Monday, February 28, 2011

DVD Review: Creep Creepersin’s Frankenstein

Text © Richard Gary/FFanzeen, 2011
Images from the Internet

Creep Creepersin’s Frankenstein
Directed by Creep Creepersin
Creepersin’s Films
60 minutes, USD $14.95

Sometimes films like this piss me off. I mean, $2 budget, single location, three or four actors, and it tells a story in an hour. Why does it make me angry? Because this nickel-and-dime job is better than a lot of what I see coming out of Hollywood these days. No, dummy, I’m not mad at this film, but those filmmakers who spend millions to bore me, when it really doesn’t take that much to put out a good show with some talent behind ya.

The Frankenstein of the title is, in reality, the name of the protagonist’s pet rat. Victor (all the main characters have names that are in some way related to Mary Shelley’s book), portrayed by James Porter, is a lonely man living on an acreage (filmed outside Eugene, OR). After a childhood of verbal violence by his mom and sexual abuse by his dad, Victor is a severely mentally damaged human.

His day consists of waking, brushing his teeth (which we watch from a distance for a good couple of minutes the first time), eating his scrambled eggs (a symbol for his mind, I gather) while reading porn, playing with his white rat companion (whom he often carries around), and sitting on the porch as the grey days pass. He keeps the television on while old horror flicks flash (scenes include Chaney Sr.’s Phantom and Hunchback, Night of the Living Dead, Carnival of Souls, White Zombie, and Nosferatu). As the action continues, bits of these films are edited in as they reflect the action in the story. This is very well done, I might add.

The run-down, less-than-homey house is obviously the residence in which he grew up, with skimpy bamboo curtains and dark shadows. As a nice touch, behind the kitchen table is obviously his childhood dresser, filled with the stickers, and a front of one of the drawers is missing. This one object alone, whether the director meant it or not, is completely symbolic of Victor’s entire life and frame of mind.

His only visitor is a social worker who occasionally peaks in on him named Shelley (get it?), played by cigarette-growl-voiced Nicolle Nemeth, who looks like she is or was a hot biker chick. She bullies and teases him, making fun of his handicap for her own amusement. Generally speaking, she is not a nice person. As an interesting directorial choice, whenever she speaks, the dialog is played backwards so the viewer cannot understand what she is saying. Victor responds, as obviously he does comprehend, and his speaking is played normally. Even though Shelley’s soundtrack is in reverse, the tone is clear in what she means. This touch is just one of the many pleasant surprises and twists that make this film more than the usual indie drop.

Ever so quickly, his mind starts going further and further around the bend from reality. Victor begins hearing voices (by the Creeper, himself) and seeing his mother who sits with her back to him (Nikki Wall, Creepersin’s real-life wife and film partner), tormenting him and calling him gay slurs because of his paternal molestation.

Distressed about his solitude, he has an idea by glancing around the room and seeing a copy of The Annotated Frankenstein and Grey’s Anatomy books, and a nudie mag: Victor decides to create his own human companion. So when a young couple trespasses on his property, he hammers the woman (literally) and brings her back to his cabin. Carefully, using a marker, he draws lines on her body that make up the classic scar and stitch marks on the filmed Frankenstein’s monster. As he does this, he paraphrases Colin Clive’s classic line, “She only sleeping, waiting for a new life to come.”

There is an argument in Victor’s mind between him and the rat (yes, they “talk”) whether to name ”his creation” Elizabeth or Mary (the rat wins, and the latter is chosen; of course in the book and film, the creature had no given name), bitchily played by Kelly Kingsbury. He imagines her getting up and joining him for breakfast, with her first words (in his mind) being, “This coffee tastes like shit,” which is the kindest thing she has to say in the next few scenes. Again, this is where the joyously unpredictable comes in and style takes over. When Mary is talking, she is in a red filtered lens and is presented as a silent film, complete with title cards. Victor (who is often bathed in blue light) even has a conversation with her in the same shot, with Mary in an enclosure within the frame (shown briefly in the trailer, below).

While I won’t say more about the plot, I would like to add that I am duly impressed by the imaginative way this film is presented. Yes, there is a bit of scenery chewing, but Porter manages to make his character both demented, yet highly pathetic. I’m not sure how much Kingsbury was actually acting, as she obviously was not having a good time and didn’t even show up for the second day of the two-day shoot (as explained in the 30 minute or so Making Of documentary bonus feature). I would have liked to have seen more of Nemeth’s character, perhaps an explanation for her cruelty at worst, uncaring at best.

While A.L. Smith, Cordell Stetson, and Creepersin certainly did a great job with the editing, it is worthy to note that there are also some lengthy shots (I am guessing they had one real camera, other than the one used for the Making Of, which likely was a mini-cam). I have been seeing a lot of recent indie films in the horror genre, and this is definitely one of the better ones around. There’s not really any gore (though some blood), no nudity (other than pans of a magazine), nor much of a boo! factor, but there is definite tension and suspense going on, and this is definitely story driven.

The Making Of documentary is called “A Test of Our Own Stupidity,” mostly taped by Stetson on the second day of shooting. My suggestion is to just fast-scan through the first 10 minutes, which lives up to the title, as the crew stands around, smoking, jabbering, and not really saying anything noteworthy (other than the off-hand comment about Kingsbury’s unhappiness about the first day, but no details). Once Creepersin starts talking about his filmmaking process, and we see them setting up shots and filming, it gets more interesting, if inconsistently.

There are three trailers for this film added in the special features section, which is good, but I would have liked to have seen some from Creepersin’s other flicks, such as OC Babes and the Slashers of Zombietown, Creep Creepersin’s Creepshow, The Corporate Cut-Throat Massacre or (and I kid you not) Vaginal Holocaust.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

DVD Review: The Walking Dead Girls!

Text © Richard Gary/FFanzeen, 2011
Images from the Internet

The Walking Dead Girls!
Directed by Tyler Benjamin
Cheezy Flicks
70 minutes, USD $14.95

There has been a rash of zombie-related tribute films of late, such the cartooned Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated, and Nicolas Garreau’s Fan of the Dead (both of which have been reviewed on this blog). Now there is the new 75-minute documentary, The Walking Dead Girls!, which further celebrates the newly coined term, “zimbie” (equivalent of zombie bimbo).

There are some interesting interviews here, conducted on the fly by actress Luna Moon (who also hosted the episodic soft-core Vamp Vixens). Let’s start with that…

It would almost be pointless to have a documentary about zombies in any fashion without interviewing the man, himself, George A. Romero (even though this is supposedly about women zombies). He appropriately comments how none of his films are actually about zombies, but the humans who are put in the extraordinary circumstance of being surrounded by the creatures, and how the living interact socially. It’s been documented how his flicks, such as The Night of the Living Dead series, have a strong socio-political bent (consuming ideology, consumerism, fascism, etc.). As always, he’s a master talker, and his brief comments are interesting. It just amazes me that he’s getting old, because it means I am, too…

Another interview is with Lloyd Kaufmann, who created Troma Films. Though most of his films are not zombie related (e.g., Toxic Avenger [and the sequels], Class of Nuke ‘Em High, Tromeo and Juliet, and Terror Firma), he did direct Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead. No matter, the admirable Kaufmann, who refers to himself here as “a married gay man” (he is hitched to Patricia Kaufmann, Film Commissioner of New York State; they have three children) talks about how he went to Yale with Oliver Stone and George W. Bush, and goes on to discuss how hard it is now to get his (and other indie) films distributed in theaters and television, since the Clinton media deregulations. Oh, and though not mentioned here, his book, All I Need to Know about Filmmaking I Learned from the Toxic Avenger, is worth looking up.

There is a talk with one of the original ‘80s “scream queens,” Linnea Quigley, who’s short, butch haircut is a bit of a shocker. Though looking her 50+ years, it’s an improvement over her nude, apparently stoned preview for Jesse Franco’s Blind Target. She explains how hard it was to play Trash in her breakout Return of the Living Dead (and how much she is happy having done it), and her role in both Night of the Demons. I had a chance to meet her at a Chiller Theatre convention in New Jersey in the late ‘80s, and she was really sweet and charming to me and the rest of the nerdboys.

Evil Dead is given a couple of nods, despite it not actually being about zombies. There’s a brief but very humorous interview with the very-underrated Bruce Campbell, talking about his early career. Also, there is a reunion of the three women from the first film, Betsy Blake (who does her demonic giggle), Ellen Sandweiss (who was attacked by a tree in the film), and Sarah York (was credited as Theresa Tilly). They look a bit matronly now, but prove that they can still scream quite effectively. It was a joy.

Some of the other interviews include Martin and Day of the Dead’s John Amplas (who is now an Associate Professor that teaches acting in Pennsylvania), Terry Alexander, the Jamaican pilot in Day, and Boyd Banks, a stand-up comic who appeared in some of the later Dead films and remakes.

We are shown some shots of a couple of conventions (where many of the interviews took place), such as ZomBcon, held in October 2010 in Seattle, and Portland, Oregon’s very humorous Zombie Walk, performed that same month (just coz it’s zombies, does all of them have to have a Thriller dance? Sheesh).

As a connecting thread (threat?) to all the interviews and conventions, we watch the shooting of a zimbie cheesecake calendar, which is shot in pretty straightforward poses, other than the models being made up to look undead (post-dead?) We watch seven of the month’s models as they arrive (i.e., “before”), are made up, their shoot, and on their way out of the studio. Luna gets to ask some Q&As, including asking the participants whether they prefer “slow or fast zombies?” and “brains or flesh?”

The mannequins’ occupations vary from, well, models, to adult actresses and exotic dancers, with ages ranging from 21 to 34. Some come across as kinda vacuous, but others are pretty sharp, with monikers like Mandy Apple, Sexy Lexi, Dara Davey Lilith Eve, and Natasha Timpani; others just use first name only. While none of them inspired me to desire buying the calendar, it was interesting to see the process from beginning to end.

There’s not a lot of social value to this documentary, but hey, we’re talking about zombies, so the point is the fun quotient, not whether this will inform us about world hunger (unless they desire human flesh, of course). It’s a cool breeze way to enjoy an afternoon with fiends. And as for me? Flesh over brains (as food) because it’s less work and quicker to be eating; I like chicken over lobster for that very reason.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Videowave Clips 2: Hüsker Dü, The Murmurs, Buzzcocks, Philip Glass,Ofra Haza, Lene Lovich, Holly Beth Vincent

Text (c) Robert Barry Francos, 2011
Videos (c) Alan Abramowitz/Videowave

I became involved in the Videowave cable access program pretty early on, starting off as a photographer and ending as a videographer, but for most of the shows from the 1980s, I was floor manager for those clips below, being the connector between the set and the control room. Yeah, the guy with the clipboard and the headset. There was no money involved for anyone, but it gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of great talent, and also connected FFanzeen to some future interviews.

Here is a selection of a half dozen of bits of interviews of shows on which I worked. Meanwhile, Videowave is still on in many of the tri-state markets, and new shows are still being created.

Here is the second in a series of blogs, but I will only put up ones that has a direct link to either FFanzeen, or to me directly. As more interviews are digitized, I will put more up, with Alan’s kind permission, of course.

1. Hüsker Dü, May 1985
Here is a short clip of the band being interviewed by Executive Producer Alan Abramowitz (off-camera) backstage at the Peppermint Lounge. I worked the camera. Before the shoot, I gave the band copies of FFanzeen which they kept open on their lap throughout the interview (thanks, guys!). They were their usual surly selves, but not to an obnoxious level, and I liked them, as they were being themselves rather than presenting who they thought they should be. The unrelated partial clip following them is Alan being esoteric, as he’s wont to be on occasion.

2. The Murmurs, September 1994
Jennifer Krantz interviews the alt-folk rock duo who still has an incredibly strong following, years after they have parted ways. Alan and I had come across them performing at a street fair in Tribeca, and were immediately struck by their sound. The interview was done in two parts in an apartment. While I was the videographer on the second half, Alan actually video’d this first part because I was late (that’s me at the door in the interview; I enter into the room at 3:15). Leisha Gordy (left) went on to some acclaim co-starring in yogurt commercials and The “L” Word, and Heather Grody Reid formed the group Redcar.

3. Buzzcocks (Pete Shelley, Steve Diggle), December 1991
The ex-Dawn Eden conducts the interview with the Buzzcocks on a hotel bed in New York. I was on camera, trying to avoid embarrassing angles as much as possible, which was hard because of Alan’s placement of the tripod in juxtaposition to the position of the bed. The ‘Cocks were very pleasantly British, and seems to be enjoying Dawn’s antics. While not a very deep interview by any means, it’s uncomfortably interesting in a way an accident must be seen.

4. Philip Glass , June 1983
Alt-composer Philip Glass brought along his son, Zack, who was a punk-dressed pre-teen, and a great kid. The whole crew liked both him and Philip. Interviewer Merle Ginsburg does a great, informed job interviewing him, and he gave his full attention, which was appreciated. It certainly made the experience all the more absorbing. I was Floor Manager for this shoot.

5. Ofra Haza, January 1992
Dawn Eden does a better job interviewing the late Yemenite / Jewish singer Ofra Haza in her room at the Hotel Excelsior in NYC. I was on camera (which was actually my VHS camcorder that Alan used for a number of years), and was standing behind a comfy chair in a very small, uncomfortable space with the heavy and bulky camera on my shoulder (hence the shaking). Ofra was very nice - if professionally distant - off-camera, and I admired how open she was to a small, non-commercial outfit as we were, while she was on a major tour and getting a large press push to the majors.

6. Lene Lovich, Holly Beth Vincent, March 1983
As I promised in Part I, here is the Young Filmmakers Studio interview with both Holly Beth Vincent and Lene Lovich. Both were expats from the US living in England for a number of years, who came back to live in the States, one by choice, and one not. You know this is a long time ago, as Holly is smoking on the set. She came across as quite unpleasant to me, but some of the others present that day, including Alan, found her to be actually nice. Maybe it was my mood, or the fact that Alan was running the show and I was just the guy with the clipboard (re: insignificant to her)? Still, I like and respect her Holly and the Italian’s “Shut Up,” and the work she did with Joey Ramone. As I stated in the last Videowave blog, Lene was quite wonderful to work with, took the cues right on, and was totally present in the moment. They are interviewed by Merle Ginsberg, and segment is introduced by Michele Piza and Victoria Vesna.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Look at Paste’s 100 Living Songwriters

Text © Robert Barry Francos, 2011
(Except for the list, which is owned by Paste Magazine – see link to original article at the end)
Images from the Internet
”One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor”
– Paul Simon (No. 13)

Fifty musicians and composers made up the late Paste magazine’s list of the top 100 songwriters, essentially in the past 50 years. Published in 2006, this list came to my attention only a few days ago.

This is bound to drive just about anyone else crazy, because music is subjective to the core, which they firmly state in the opening article before the list. Their criteria was that those who selected “were encouraged to vote for the songwriters they treasured the most, not the ones with the highest sales, the biggest impact on culture or even the greatest influence on other songwriters.”

For me, I don’t capishe some of their choices, such as Patti Smith being No. 95 while Tom Petty is No. 29, or Allen Toussaint at No. 68 and then putting David Bowie at No. 16. Sure, there are some they got right (remember, this is my subjective opinion), like Michael Jackson down at No. 49, and Chuck Berry way up at No. 25 (though I would have put him much higher).

What I find most significant is the lack of artists on the list, such as Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, both of whom are still very alive. The Ramones could have been added, with Tommy and Marky still standing. Yeah, their songs were simplistic, but the music they wrote and produced was exciting, and they electrified the world. What about John Lydon, who wrote some incredible lyrics?

It is leaving out Ellie Greenwich, who died after the list was formulated, that is just criminal (for just a starters, she wrote or co-wrote ”Leader of the Pack,” "(Today I Met) The Boy I'm Gonna Marry,” "Why Do Lovers Break Each Others' Hearts?" "Be My Baby," "Baby, I Love You," "Then He Kissed Me," "Da Doo Ron Ron," "Not Too Young To Get Married," "Hanky Panky", "Do Wah Diddy Diddy", "Chapel of Love,” "I Wanna Love Him So Bad", “I Can Hear Music," "River Deep, Mountain High"… well, you get my drift? To me, it just shows sheer ignorance on those who chose.

Here is Paste’s top 10:
10. Prince
9. Joni Mitchell
8. Elvis Costello
7. Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys)
6. Leonard Cohen
5. Paul McCartney (The Beatles, Wings)
4. Tom Waits & Kathleen Brennan
3. Bruce Springsteen
2. Neil Young (Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
1. Bob Dylan

With the exception of No 5 (Paul McCartney above Lennon-McCartney, who aren’t even on the list? Ha!), I don’t really have a problem with it.

But the thing is, though, that nearly all of these listed are pretty major players, despite the “favorite” label. However, there are so many other musicians who are under the radar who consistently write incredible songs. For example (in no particular order) there is Mary Gatchell, Tamara Hey, Maria McKee, Ruth Gerson, Harriet Shock (who has won awards for her tunes), Margo Hennebach, Adrienne Jones, Anne Lorre, Carrie Catherine, Kim Delmhorst… Oh, there are so many others.

My guess is that Paste’s selectors of the list have never heard of many – if any – of these powerful songwriters, because of their lack of numerous chart hits. You may have noticed that all the ones I have selected are women. Why? Because the Paste list has only 11: Patti Smith, Victoria Williams (No. 89), Julie Miller (No. 73), Dolly Parton (No. 55), Aimee Mann (No. 54), Gillian Welch (No. 48), Loretta Lynn (42), Carole King (No 31; one ahead of Leiber & Stoller), Lucinda Williams (No 22), Patty Griffin (No. 19), and Joni Mitchell (No. 9). They all deserve to be there, but that’s only 11 percent.

These kinds of lists are bad ideas. They draw in the readers, sure, and it’s those numbers that drive the magazine biz, but most of them are insufficient and have wide gaps. It’s part of the reason I usually don’t do “Best Of the Year” articles. Personally, I believe that these “greatest ever” things are made up just to get people riled and write angry letters, which can then be published to show everyone, “Look! People read us!” Guess it didn’t help Paste though, as they can no longer be listed in the 100 best existing magazines.

Bonus Videos:
Maria McKee

Carrie Catherine

Anne Loree

Ruth Gerson

Thursday, February 10, 2011

DVD Review: Alien 2: On Earth

Text © Richard Gary/FFanzeen, 2011
Images from the Internet

Alien 2: On Earth
Directed by Ciro Ippolito (as Sam Cromwell)
Midnight Legacy
85 minutes, USD $19.95

Fulci. Argento. Deodato. These are names that will sound familiar to those who find joy in the Italian horror sub-genre generally referred to as giallo. The more current ultra-horror films such as Hostel, Saw, and Wolf Creek, may not have existed without these extreme and surgically efficient foreign bloodfests (then again, would the giallo have seen any light without the likes of American pioneer Hershell Gordon Lewis? But I digress…).

Perhaps the biggest promoter of these European films, especially in the New World, was the advent of the new videotape market. During the 1980s, the two largest renters were the extreme horror films and porn. Part of the reason was accessibility. Sure, one could have gone to any of the Times Square theaters and gotten their fill, but anyone away from these kinds of grindhouse theaters would probably be clueless. But then there was the VHS…

One of the problems of seeing these films via video in those heady days of the ‘80 is that the ever-hungry market would release just about anything that might sell, even if it was an incomplete copy; sometimes the story made no sense at all due to sections being removed by a specific European country’s moral codes. This may vary from country to country, so there were many different versions of these releases floating around.

Alien 2: On Earth (originally Alien 2 Sulla Terra) is a supposed sequel to the original Alien, from 1980. While never having an official theater showing stateside, like many of these foreign films, it was released under various names, including Alien Terror and Strangers. Another quirk of the early VHS days was the tendency of the production companies to call just about any film a sequel to anything that did well at the box office. This is a bit of an exception though, because director Ciro Ippolito (who also went by the pseudonym Sam Cromwell for this, his first directorial effort) meant this as an “unofficial” sequel, even though the bonds to the original James Cameron opus are negligible, at best (i.e., human hosts and snake-like creatures eventually popping out).

Alien 2 is, in hindsight, best described as having aspects of Alien, the underground spelunking death-trap of The Cave or The Depth, just a smidgen of The Night of the Living Dead, and the deserted streets scenarios of, well, so many others. The story is pretty simple: an American spacecraft returns to earth, and somehow, between starting its descent and the at-sea rescue (great Mercury-period stock footage is used during the opening shots), the astronauts have mysteriously disappeared. Around the same time, a strange sparkling rock is found by a group of friends (with big period hair, both female and male) in a small town near San Diego, before they head into a large cave system they plan to explore. For some reason, the main character, Thelma (Belinda Mayne), who is sometimes psychic and can tell that something is going to happen (unless it ruins a plot surprise moment, apparently), takes the football-sized rock, puts it in her backpack, and takes it with her from the surface into the cave (why not leave it in the car rather than schlepping it?). This shiny stone ends up actually being an egg for creatures brought back on the spaceship, and when it comes out of the rubbery-looking stone its destination is the host’s body.

From there, it’s a race to get to get out of the cave through alternative directions before becoming lunch. And once outside, will it be much better? Yes, there is gore, as a very puppet-looking creatures busts through a head with an eyeball hanging, or a head slides off a body (both seen in the trailer), for example. Despite the blood and guts, it is more really? than stomach-churning (unless you’re sensitive to these things). However, it is still a pleasure to see devices used rather than CGI.

Oh, and the inconsistent mistakes are wonderful. For example, while running through a supposedly empty city, as the camera follows the main character(s) while a street is crossed, the viewer can see a red light down the block and a car with its brake-light on. When the light turns green, the brake-light goes off and the car starts to move.

Just as with manga cinema, there are definite cues that this is giallo, almost like a checklist. There’s the close-up of the face with a light on it while a mysterious wind blows the flowing hair, the even closer shots of wide-eyes (though the “whites-only” eyes, usually a standard, is missing here), the shrill and two-tone electronic music (ooo-waaaa-oooo-waaaa), the shaky monster-cam view, and the very quick zoom in and out in Dr. Tongue’s House of Horror style. And like many Japanese films, the dubbed, over-enunciated voices are familiar to anyone who has watched a few of these films. In much of this release, while it is obvious that the actors are speaking English, the vocal track is recorded over back into English nevertheless.

Mayne’s character is the only one with any substance (relatively speaking), though there is no history given to her. Everyone else, including her (boyfriend?) (husband?), are inconsequential, or at least the equivalent of the members of the away crew of the Enterprise who were not in the main cast.

Okay, this is a silly film, granted, but as giallo goes, it is a fun flick that will fill an appetite for this genre. Yeah, if you’re a fan of these films as I am, leave your suspension of any disbelief before you slip this disc into your player, and you’re bound to have a fun time. Oh, here are some official things to note about this particular release: it’s in both DVD and Blu-Ray, it’s the first release by new company Midnight Legacy (let’s hope they let a lot more come our way), and it’s widescreen, taken from the original 35mm negative (rather than just copied from one of the myriad of VHS releases) They claim it is the most complete version available. All good news for giallo fans around the world.

So, grab some ‘corn, because it’s just what’s in order for watching this release.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Tommy Boyce: The Fifth Monkee

Text by Nancy Foster; introduction by Robert Barry Francos
© 1986, FFanzeen; introductory comments © RBF, 2011
Images from the Internet

The following article on 1960s music icon Tommy Boyce was originally published in
FFanzeen magazine, issue #14, in 1986. It was written by Nancy Foster.

Around 1985, I was hanging out at Nancy Foster’s apartment on Third Avenue, just south of 14th Street, listening to some music. While the building had once been a high class high rise, now it was a bit of a roach-infested hovel. We had gone out to dinner, as we often had, and she was waiting on a visitor.

A ring of the bell, and Tommy Boyce was at the door. We all hung out for a little bit and joked around, and then I took some pictures, none of which came out well (it was a darkly lit room, and I had no flash yet). After a few minutes, I left Nancy to interview Tommy for the following piece.

Sidney Thomas Boyce, suffering from some physical and mental ailments, pulled a Del Shannon and did himself in with a gun almost a decade later, in 1994, but the music he wrote and inspired keeps on going. – RBF, 2011

What do Jay and the Americans, Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Monkees, the Lettermen, The Sex Pistols, Showaddy Waddy, the Darts, among many others, have in common? They all recorded songs written or co-written by Tommy Boyce.

It’s not surprising that Tommy co-wrote, with partner Bobby Hart, the theme to Dick Clark’s Where the Action Is, but the fact that they wrote the theme for that long running soap opera The Days of Our Lives is outrageous.

Talking to Tommy Boyce is fab and fun – like taking a crash course in pop. There are a lot of great stories out there, and he got a million of them.

Tommy Boyce’s first hit came when his father told him, “Write a song for Fats Domino and call it ‘Be My Guest’.” This was a hot tip. The phrase comes from the song “Sea Cruise”: “Be my guest / You got nothin’ to lose / Won’t you let me take you / On a sea cruise.”

So, Tommy wrote the song in 1959 and called Imperial, Fats’ record company. The guy at the record company said, when Tommy suggested the idea, “Fats won’t like it.” Well, Tommy wasn’t satisfied with that. A friend in the industry told Tommy the name of Fats’ hotel, so Tommy went, demo in hand, and waited in the hotel lobby for six hours. When he finally gave up his vigil, he walked out, only to bump into Mr. Domino himself.

Tommy was beside himself: “Uh – Mr. Domino – uh – I have a – uh – song for you. I know – uh – you’ll like it. Just – uh – listen to it. That’s – uh – good enough – uh – for me. My God! – uh – He –uh – touched it!”

One of Fats’ bodyguards tried to cut Tommy off, and the man himself spoke: “Let the boy talk. I like how the boy talk. Calm down, boy!”

So, Tommy gave Fats the demo and Fats promised to give it a listen. The record company contacted Tommy a few weeks later with the good news: Fats would record it. Even better news – Fats had a hit with it soon afterwards.

But then the drought hit. No hit for two years. So Tommy checked out Billboard and Cashbox. There he noticed something pertinent – the songwriting team of Doc Pomus and Morty Shuman had three hits in the Top-Ten! “Wow!,” thought the budding pop god. “If anyone knows the secret of writing hit songs, they must!” Tommy saved his money and made a 3,000 mile trek to find the key to songwriting.

When Tommy arrived in New York City, he hung out at the Brill Building. Then he approached Doc and Morty at their fave teatime hangout. “I wrote one hit and I can’t seem to do it again. I came 3,000 miles to find out the secret of writing hits.”

The answer was simple: “The title.” With this valuable information, Tommy had a hit three months later with “Pretty Little Angel Eyes,” sung by Curtis Lee. Tommy mixed the doo-wop of “Blue Moon” with the romance of the Everly Brothers’ “Ebony Eyes,” to come up with the world’s first romantic doo-wop record with a white guy singing lead and black guys singing back-ups.

Tommy had some solo singles: “Sweet Little Cathy,” followed by “I Remember Carol,” in 1962. In 1964, Jay and the Americans had a hit with “Come a Little Bit Closer,” a by-then-songwriting-team Boyce & Hart composition.

Then, the men behind the Monkees wanted Boyce & Hart to put their musical Midas Touch on the Monkees’ first album (The Monkees). They wrote the TV theme, “I Wanna Be Free,” “Last Train to Clarksville,” “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day,” “This Just Doesn’t Seem to Be My Day,” “Let’s Dance On,” “Gonna Buy Me a Dog,” etc., as well as added their production know-how.

Yet, it wasn’t all “peaches and cream” behind the scenes of the Monkees. Mickey was fooling around during the recording of “Last Train to Clarksville.” Tommy chastised Mickey and the air turned blue. Mickey returned in kind saying only he could sing the song right. Tommy left the studio and Mickey kept his promise, and such is the way great hits are made.

After leaving the Monkees' songwriting stable, Boyce & Hart, the reflex hitmakers, had three albums on their own on A&M Records, as well as writing the theme to the film Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows.

In 1975, five years after the Monkees’ demise, David Jones had the idea to put together a new version of the Monkees, with Mickey Dolenz, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. He could not get the legal rights to use the name “Monkees,” so the group of Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart was born. It was so successful that they did a year-long international tour and put out two albums, one studio and one live in Japan.

After the tour, Tommy decided to visit London. He planned to stay a few weeks and ended up staying nine years.

A band called Showaddy Waddy (the British Sha Na Na) recorded religious version of Curtis Lee’s “Pretty Little Angel Eyes” and “Under the Moon of Love.” Then Tommy got together with Richard Hartley of The Rocky Horror Picture Show fame and said, “Let’s put everything I know about the Monkees with everything you know about Rocky Horror, and put it together. The Darts had three albums produced by Tommy, as well as recoding some of his songs, like “Peaches and Cream,” originally done by Tina Turner in 1965.

Tommy also produced the wonderful Pleasers, which included a couple of singles, such as their version of the Who’s “The Kids are Alright.” Tommy said he really enjoyed producing them, and the only thing that held them back was a “rotten manager.”

One of my favorite anecdotes of Tommy’s was the Johnny Rotten story: When Tommy first met Johnny, he introduced himself as the writer of “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone,” and added that he dug the Sex Pistols’ version. Instead of taking a compliment graciously, the ungrateful Mr. Rotten answered Tommy with a beer can in the face.

Years later at the Peppermint Lounge in New York City, Tommy ran into Johnny again and decided he deserved a second chance. So, he introduced himself again. This time, Johnny was more civilized: “You’ve got a lot of money, donca? How about buying me a drink and giving me a few bucks?” Tommy showed his Southern hospitality (he’s from Virginia) by indulging the no-so-rotten one.

Another great story is when Tommy was producing cuts of Iggy Pop’s album, Party. It was a high pressure situation. Iggy said, “Produce me a hit, Tommy, or I’ll kill myself!”

Then there was the time when Christopher “Superman” Reeves asked to meet Tommy. Tommy was impressed with his size and wondered, “Where’s your cape?” Christopher was impressed by Tommy’s wit, but he had a confession to make: “When I was living in the Midwest and I was fourteen, ‘Last Train to Clarksville’ was my favorite song.” When you have Superman on your side, you know you’re okay.

Tommy, who has never been out of the swing of things for long, will soon be back in the public eye. Lorimar Productions wants to do a video on the history of Boyce & Hart. Slated to star in the video are Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden, who will show the Boyce & Hart clip of “Out and About,” from the I Dream of Jeannie show, circa 1965. Elizabeth Montgomery will present another clip from Bewitched, as well. There will also be various and sundry acting and musical personalities, including Tony Orlando, Connie Francis, Chris Reeves (who will aspire to reveal how “Clarksville” was written), etc.

The video will be filmed mostly in Los Angeles, but Tommy took time out to visit New York City and some long-time musical cohorts, like the inestimable Keith Allison (of the Crickets, Where the Action Is, Paul Revere and the Raiders, etc., fame). Where he’ll be next is inn the watching!

Fats Domino

Curtis Lee

Tommy Boyce

Days of Our Lives Theme

Jay and the Americans

The Monkees

Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows


I Dream of Jeannie

Dolenz, Jones, Boyce & Hart

The Darts

The Sex Pistol

Iggy Pop

My favorite of the Boyce & Hart songs

Friday, February 4, 2011

Videowave Clips Vol. 1: Joey Ramone, Lydia Lunch, Nick Cave, Jim Foetus, Bow Wow Wow, Lene Lovich, Nina Hagen

Text (c) Robert Barry Francos, 2011
Videos (c) Alan Abramowitz/Videowave, with permission

I became involved in the Videowave cable access program pretty early on, starting off as a photographer and ending as a videographer, but for most of the shows from the 1980s, I was floor manager for those clips below, being the connector between the set and the control room. Yeah, the guy with the clipboard and the headset. There was no money involved for anyone, but it gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of great talent, and also connected FFanzeen to some future interviews.

Back then, the technology was top of the line U-Matic 3/4-inch tape, but in today’s HD world, well, it looks worse for wear. However, the artists are what matters, and what they say is still relevant for fans, if dated. However, it is not as passé as some of the fashions being worn by the artists and especially the interviewers.

Here is a selection of a half dozen of bits of interviews from shows on which I worked. Meanwhile, Videowave is still on in many of the tri-state markets, and new shows are still being created. These interviews were taped at Young Filmmakers Studio (no longer in business), on Rivington Street on the Lower East Side, during the first half of the 1980s, except for the first one, done on-location. The stage background was a painted on shower curtains by the late artist Chester Parnell.

Here is the first in what I hope will become a series of blogs, but I will only put up ones that has a direct link to either FFanzeen, or to me directly.

1. Joey Ramone, April 1997
With me on camera at Arturo Vega's apartment, Jimmy Marino interviews Joey R. on the night he was filming a clip to be shown at a party for Boston DJ Oedipus, which we got to watch being taped, and included Aurturo paint the “blood” on the apron. The apron was thrown into a corner after the interview, and I took it home as a souvenir; I later heard that Joey had a fit, and I returned it with an apology. If I still had it, it would be framed and put on the wall. RIP, Joey…

2. Lydia Lunch, October 1983; November 1985
Merle Ginsberg (who has gone on to a media-focused career: interviews Lydia first, followed by my then-FFanzeen Managing Editor Julia Masi. I had interviewed Lydia back in 1977 when she fronted Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and she was a complete asshole, but she was still quite young. A lot of her anger came across as bullshit poseur, and that’s what turned me off to her. The whole I’m cool because I’m a nihilist; aren’t I just terrible and annoying? came across as performance art to me. At the time of the first interview shown here, which I floor managed, she was collaborating with Nick Cave, Clint Ruin and Marc Almond, as well as doing “poetry” with Exene Cervenka of X. I don’t believe I was present for the second interview, though. It could also be noted that she did not remember me from our first encounter.

3. Immaculate Consumptive (Clint Ruin and Nick Cave), October 1983
This is just a short clip of Merle interviewing Clint Ruin (Foetus on the Wheel, etc) and Nick Cave (Birthday Party, Bad Seeds, etc.), which was taped the same day as the first Lydia Lunch interview above (explaining why Merle is wearing the same outfit). While Lydia was being taped, they sat in the back of the studio finishing bottles of whatever it is they were imbibing, and by the time it was their turn, they were completely blitzed (note the bottle in Cave’s hand). Though they were pissed to the gills, they were not disruptive to whatever was going on around them, I’m happy to say. The pre-chaste Dawn Eden talks us down at the end, and I believe the photo of her is one I took when she was interviewing the Buzzcocks on a hotel bed.

4. Annabella Lwin (Bow Wow Wow) , July 1983
They had recently played at a club called the Brooklyn Zoo (great show, BTW), and from there went further on their tour when disaster struck. This was actually the beginning of the end of the band, though Merle or Annabella could not have known that. It was really hot in the studio that day, as it was mid-summer and the air conditioner broke, but Anabella was a true dear and stayed around in a sweat without complaint.

5. Lene Lovich, March 1983
Introduced by Michele Piza, Lene was a pleasure to work with, as she was when Videowave interviewed her again in 1990, on location near Grammercy Park. Here in the studio, she was interviewed by David G. (Rosenberg), and was very open and friendly. American born and living in England, she later shared the interview stage with fellow expatriate Holly Beth Vincent (to be shown in a later blog), who gave me the impression she did not want to be there (though Alan had a different, more successful experience with her that day). But Lene, no one had any argument about her positive energy on that day, and in ’90.

6. Nina Hagen, February 1984
Nina Hagen did everything she could to be a thorn in the side of all of the people working on the show, including holding up a can of guava juice in front of her face and refusing to take it down for a long, expensive waste of time. Again, I wonder how much of her “personality” is real, and how much is affectation. I do know that I wanted to smack her. Merle was a total pro, though, and she did not reflect the previous goings on during the interview.

Should I continue this series, readers?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

CD and DVD Reviews: Quiet Corner Column, New Year 2011

This was originally published in Jersey Beat fanzine at, for my Quiet Corner column at If you are interested in my reviewing your release, contact me at and I will give you the address to ship off CD, DVD, etc. - RBF, 2011.

fu WILLIE ALEXANDER AND THE BOOM BOOM BAND finally reunited after their seminal (though mostly overlooked) albums of the early ‘80s, and released Dog Bar Yacht Club (Fisheye Records, c/o in 2005, but this is the first I’m getting to hear it, so I’m reviewing it now because it deserves mention. Willie is one the founders of the Boston scene in the ‘70s, along with the Modern Lovers and their ilk, producing some powerful pieces along the way, from “Hit Her Wid De Axe” and “Radio Heart” to “Bass Rocks,” to his more mainstream Boom Boom Band releases. The re-gathered BBB shows why they should have been more in the spotlight. This CD rocks out like Willie can when he wants, from the first cut on. His extremely distinctive voice is an indication that one is going to hear something worth listening. There is a mix of styles here, from rock to more esoteric ballads, but it’s all Willie; even when he covers his own material, as he does with “AAWW” (from when he was with the Confessions back in ’82), he makes it his own - again. There may be white on the roof, but there’s still a fire in the vocal chords.

I have found that most times bands with great names (e.g., Phil ‘N the Blanks) are equally bad in sound. Fortunately, the hilariously-named AMISH ELECTRIC CHAIR take their straight-ahead punk and slam with it on Straight. No Chaser ( The Athens, Ohio band sounds pretty damn good in a classic DC-style sense on this 15-minute EP, a prelude to their next full release. It is chock full of buzz saw and fury. My fave of the five cuts in the chant-worthy “Jellico, Tennessee,” but any of these could be picked for solid songs and playing. Worth checking out.

Bjork (and/or the Sugarcubes) is hardly the only chanteuse to come out of the isle of Iceland. ÓLÖF ARNALDS, of the group Mum, who is more under the radar (so far), is also so much more content and style than the over-the-top Bjork. Ólöf’s CD, Við Og Við (, translated as “We and We,” is full of the simple backing of a guitar or ukulele, and Ólöf’s aerie voice, which is chilling and warm at the same time. Now, I have no idea what she’s singing, as I don’t comprende her Icelandic franca lingua, but the mixture of the familiar folkiness mixed with occasional local vocal tricks and trilling make these songs, such as on the title cut, like still water with the ripple running out; smooth and a touch mysterious, but never boring. Without knowledge or context, I found myself smiling. All the cuts are equally charming, so I suggest listening to them all.

AUDIO-OK is an East German group who has been around for a while, although this is their first release. The short Good Men ( is actually kind of bland. There are some formulaic melodies and rhythms (both standard instruments and electronic), which they more shoot lyrics at the listener, rather than speak or sing them. “Bad News,” the opener as an example, is basically about a dead woman, and how disappointed and annoyed they are that she’s dead. It is sort of reminiscent of rap in tone, though the rhythm is definitely more r’n’r than hip-hop. To me, they’re evocative of the Manchester sound of the late ‘80s, not one of my fave styles.

MARTY BALIN does not get appreciated enough as a driving force for what became the San Francisco sound in the ‘60s. As an original member of Jefferson Airplane and its less progressive Starship, Balin set the ball rollin’ way back. He’s been doing his own thing along the way, and is still kicking, as is seen on this DVD, Live at the Boston Esplanade: June 14, 2008 (DVD, 150 min; Still in good voice with a wicked guitar, Balin struts his stuff, with the huge audience singing along. Lots of good hits here from throughout his career, such as “Miracles,” and of course the Airplane hits with Boston legend Didi Stewart slickly filling in ably for Grace. And oh, there’s so much more as extras on this. There are three clips from DVD producer Joe Viglione’s cable access show, Visual Radio, including a 50 minute one-camera interview with Balin from 1995. While there are parts that could have been edited out, it’s still quite interesting as Balin talks about hanging out with Joplin just days before her death as she played him what would be the Pearl album, for example. Additional shorter clips include interviews with other Airplane experts, including writer Jeff Tamarkin (his book on Jefferson A, the first about the band, is a great read), and with Airplane’s pre-Slick lead singer, Signe Anderson. There are also some other rare live performances thrown in. A keeper.

KEVIN BARKER is the guitarist of the group Vetiver, and now he can add solo artist to his repertoire with You and Me ( He grew up in the DC punk scene, but one would never know it listening to this collection of slow folkie-‘60s pop style harmonies. He certainly didn’t absorb the punk 1-2-3-4, with the songs here averaging better than 5 minutes each. The beard and long hair definitely reflect his musical buddy and cult icon, Devendra Banhart rather than, say, Henry Garfield. But Barker has a fine sound. His rhythms are similar in a da-dum dom-da-dum way, yet his voice is smooth, working well in harmony with others, like Erick Johnson and especially Lily Chapin in the opener, “Little Picture of You.” Harmony and melody are actually the two words to posit Barker’s work. Barker lives in Brooklyn now; all the better.

Though PAUL BENOIT is based in Seattle, his light blues tones sound more Midwestern (either north and south, depending on the tune). His fifth solo, Blue Bird (, shows the experience of his 20 years in the biz. His voice has just a touch of gravel and his fingers fly over the blues notes, but this isn’t Son House or B.B. King kind of wailing blues, this is lighter, much more mellow and laid-back, leaning towards blues tinged singer-songwriters like Dave Matthews and Jason Mraz. Now that I’ve put that on the table, let me be clear that I really find Matthews and Mraz dull as dirt, but Paul has a flair that feels intimate and enjoyable, and certainly not as musically vain, pretentious, and “I’m so precious” as the other two. Benoit has a unique voice, both in musical sound and vocal intonation, with a way wide “A,” such as straynger, pahty, which is interesting. He starts off strong with the title track, which has a melody line in the chorus that is reminiscent of Ray Charles’ “Georgia” (a song which is also a good indication of Benoit’s style). Other good cuts include “Call You Out” and “Leave It As It Lies” (with which he beautifully shares the vocals with Janne Jacobsen). Recorded in El Salvador, there are tinges of the local music that nicely bleed through, like “Plow” and “Sad Melody.” Easy listening that is an easy listen.

The nearly 30-minute I’m A Man EP ( by Leeds, UK, group CAPRI is longer than many full-lengthers, so you’re getting a good deal here. Capri is an amazing funkadelic collective with John McCallum as its voice. Steeped in ‘70s sounds, it’s hardly only waa-waa based (as some funk was back then, and not only to its detriment, but I digress), but solid musicianship. Capri’s cover of Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m a Man” is a good measure of the mood. There are five cuts here, three of which are live and two are remixes of earlier songs. This EP just never lets up, with horns, keyboards, and even some aforementioned guitar waa-waas. McCallum does a great job fronting, and on “Putting it All Together,” guest vocalist (also on GLP) Lara Rose puts the final touch onto a great sound. If you like funk, you’re bound to find this exciting.

Chris Donnelly and Daniel Woodward started CAPRI in the late ‘90s as a funk instrumental group, and then wisely added John McCallum on vox. As they are a band that sounds at their most exciting in person, Live at The Wardrobe ( was a fine choice for a release. I wrote a bit about their style in the review directly above, so I won’t reiterate. This 10-cut, nearly hour long CD never eases up, and just stays a dance party from beginning to end. James Brown may be gone, but Capri shows his legacy is not only alive, it’s funk-ay. The songs are long, averaging about 5 minutes each, but it passes quickly. What a fun band. Starting off with an instrumental, “Dance of the Minotaur,” the vocals kick in on “Heatstroke,” and keeps going through numbers like “Shake It,” “Afro Collision,” a cover of “You Really Got Me” (do I need to say who did the original, really?), “Barbarella,” and ending with a 9:41 medley of “Chopper Song” / “Drum Solo” / “Saved.” Put this on, play it loud, shut your eyes, and let the clear recording bring you out to the Wardrobe.

TIM CARROLL has come a long way since his days as one of the later Gizmos, out in Bloomington, IN. All Kinds of Pain ( is a just a, well, “wow” listen. Even though he has quite a few solo releases, honestly, this is the first one I’ve heard, and it is amazing. With just Tim playing nearly everything except drums (by Marco Giovino), he wisely let it be co-produced by Tom Spaulding… it’s usually a bad idea to do everything without someone else’s input somewhere. I almost want to stop reviewing stuff and play this again and again (and I’ve gone through three times as I write this). Tim covers a bunch of forms here, starting with a shredder, “Soybeans, Cotton and Corn,” and then settles into the contemplative “Can’t Stay Young” (as the chorus continues, “but you can stay cool”), one of the better aging songs I’ve heard since Monty Love stated “Being young is only in your head.” Lots of styles are touched on here, from talking blues of “Educated” to the country “If I Could,” to classic I-IV-V drive of “Run For Love.” Each genre he covers seems natural. The title cut is a slow burner and the heartfelt and beautifully phrased desperation of “If I Could,” the taste of the same vibe of “That’s What I’m For”… Shit, I can’t decide, this album is just so good and so full of amazing music. This has to be in my top picks of 2010.

South Jersey girl LAURA CHEADLE is fun-kay; well, her music certainly is. With a sharp R&B feel, it is positive, be it ballad or uptempo, and highly sensual, with numbers like the opener of Live On (, “Constantly,” “In the AM,” and “Whatever Moves You.” She whacks the listener on the side of the head with the mutha-funkin’ (her term) “Funk is Dead,” which has a wonderful catch that may have you humming well past listening. The prolific musician, with the help of her family of Cheadles, continually seems to produce memorable melodies, fun lyrics, and with Laura’s natural (i.e., not “studio-produced”) voice, you can dance, rock back and forth, or just smile, but you’re going to have a good time. As any reviewer knows, you listen to a CD perhaps a couple of times to get the feel of it, and then it goes on the shelf. Well this one will be joining the likes of Mary Gatchell (now THAT would be a great double bill), Tamara Hey and Angela Easterling on the regular playlist at this abode.

Whether it’s too late or too early for this review of LAURA CHEADLE and her A Christmas Album (Jazz Bone; c/o, but it’s certainly worth noting, and possibly ordering for the next holiday season. Laura has a really lovely R&B-influenced jazzy vibe going, and it comes across clear and warm in this mix of classics and new tunes. Along with the likes of “Let it Snow,” “Deck the Halls,” and an appropriately sexy “Santa Baby,” she also brings the new and equally vampish “Givin’ You Me for Christmas” and “Let’s Get Together for Christmas.” This collection has sort of a demo feel to it, but in this case it initially words in its favor. Rather than having a compressed sound as most released have these days, this one is so intimate it really seems like Laura and her keyboards are in your living room, singing in your ear. For someone like me who is usually sick of Christmas tunes by early December, this one continues to be listenable.

MATTHEW CURRAN is one of those pain-in-the-ass guitarists who was playing complex songs at the age of 10. Do I sound jealous? Yeah, well I am. At age 19, Curran has released Simplify (, his first solo effort, which is naturally guitar-fueled, hard-melody-driven late ‘60’s style classic rock that borrows more from Beck-Clapton-Page than, say, Van Halen-Slash. Fortunately, keeping with the title, the songs are more than guitar solo showcases (though they’re definitely there in shorter bursts). Carron’s voice is not as blaring as some of the classic rockers, but I see that as a positive, because it means that he doesn’t need to hide in a show of mere style. His vocals have a mainstream quality, as do the hooklines to these all original tunes. My prediction is that if he makes it to the larger radio audience, he may fill auditoriums and be a rock teen-idol.

DARK SUNNY LAND is the name Boston-based Steve Painter has adapted for his musical exhibition, and Kon Taan Kor ( is the release. At first, I had the name of the band/title backwards. Using various objects (including instruments), Painter –- er – paints a soundscape that is not ambient in the classic notation, but it is rather harmonic sounds that contain a notion of melody without being linear about it. It’s sort of like walking in a jungle of sound. Each piece is an average of over seven minutes, which gives the noise enough time to envelop the listener, and to make some semblance of sense. Interesting to put on as a mood background when doing art.

Where Were the Mothers?: An Artist Project by Linda Duvall ( is a complex, yet incredibly impelling work by various artists. She joins together established Canadian musicians with street people and others who have had a rocky life, and each pairing perform a song the musician has co-written (the lyrics are mostly by the people in trouble, and the music is written either jointly with the musician, or by one or the other. The singing talent varies by person, including some with amazing voices, such as Chris and Mashyk (though not only them), and others who you can hear the absolute wear on their bodies through a life filled with drugs, gang affiliations, prison, prostitution, and the like. The styles range from rap to hard rock, from folk to traditional First Nations (Native Americans). The central theme is obviously geared towards the mothers of these singers, ranging from “how could you treat me like that” to “please forgive me for my disrespect.” However, they are all touching. This is a magnificent project, and if you look up Linda’s Web site you can see/hear clips from some of these cuts, but I recommend finding out how to obtain this disk, which also comes with a DVD on how the project progressed.

Hailing from Leeds, UK, the EAST PARK REGGAE COLLECTIVE sing of love and war (either anti-, or about the social one to come) on The Frontline ( This group is comprised of non-Jamaicans and takes a number of different riddems, and make some really decent music. The accents are a bit questionable, but even so, Anna Stott, the lead singer of this mixed gender minyan, actually has quite the pipes, and is a joy to hear. With her put-on accent, it’s occasionally hard to make out what she’s saying, but her voice will still keep the listener attentive. Whether singing about the “Wicked Ones” who rule, complaining about another “Woman,” or the war in “Bomber Jacket,” she keeps the flow smooth.

The press release for JOE FIRSTMAN is wordy, but seems to struggle on a description: “The songs aren’t country, but they are songs that somehow take you to the country.” Why not just say Americana, which is a fitting genre, if one must use genre terms. On his fifth release (including two early ones on Atlantic), El Porto (, Firstman drops his first since leaving as bandmaster on the Carson Daley Show (I’ve never watched it). Right from the first cut, “Marlene and Her Sisters,” Firstman sets up his pastiche, looking at lives in a smaller (southern? He originates from North Carolina, though now a LA resident) town. Usually in first person, he points out people, like “Mr. Wilson” and “The Candle Maker,” and opens their existence to us, usually in relation to the song’s protagonist. I don’t know if these are real people or imaginary, but Firstman makes them pretty human in the short span of the song. There are some strong country influences, but the PR is right, it’s not country but rather a blend into Americana. I haven’t heard Firstman’s previous works, but this one is just dandy.

THE FISH EYE BROTHERS is Willie Alexander and Jim Doherty, with able backing musicians, and their collective is represented with When the Swan was on the Boulevard (Fisheye Records, c/o If you don’t know, Willie was the replacement for Lou Reed when he left the Velvets, and he toured Europe with them. The reason I bring this up now is because this release shows Willie’s more esoteric, experimental side that made him such a good fit with the VU. The music here is out there, with jazz riffs, non-syntactic melodies, and dreamy lyrics that are sometimes just repeated over and over (as in “Rhubarb Pie”). Some of the outstanding pieces here include “Me and My Doppelganger,” “Cruisin’ Boise,” “Barbara Reid,” and the opener, “My 34.” If you like unconventional music, or just can’t get enough of Willie, I believe you found what you were looking for in this.

FOX PASS are old-school Boston rock’n’roll. The band, who originate from the pre-punk period of the mid-‘70s, still releases music that is enjoyable, such as with their latest, Intemporel (Actuality Records, c/o This is a full 72 minute CD, which, as they state, is “designed to be enjoyed as a 4-sided double album.” Whether vocalist/guitarist Jon Macey is writing with Michael J. Roy (back-up vocals and guitar), or with fellow bandmate Steve Gillian in their side project (Macey & Gilligan), the man can write a catchy song. And on this CD, there are 17 of them. It’s so hard to pick faves here, because they all have that Macey jinglesque pop that sticks in your head after the song plays, only to be replaced by the next song on the disk. Anyone from that period of Boston knows that Fox Pass is a band to enjoy both live and captured. And just think, a four-sided album for the price of one disk.

Imagine, if you may, the illegitimate offspring mind-frame of New England’s pop-folksters the Mammals and the Velvet Underground (think “Sunday Morning”). Well, if your brain hasn’t exploded, I’ll explain. FREELANCE WHALES, a New York based quintet, takes the harmonies and slightly off-kilter quirky harmonious sounds of the former, and mixes them up with non-standard instrumentalization and dissonance of the latter. On Weathervanes (, there is a harmonium, glockenspiel, synthesizers, guitars, banjo, and cello. I wouldn’t necessarily call it electronica as much as liquid synthetic. Occasionally they even borrow strongly from Dream Academy’s “Life in a Northern Town.” No matter what they’re singing about, it feels happy and peppy. And the synthesized parts are handled well, I’m grateful to say.

Montreal singer-songwriter WILLIAM FUNK releases his first collection, The Veronica Sessions (, after recording most of the material in Puerto Rico. There is a definite Latino “air” to this, especially the opener, “Beautiful Martes” (which strangely has an opening that sounds very close to the second song, “Won Day Ave”). Funk has a good voice, with unique peccadilloes that add to the sound. There are some strong cuts here, like “Castles & Prison Cells,” “Eyes of a Crescent Moon,” and “Mystics,” which has a decidedly East Indian and Arabic flair, adding to the feel. Funk has a good sense of song structure and melody, with catchy pop folk pastiches. “If You Can Feel Me Inside (Veronica’s Song-2)” is especially effective, with a children’s chorus that works so well with this tune. These songs are produced by fellow Montréaler and three time Juno nominee, Joe Barrucco; however, that is where my contention of this album lay. There is just too much studio muddling, with many self-vocal overdubs, reverb thrown in at the end of stanzas, and in “My Other You (All My Life”), one whole set of voices using an auto-tune in that electronic bullshit that T-Pain and Jamie Foxx use, which I absolutely detest. Then again, Barrucco is known for house music and dance beats, so is this really a surprise? I understand Funk is grateful to have someone with such a big name in the industry take him under his wing, but I would prefer to see him live, without all the gizmogology that weighs this coulda-been-amazing CD down.

BRETT GLEASON’s first release, The Dissonance (, states he’s a cross between Nine Inch Nails and Tori Amos, in a “unique fusion of alternative rock electronica.” Hmmm, comparing him to two highly artsy-fartsy / pretentious artists; however, Brett uses the dissonant chord noises and keyboards as much as a weapon and a symbol of what he is saying. His playing if full of striking chords in a choppy – or chopping – motion, cutting at and through his material. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The songs, at first glance, are full of ideas of “control” and suppression, but much in the way Lisa Loeb does, he uses that claustrophobia and harsh life moments to persevere (such as “I’m Not Afraid,” or as in “The Worst Part”: “All the broken attempts / to control their mess / Are proven futile / By your absence”). The lyrics are poetic, but accessible. The perpetrator through each piece is simply referred to as “he,” but there is always a reaching for self-redemption, as in “The Escape.” Even in the closer, “Idealize the Dead,” Gleason fights “to be alive inside / It means to never hide.” Yeah, there’s manipulation of sounds and vocals, but he uses them wisely to promote the message rather than drown it. This is certainly a dark release, but with a light somewhere in view. Oh, and there’s a “hidden” sixth track, for those who follow these things.

Through a home studio, JEN GLOECKNER takes musicians with the likes of guitar (acoustic and electric), drums, cello, violin (masterly handled by Joel Zifkin), mandolin and keyboards, and she managed to make a lot of noise on her sophomore release, Mouth of Mars (Spinning Head, c/o With a flinty voice and a minimalist sense of lyrics, she weaves discordance and dissonance into tunes that stand out. “Die” has a memorable chorus, while “Sleep to Dream” is a work of otherworldliness. Influenced, seemingly by the likes of Captain Beefheart, or the Velvet Underground’s mix of sweet melodies over sometimes subtle noises that are at other times cacophonous; unlike the VU, however, this is more jazz-folk than avant-garde rock. All the songs have the seeds of intrigue and are imaginative. “Let’s Get Honest” is a short piece that sounds like a spiritual put through a spin cycle (I’m not even sure what that means, but it feels right). “Peace Among the Chaos” has a sound reminiscent of the ‘60s chanteuses like Sandi Shaw and Françoise Hardy. It’s an interesting collection that is bound to be listened to more than once, to get all of the nuances.

I truly hope ADAM GREEN made a fortune off them using his Moldy Peaches (with Kimya Dawson) song in the film Juno. That being said, this is the second CD I’ve heard of his as a solo… C’mon, really? This guy is an indie darling? I tried to like his latest, Minor Love (, but it just comes across as insipid. I mean, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers covered this kind of material 30 years ago, and so much better. Over slight lo-fi tracks which use a lot of sampling, Green sings unimaginative melodies filled with ditties that work with his voice, but this is so rinky-dink. I do believe he’s trying to be edgy, but no, he’s not achieving it. The press release says this is “a more serious side of this prolific, truly original New York artist.” First of all, this is the serious side? I can tell he’s trying with numbers like “Boss Inside,” but it’s about as deep as a plastic children’s pool. I mean, at least two songs use the word flatulence. Second, “prolific” usually means that no one is editing out the chafe. Third, “original?” Naw, Kimya does this better as a solo than Green. I’m glad that the songs average about 2 minutes, so the 14 songs last about 30 minutes.

John Ringhofer goes by the nom de tune HALF-HANDED CLOUD, and Cut Me Down & Count My Rings ( is his fifth full length release, this one being a collection of his material that was added to comps, cassettes, fanzine disks, and the like. All 78 minutes here are covered in 46 songs. Ringhofer, who plays just about everything on everything, from brass to strings including percussion and electronica, is in that style that many refer to as “twee,” such as Kimya Dawson and Adam Green. His niche, though, is spirituality, mostly in a religious/Christian bent. His high-pitched voice is pleasant in a casual pop-folk way, and he has a way with a melody, but he consistently burden’s his pieces with all this musically squiggly dissonant noises that one is apt to view as either cutesy or annoying. I’m of the latter. I may enjoy his work more solo with a guitar, but here it’s kind of grating. I can certainly understand his appeal as he is idiosyncratic in a They Might Be Giants vein, but by the end of this looooong CD of very short songs, I was grateful for its completion. Note I felt this way about Adam Green as well, though I do have a bit more tolerance for Kimya, but only somewhat.

KEVIN HUELBIG, JR. is total DIY. His CD, Snowstorm (, comes with a hand cut-and-paste cover sheet. This lo-fi recording sounds like a living room (or basement) tape, which it is, “recorded at home sporadically between April ’07 and June ’09.” With influences including (in his own statement) Lou Barlow, the Beach Boys, Guided by Voices and My Bloody Valentine, Kevin pushes the lo-fi to the extreme, which includes rough overdubs, fine if noisy notes, and some decent harmonies actually (must be the “Beach Boys” part). There’s a bit of distortion, as if it were recorded a bit too much in the red, but that’s part of the whole lo-fi DYI credo, it seems. Be interesting to hear Kevin live. If you’re into this genre, and I know you’re out there, this is right up there. Particularly effective are “Are They Coming Home?” and the closer, “Nothing Gets Me Down,” with nice shared vocals by Emily August.

Both JOE HURLEY and COLUM McCAIN are credited with the EP-length The House That Horse Built (Let the Great World Spin) ( The text is based on/taken from a part of McCain’s novel, “Let the Great World Spin,” about the life of an older prostitute. Hurley does a sort of non-gravely (yet similar shady phrasing) Tom Waits turn is this compelling work, which mixes a jazz/blues vibe. My only complaint is its length, being at less than 13 minutes, because I wanted to hear more. Hurley’s adaptation of McCain’s words into another beautiful piece of work is quite beautiful in its own right.

From the title of PATRICK KAVANEY AND THE LAST DRAGS’s Darning Socks for the Apocalypse (, one may think we’re talking punk, but no, PK&TLD is a mix of country and Americana, with some rock’n’roll thrown in. But one thing is when they are witty, they spare no expense, with songs like “Spanish Nightmare,” “Delusion & Grandeur” (as in being on the corner of), “Looking Forward Back,” and “Ego Bandito.” Yet even with the puns, the songs are strong and tend toward the ballad, but stay pretty strong. Kavaney’s voice is well suited for this material, and what also makes this record is its basis of strings: guitars, lap guitar, slide guitar, and bass flow through, with a real good rhythm holding it up. There’s even a bit of Tex-Mex thrown in with “Waking Song.” They may be from Oregon, but they have that more southern sound down. Not as harsh as, say, southern rock, or as bland as modern country; rather they’re somewhere in-between, with a rich, full sound.

Residing currently in Berlin, Scotsman JIM KROFT balances the sounds of his two homes within his debut, Between The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea ( There is sturm & drang mixed with British ‘80s-‘90s style wall of sound; think Pet Shop Boys without the annoying synth beat. There is definitely a Beatleseque feel to some of his material (i.e., McCartney) in tunes like “Tales of the Dark Side.” Jim likes to belt it out, which is fortunate because he needs to be heard over the production, but fortunately he is capable. Happily, Kroft also apparently knows his way around a melody. The songs are smart (for example, “One Sees the Sun” is based on meeting “The Outsider” author Colin Wilson), dealing with alienation and feeling out of place (hence the s&d). While this is heavily produced, it does not necessarily fall into the 10 Ten blandness, though it could easily cross over between pop and the charts. It would be interesting to hear him toned down, playing live with just guitar (yeah, I say that a lot).

HOLLY MIRANDA has apparently left Jealous Girlfriend to go solo with The Musician’s Private Library ( There are a lot of somnambulistic related analogies here, such as “Sweet Dreams,” “Everytime I Go to Sleep,” and “Sleep on Fire” (and I would include the opener, “Forest Green Oh Green Forest”), which is not surprising considering Miranda’s sound. Highly processed through double overdub, echo, reverb, etc., it’s a lush soundscape where the lyrics occasionally suffer (i.e., hard to make out), but her aerie and haunting vocals hover above all the luxuriant sounds and music that come through the speaker, piled high in the studio. How does she do all this live, I wonder (she recently toured with Tegan and Sara, FYI)? There is also a blunted electronica sound that usually works here, despite its rinky-dink plunking. It’s a charming collection, for sure, despite going close to the edge of where my interests stop.

THE OGeeZ informed me that although their full release is The Seven Deadly Sins (, “we have no religious agenda with our message. Our message is meant to be thought-provoking, but whimsical.” The OGeeZ, at their best, are a funk outfit (founded on the classic rock duo of Lew Witter/vox and Steve Gerick/music) based in SF. Except for the two or three verses here and there where they break into rap for a couple of stanzas, they’re a good listen. Obviously, there is a theme here, the better ones being lust (“Is This Lust or Is This Love?”) and the relationship discord of pride (“Pride Gets in My Way). Most of the other cuts range from R&B to further funk, and then there is the Latino-beat themed sloth (“There’s Always Manana”). As they say, “we have chosen a more contemporary approach to our music poetry in which we want our music to complement and enhance our storytelling.” I don’t know how well this will go over with the under-30 crowd, but I found it effective.

Early on, after playing with Johnny Thunders in the Harlows during the pre-Dolls, Lou Harlow transformed into guitar metal maven, LOU RONE. He nearly became the next guitarist for the Yardbirds as they fell apart, so he came back to NYC, playing in a bunch of bands, such as Kongress (who I saw play the Eglin Theater’s opening night), Von Lmo, and the heavy Triple Cross. Still going strong, Guitar Slinger (, his latest guitar instrumental opus, shows his growth. The man can play whatever he wants, Jimi-style, just wailing on the six-string. With backing tracks, Rone stretches the instrument into rapid fire metal, such as in “Mallet Face,” to ambient noise with “Come Roberta, Come,” and the bluesy “Tired Lady Blues.” Each piece is a metal world all its own, so if you’re into guitar solos, well, this will be heaven for ya. A solid hour of wail. With the exception of a cover of the Chantel’s “Maybe,” these originals prove Rone has a mastery of his guitar domain, and he’s willing to bend the instrument’s will to his own.

The first recording (though not first released) by SPANKY AND OUR GANG was their live one. Now, 35 years after their dissolve, S&OG have dropped the also live Back Home Americana, Vol. 1 (, recorded at both the Tradewinds in St. Augustine, Florida, and at a house concert. Thanks to legendary engineer Dinky Dawson, the sound is seemless. As with that first one, many of the songs here are blues and jazz based, like the hand-clappin’ “Make Me a Pallet on the Floor” (John Hurt), “Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues” (Ida Cox), and the traditional “Stewball.” There are a couple of gospelers, like the classic folkie cover “Sinnerman” and Eric Bibb’s “Don’t Let Nobody Get Your Spirit Down.” There is also some of the California sound that S&OG were famous for (though they’re from F-L-A), with “Everybody’s Talkin’” and, of course, the Mama’s and the Papa’s “California Dreamin’.” While many of the original members have been updated, especially notable is Jim Carrick, who does quite a few vocals here, but original member Nigel Pickering, 80 at the time of this recording, comes up to sing Willie Nelson’s “Ain’t It Funny How Time Slips Away,” his distinctive voice a bit ragged, but still in relatively fine form, humor definitely intact (his “Distance,” on one of those early LPs, remains a fave S&OG track). And what of Spanky McFarlane? She’s still fronting the group, but her voice has certainly changed; it is much deeper with a stronger vibrato, and to be honest, I don’t think I would have recognized it if I hadn’t known it was hers. For example, on their first and eponymous LP, she powered through a very moving version of the Depression classic, “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” Redone here, it’s touching because her vocals are strained and cracks. Don’t get me wrong, I love S&OG, even through their country phase, but perhaps rather than a live recording, a studio release may have been wiser? That being said, I’m STILL glad Spanky’s back, and look forward to hearing some material that’s better suited for her voice now, like the more jazzy and blues pieces, such as “Wild Women.” I still love ya, Spanky!

The core trio (and a few high-power Memphis-based step-ins) of STAR AND MICEY ( cover a bunch of styles, from Motown-inspired (“My Beginning”) to blues (“So Much Pain”), gentle R&B pop (“Late Night”), alt pop (“She’s on Fire”), to alt rock’n’roll. Though there isn’t really a bad song here, vocalist Joshua Cosby starts off strong with my fave cut on the release, “Salvation Army Clothes,” a solid rock blueser that alone is worth seeking them out (of course, in Canada, it would have been called “Sally Ann Clothes, but I digress…). Nick Redmond and Geoff Smith’s solidify the sound into a firm yet fluid unit. I also appreciate that they adapt the genres to their own, rather than trying to “Pat Boone” them, which is noted.

PHILIP STEVENSON has been in quite a few groups, most notably Carnival of Souls and Quinine. Now he has released his second solo effort, Starless ( The music is an interesting swirl of sounds with a rhythm and purpose, and hardly what one would call formulaic. It’s a brave effort and works well. That being said, this is also a frustrating work, which indirectly has nothing to do with Stevenson himself. His voice is soft, and often whispery, but it is so far back in the mix and distorted by echo, I usually have no idea what the fuck he’s saying. If you’re going to sing in a sotto voce, at least put it up front. For example, “Weak Boys” builds stronger and louder, but the vocals don’t follow suit, so it just becomes noise. This may as well have been an instrumental release. This seems totally unfair to both Stevenson, and especially the listener. There is a bit of the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” kind of clatter. When he is allowed to be more present in the tune, like the ballad “Don’t Go Now,” he has a Dylanesque tone to his voice, while “Don’t Go Now” has sort of a early solo Lennon; and it is more enjoyable to be able to hear his thoughts. “Where I Don’t Belong” has a latter Beatles / George Harrison feel to the vox, even weighed down by an over-applied echo, as does “I’m a Boy,” which sounds like a prequel to Spencer Davis Band’s “I’m a Man.” A good effort, and I would like to see a bit more of Stevenson’s presence in his own recording.

First a brief history lesson: DICK WAGNER is a songwriter and guitarist whose work has appeared on over 150 albums, including mainstreamers Aerosmith, KISS, and Lou Reed; he was the musical director and tunesmith for Alice Cooper during Coop’s glory years, and has collected 14 platinum records, 16 gold, 5 silver, and numerous songwriter awards. Never heard of him? That’s part of the problem of supporting so many others. Full Meltdown ( collects some of his solo work in a single 70+ minute disc, most recorded between 1979 and 1995. Needless to say, the genre is guitar-fronted rock. Wagner really does deserve the recognition, and this collection is the proof. Sure, on some cuts he is reminiscent of styles from hair metal to Bon Jovi, and straight through the rock canon, but can anyone consider someone as “formulaic” when they are one of the architects of the mold? Wagner’s vocals are solid, and the guitarwork is unsurprisingly flaring and razor sharp. While the production occasionally has that ‘80s hollow bottom sound and gloss that was industry standard for a number of years, his songs rise well above. He has a Meat Loaf (with whom he’s also worked) melodic wall-of-sound that works to his benefit. Lots of great cuts, such as “Motor City Showdown” (he is a Detroit native), and the lengthy ballad “I Might As Well Be on Mars.” If you rocked in the ‘70s and ‘80s, this surely will not let you down.

Produced by BEN WINSHIP and DAVID THOMPSON, Fishing Music II (Snake River, c/o shows that one album of songs about life and fishin’ just ain’t enough. And I say that in the least snarky way. No, I’m not into fishing, and I didn’t even hear the first volume, but this Appalachian banjo Americana and ‘40s jazz style release recorded in Idaho can be easily taken on its own merits. Joining Winship and Thompson is a plethora of musicians and vocalists, including Tim and Mollie O’Brien. Sometimes, here, fish and fishing are used as metaphor, such as the opener “Little Miss Cutthroat,” which does for women/fish what Chuck Berry did for women/cars, or “I Caught a Keeper.” There are instrumentals that reflect the specs of water caused by “dancing” fish and others that sound like fish gliding through the water (“Lost River” and “The Winding Stream,” respectively), and there’s even some comedy in “Gone Fishin’” as a couple engage in playful banter of accusing each other of skipping chores for, well, aren’t you following this? There’s also a couple of really moving, well done pieces, like “Old Bamboo” (one of my faves), and even some traditional numbers like “Everybody’s Fishin’” (this arrangement sounds like it could have been done by the Andrews Sisters), and a moving version of the spiritual, “Wade in the Water.” I still may not want to go fishing, myself, but I’m starting to get a hankering for some salmon, just for the halibut.

In the press release, frontman of WAKEY! WAKEY! Michael Grubbs invokes Billy Joel, Elton John and Led Zeppelin. Well, I decided to listen to their second release, Almost Everything I Wish I Said the Last Time I Saw You… (, anyway. If Grubbs’ name sounds familiar, it seems he was (is?) a semi-regular on “One Tree Hill,” as the bartender named – er – Grubbs. Still, I decided to listen to this anyway. I received a promo copy of this CD that didn’t even have a song list; couldn’t even find it on the Web. So, I contacted their publicity people to request they send it. Meanwhile, I listened to it anyway. Fortunately, it was quite enjoyable. Once I got the list, I listened to it again. The alt-pop sound reminds me a bit of My Chemical Romance and the aforementioned Billy Joel, both of whom I find dreadfully tiresome, but on most of these songs, WW rises above that and usually remains interesting. Starting off really strong with “Almost Everything” and “The Oh Song,” the piano-fueled sound (where the Joel and John mention come in) is rife full of catchy melodies, usually using the higher range keys on the keyboard to keep the sound light, and with Grubbs’ vocals and mildly mannered intonation, they work well together. There are a couple of weak spots here and there, such as the too musically cutesy “Square Peg Round Hole” and “Feral Love,” but overall this is pretty solid. The bonus cut #11, “Take It Like a Man,” is also noteworthy and deserves a listen.