw with this album is that it is too short at just nine songs. 

Recording and production duties were handled by Peter Katis (producer of Interpol and the National) and Pete Min (engineer for Longwave).

The Best Thing About This Album

The unique sound.

Release Date

October, 2003

The Cover Art

I can’t tell if there are five or six figures on the cover; there are six band members so I hope they did this right. I do appreciate the water shot and the sun sparkling on the waves, but the greenish color scheme is off somehow, and the text looks like it was placed without much thought.

Saturday Looks Good to Me – All Your Summer Songs

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

On the list of all the things I expect from Saturday Looks Good to Me, ontological questions do not rank. Yet, here we are. This is technically SLGTM’s fourth album, I believe. But the first three had such constrained releases that they were basically impossible to find. All Your Summer Songs is on Polyvinyl, which, while still a small indie, at least has some effective distribution, arguably making this the first reasonably available SLGTM album. So, if your albums cannot be found or purchased, do they even count as albums?

What I Think of This Album

Uh, the first song has no title? It’s not even titled “Untitled.” On the track listing, next to the numeral 1, it’s just blank. I guess I should be grateful Fred Thomas mustered the willpower to title the remaining 12 songs. With few exceptions, this baker’s dozen of tunes is very appealing.

“Ambulance” reappears in a fuller, duet version and while a great song no matter what, I much prefer the original. “The Sun Doesn’t Want to Shine” is a somber, Thomas-sung tearjerker that he doesn’t really have the chops to pull off. The same problem infects the title track as well as final song “Last Hour,” which otherwise would’ve been a nice and sparkly little number. This is the sum total of the disappointments on the disc.

Everything else is great, relying on Thomas’s exceptional lyrics, accomplished melodic sense, and production techniques borrowed from Phil Spector and Berry Gordy. We also get a lyric sheet, which I always appreciate, though it is out of order, which I always disdain. 

“Meet Me By The Water” and “Underwater Heartbeat” share an aquatic theme, but little else (apart from great melodies and charming vocals). The former is wrapped in an echoey, reverb-heavy beach towel, featuring some dub-like effects, and the latter is neat, horn-flecked Motown pastiche nearly undone by an unconvincing “fucking” thrown in for no reason. 

“Caught” is delicate as crystal, and one could imagine the Crystals singing it. I believe it is Detroit hero Matthew Smith (Outrageous Cherry) who sings lead on the excellent “No Good With Secrets,” which could actually work very well as an Outrageous Cherry song (minus the strings and twinkly percussion). Possibly the best song here is “Alcohol,” with a surprisingly nasty guitar tone that will clear your sinuses and some Zombies-esque drumming, as well as horn accents and a fine vocal.

Putting up a good fight for the crown on this album is “Typing,” a tender, broken-hearted ballad that the vocalist delivers with an expert mix of sadness, empathy, and sweetness, against a backdrop of woodwinds and lightly clattering drums. Janglified “You Work All Weekend” frankly needs a better singer than Thomas, but even his pitchy performance can’t distract from the song’s excellent melody, construction, and arrangement. Amateurish voice aside, Thomas’s talent is undeniable and galvanizing.

This is all the more apparent on the bouncy, Motown meets Spector “Ultimate Stars,” with a violin spine upon which the (many) other instruments depend, a James Jamerson bass part, and a critical tambourine element.

This time, the credits actually identify the musicians by contribution. Which is helpful when there are 28 of them, including 11 vocalists. Among the vocalists are the aforementioned Outrageous Cherry mastermind Matthew Smith, Tara Jane O’Neil (Rodan, the Sonora Pine), Karla Schickele (Ida), Elizabeth Mitchell (Ida), Erika Hoffman (Godzuki, His Name Is Alive), Jessica Bailiff, Cynthia Nelson (Naysayer, Retsin), and Ted Leo. Warn Defever (His Name Is Alive) helped with mixing.

The Best Thing About This Album

The melodies sound good to me.

Release Date

March, 2003

The Cover Art

I don’t love it but i think it’s fine. Love the polka dots and the pointilist graphics. The yellow is okay, though the rest of the colors don’t work for me, and I think the composition is a little weird. I also hate the font – very disco.

Dressy Bessy – Dressy Bessy

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 4)

This is the album that made me fall in love with this band. Only after listening to their other albums, both those that came before and the ones that followed, did the unique nature of Dressy Bessy fully reveal itself. I can’t think of another indie band that got harder and louder as its members aged – it’s usually the other way around. But this is the first time that Dressy Bessy sounds tough. Granted, they took it too far on the next two albums before course correcting with the excellent Kingsize, but this self-titled masterpiece is where Tammy Ealom and Co. turned the corner to become a powerhouse.

What I Think of This Album

While there are several great Dressy Bessy albums, this is the best one. Tammy Ealom’s melodies have never been sharper and John Hill’s guitar is grittier and displays more bite than ever before. The sound just explodes from the speakers, bringing to mind the cover art of singles comp Little Music.

Dripping with attitude and distorted riffs, Dressy Bessy sounds like a statement of purpose, suggesting that the band was tired of being both handcuffed to its twee origins and dismissed as a lesser light in the Elephant 6 collective. Well, this is definitely harder than most twee, and the band more than distinguishes itself as a capable, powerful, creative unit.

I will never get enough of the intro to “Just Once More,” which has to be one of my favorite beginnings of an album ever, with a rapid eighth note guitar strum leading to a simple quarter note riff by bassist Rob Greene and a second, distorted guitar, which then releases Greene to a deliriously hyperactive line. At key times, Hill does short Neil Young guitar impressions, carefully controlling the chaos he is on the verge of unleashing. And the way the band takes the momentum from the refrain of “it goes on and on” and resolves it is masterful. The band chunks its way into “The Things That You Say That You Do,” and as Ealom coos her way through the song, drummer Darren Albert surprises with rapid snare rolls.

Ealom is equal parts sassy and vulnerable on “Baby Six String” and Hill modulates his feedback expertly on the bridge, bringing it back to a melodic but distorted lead part. Speaking of modulation, Ealom does impressive things with her voice on the dark and taunting “This May Hurt A Little,” singing the title phrase less like a warning and more like a delicious blood oath. The band powers its way through the thick, syrupy “Georgie Blue,” with Hill kicking out short distorted riffs, and the little bit of studio verité at the end is fun. Ealom’s multi-tracked vocals lead the way on gnarly “Girl, You Shout!” and Hill continues his showcase with tidal waves of distortion and vicious squalls of lead guitar. “Hey May” is more of the same, with a melody that wouldn’t have been out of place on the debut, but never with this arrangement or delivery.

The weakest song here is “New Song (From Me to You)” and even then, it sports an enjoyable baseball reference. DeeDee Ramone would be proud of the count-in to spiky “Better Luck,” with by-now-fully-expected fireworks from Hill. “Blinktwice” starts out sounding like an attempt by Herman’s Hermits to be the Stooges and that’s not any sort of criticism, but in any event, Ealom eventually makes it her own through her creative delivery. Closing song “Tidy” is as good as the other eight outstanding songs on this album, with a wonderful second half that includes Keith Moon rolls and meaty riffing.

Chris Ziter of the Essex Green was one of the recording engineers; Britt Myers (Aimee Mann, Essex Green, Mates of State) was the other. My CD came with a bonus DVD that I’ve watched once. This is again on the Kindercore label.

The Best Thing About This Album

John Hill’s guitar work overshadows even Tammy Ealom’s excellent songwriting and assured vocals.

Release Date

August, 2003

The Cover Art

Ealom provided the artwork. I like this a lot – psychedelic but soft but also intense.

Dressy Bessy – Little Music (Singles 1997-2002)

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 3)

I most recently saw Dressy Bessy in 2019 at the newish Sleeping Village, which for all its hipster design, has a very poor sounding room. The stage is in what is essentially a (surprisingly) large bunker (probably the size of the first floor of Lincoln Hall; bigger than Schuba’s room; comparable to all of the combined space at the Empty Bottle), and the problem is that if a band does not fill up the room, then the sound just bounces off all the hard surfaces. Dressy Bessy was loud and unfortunately cannot draw to fill that venue, and so the concert was a little disappointing that way. But Tammy Ealom and Co. were fun and full of energy. Much better was their show at the aforementioned Empty Bottle a few years earlier.

What I Think of This Album

An excellent singles collection via the Kindercore label, Little Music succeeds in showing how consistent Dressy Bessy has been over the years. From their first single to the 2002 demo of album track “Tidy,” Dressy Bessy produces fun and fuzzy songs that you can’t help but sing along to.

Annoyingly sequenced out of order, the compilation nonetheless nicely fills in the gaps between the first three studio albums. Even though this collects mostly unrelated songs (three of them come from the same single) spanning five years, the overriding Dressy Bessy aesthetic comes through, and you could be forgiven for mistaking this for a studio album.

There are a lot of endearing moments on this album:  Tammy Ealom provides her own counter-melodious backing vocals on the winking “Lipstick;” the delightful keyboard flourishes on “All the Right Reasons;” the chintzy version of “Tidy;” the interplay between the instruments and Ealom on opener “Live to Tell All;” and the grit in John Hill’s guitar tone on “Said You Would.” I should note that bassist Rob Greene plays highly melodic lines throughout, including a lead role on “2 My Question.” Do not sleep on this little compendium.

The Best Thing About This Album

Plant a big kiss on “Lipstick.”

Release Date

March, 2003

The Cover Art

Pretty cool, actually. My only . . . observation . . . is that it’s difficult to tell what the album title is exactly.

The Tyde – Twice

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I don’t remember if I learned about the Tyde or Beachwood Sparks first. Regardless, I ended up getting rid of that second Beachwood Sparks album (despite an excellent cameo by J Mascis on “Yer Selfish Ways”) and keeping my two Tyde albums. The Tyde originally consisted of three Beachwood Sparks members – bassist Brent Rademaker, guitarist Dave Scher, and Christopher Gunst (who played guitar with Beachwood Sparks but drums in the Tyde) – along with brother Darren Rademaker and his former spouse Ann Do, as well as guitarist Ben Knight. Gunst left after the first album and was replaced by Velvet Crush drummer Ric Menck, while Scher was demoted to guest by the second album. The first three Tyde albums, by the way, are titled Once, Twice, and Three’s Company. I only ever listened to the second and third ones.

What I Think of This Album

I like how California can be the home of hardcore punk like Black Flag and Fear and also the birthplace of laid back, surf-focused bands like the Tyde (to say nothing of other Golden State variants).

“Shortboard City” sounds like something the Flying Burrito Brothers would have come up with if you’d locked them in a room with the entire Jan and Dean discography for a week. Like the best songs on this album, it has the loose, raggedy feel of people who are playing music simply for the fun of it. The rueful, ruminative “A Loner” succeeds in large part due to Ann Do’s keyboards and Darren Rademaker’s laconic vocals.

I have a difficult time not thinking of Herman’s Hermits when I see song title “Henry VIII,” which is otherwise an uptempo, jangly slice of pop with sardonic, almost Lou Reed-ish vocals. “Go Ask Yer Dad” is a lush and snappy country-rock number (despite the new wave keyboards), while “Best Intentions” is a fatalistic but generous ballad about human frailty, combining country-rock with spacey atmospherics (not unlike Beachwood Sparks).

The band mixes a British indie sound with their country inclinations on “Crystal Canyons” (featuring nice organ work from Do). “Takes A Lot of Trying” is a prophetic title, as this annoying blues-rock distraction fails epically. “Memorable Moments” marries Rentals-keyboards to jangly guitars and a pulsing bass, with an appealing melody and Rademaker’s warm vocals.

There is a bitter undercurrent to ambivalent “being in a band” song “Blood Brothers,” which is gently brooding until Rademaker turns up the intensity towards the end with some emphatic emoting. The British influence arises again on shoegaze-inspired “New D,” which ends the album with droney panache.

The three recording engineers share a complicated history:  Anton Newcombe (Brian Jonestown Massacre) and Hunter Crowley both played with the Warlocks, while Rob Camranella/Campanella was also in the Brian Jonestown Massacre.

The Best Thing About This Album

The mix of country, surf, and British indie.

Release Date

2003

The Cover Art

This works for me in a serious way.

Dion – Greatest Hits

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I’ve been going through the D section and the T section at the same time, and wow, do I have a lot of compilations. They really slow me down in doing this work. Work which no one asked me to do, I realize. Still, every now and then I need to complain a little. Dion’s music was something I first encountered probably in middle school, but maybe elementary school, very likely on oldies radio that a bus driver played. At some point, I started listening to oldies radio on my own, and at one point, even immersed myself in the American Graffiti soundtrack. By the time I got this disc, I really only knew “Runaround Sue,” “A Teenager In Love,” and “The Wanderer,” but it seemed enough to justify the purchase. Dion DiMucci was born in New York in 1939 and as a teen, sang on street corners and in social clubs with friends. He found some early professional success on his own and then recruited three neighborhood friends to join him and they became Dion and the Belmonts. The group was part of the Winter Dance Party tour in 1959 with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens; Dion turned down an opportunity to fly with those two on the plane that ended up crashing. He embarked on a solo career in 1960, though by 1964, that was on the slide. There were a couple of reunions with the Belmonts, and he cut an album with Phil Spector in 1975, and then he turned to recording Christian music in the late ‘70s. By the 1980s, other artists began to acknowledge him as an influence – Springsteen, Lou Reed, and Paul Simon, for example – and he recorded a comeback album in 1989 produced by Dave Edmunds (Rockpile). He has since worked with various artists, including Richard Barone (the Bongos).

What I Think of This Album

Obviously, this is way too much Dion. Less obviously, there is more here than “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer” to enjoy. It should be noted that this is a poor career overview:  it focuses on his ‘60s work and has a couple of songs (one a cover) post-1988, but all his ‘70s material is missing. Whatever – sometimes you just have to accept what life gives you.

If you listen to “The Wanderer” and “Runaround Sue” together, the songs’ regressive gender politics (or the era’s regressive gender politics or, you know, the country’s regressive gender politics) become very clear. Dion the peripatetic lover boasts of carrying on with multiple women about whom he cares nothing (“I kiss ‘em and I love ‘em / ‘Cause to me they’re all the same / I hug ‘em and I squeeze ‘em / They don’t even know my name”); Dion the cuckolded suitor, on the other hand, bitterly drags his ex’s name through the mud because “Sue goes out with other guys.” If you can get past that, the songs themselves are marvelous.

Dion’s gritty lead on “The Wanderer” is cushioned by the smooth backing harmonies of the Del-Satins, and the sax solo is appropriately raunchy. Springsteen and Dave Edmunds have covered this song. There is some suggestion that the “I’m going nowhere” line is supposed to convey the narrator’s self-awareness of his empty existence – and the fact that the backing vocals and the instruments drop out at that moment, leaving Dion exposed, lends some credence to that interpretation – but if that’s the case, then Dion blows it with his delivery, which doesn’t communicate any change in attitude as compared to the rest of the song. “Runaround Sue” was the earlier hit, from 1961. The handclaps, the backing vocals, and Dion’s scatting place this firmly in the doo wop tradition. Dion’s rapid-fire delivery against a backdrop of the Del-Satin’s vocals and a much more subtle sax part help make this a monster song. “Sue” was co-written by Dion and Ernie Maresco, while Maresco is solely responsible for “The Wanderer.”

The early tracks on this compilation are very much doo wop, the best of which is the classic  “A Teenager In Love,” though bass workout “I Wonder Why” certainly has its charms. “Teenager” was written by the Brill Building team of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman (who also wrote “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “This Magic Moment,” and “(Marie’s the Name of) His Latest Flame”). This song has been covered by Lou Christie and Bob Marley. “Lonely Teenager” is thoroughly enjoyable, with uncredited female backing vocals.

Dion also had hits with “Lovers Who Wander” (with more doo wop scatting, and not all that different from “Runaround Sue”); toxic “Little Diane” (“I wanna pack and leave and slap your face / Bad girls like you are a disgrace”)  – is that a fucking kazoo in there? – and “Love Came to Me.” As an aside, am I surprised that Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo covered “Little Diane?” No, because Pinkerton is one of the most misogynistic albums I have ever heard.

Dion likewise had success with Leiber and Stoller’s “Ruby Baby” (on which he does a sort of Elvis impersonation) and with the awkwardly titled “Donna the Prima Donna” (which itself is a reworking, at least thematically, of “Runaround Sue”).

The orchestral pop of “Abraham, Martin, and John” is a surprise in the context of all this doo wop. This was a hit for Dion in 1968 (also covered by Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye). The hokey and misguided lyrical conceit – a tribute to Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy – could only have come out of 1960’s America. That song was written by Dick Holler, who as a member of Dick Holler and the Holidays, released the first recording of the excellent “Double Shot (of My Baby’s Love),” which was a 1966 hit for the Swingin’ Medallions.

Dion does a very credible cover of Springsteen’s “If I Should Fall Behind” (which reminds me a little of “Stand By Me”). Dion raided the Brill Building in 1963 for Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s “This Little Girl.”

Dion worked with studio musicians for his songs. Among them were drummer Panama Francis (who played on hits by the Platters, the Four Seasons, Jackie Wilson, and, uh, Bobby Darin); MacHouston Baker, who was part of Mickey & Sylvia; and jazz bassist (and photographer) Milt Hinton (who worked with Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, and Paul McCartney).

The Best Thing About This Album

Dion’s voice.

Release Date

October, 2003

The Cover Art

Weird color choices, but the font is good and the pic is sort of standard for a record company collection like this.

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