Friday, September 3, 2010

TVD Previews the next Story/Stereo with John Davis

When it comes to the blog you're reading at the moment, we've often felt that a rummage through someone's record collection and a first-person narrative is far more interesting and worthwhile than a standard Q & A or what have you. We thank John Davis for proving us so very right this week.

Catch John this evening as he plays "The Songs of John Davis" at the Writer's Center in Bethesda as part of the new season of Story/Stereo. The night kicks off at 8PM and is free and all ages.

The Kinks – David Watts
“Nice and smooth.” "David Watts" is the lead track from The Kinks’ 1967 album, “Something Else” (which is my favorite Kinks record). A relative stomper for the otherwise pastoral phase that The Kinks were easing into at the time, “David Watts” is Ray Davies’ ode to an ideal classmate and it includes all of what made the band so good. The wry lyrics, the indelible hooks and the sense that you’re listening to a band that sounds like no other. I listened to “Something Else” a few weeks ago when I was lucky enough to find an original copy of it on vinyl and I was surprised with a memory of how much I was trying to ape them when Georgie James first got started a few years ago. I had kind of forgotten how crucial this record was, along with The Zombies’ “Odessey and Oracle” and Richard & Linda Thompson’s “I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight,” when we were writing those Georgie James songs. Of course, our record doesn’t really sound much at all like those records that were trying to imitate, which is probably best for all concerned. Anyway, another day and another song blogged about that The Jam also covered. Not quite as good as The Kinks’ original version but The Jam’s is pretty great, too. Plus, you get a Bruce Foxton vocal.

Mark Eric – Take Me With You
If you’re a Beach Boys fan, you should hear Mark Eric’s lone record, “A Midsummer’s Daydream.” I think it came out around 1969 and I have to imagine it was fairly out of step with what was going on in music at that time. It sounds a whole lot like “Pet Sounds” but there’s also a very slight hint of softer groups like The Vogues, The Association and Spiral Starecase. I can’t quite explain why but maybe it’s in Mark Eric’s somewhat croony voice? No matter, as this record is a certified lost classic for fans of lush, Wilsonian pop music. “Take Me With You” is one of the ballads on the record and its minor-key verses give it a much-needed hint of something being amiss, considering the abundance of wistful sunniness otherwise. He brings it back together for the warm, breezy chorus and resolution is had.

Orlann Divo Voce E Paz
Sweet and smooth bossa/samba with touches of jazz from this 60s-era Brazilan singer. This track is a little subdued compared to the rest of the album and it does suffer a bit in comparison to irresistible, upbeat tunes like “Paralelo” and “Deixa O Vento Levar.” Orlann Divo’s voice is kind of like what I imagine Chris Montez wanted to sound like on all of those (great) records he made for A&M in the late 60s. Vibrant and loose but totally in control. In the liner notes for this record (“Samba Em Paralelo”), Orlann Divo takes a few shots at the bigger stars of bossa nova, implying that they’re dour, humorless nerds, essentially. I love the idea of a war of words between people trafficking in some of the most relaxed, soothing music in existence. It was a long way from Joao vs. Orlann to Biggie vs. Tupac.

The UndertonesBilly’s Third
The first Undertones record is in my all-time top 10, for sure. It’s hard to believe that all of these incredible songs come from ONE band. “Here Comes the Summer,” “Get Over You,” “Jimmy Jimmy,” “Teenage Kicks,” “Girls Don’t Like It” … I mean, we’re talking about nearly every song on this record being a complete classic. An impossible act to follow, each record that followed provided diminishing returns, but when you make a record as perfect as their self-titled debut, you’ve gotta be happy to have an accomplishment like that. Feargal Sharkey’s tremulous voice blended perfectly with the backing vocals of the O’Neill brothers and were propelled forward by the non-stop hooks in every one of these brief, totally righteous songs. Funny that the iPod chose “Billy’s Third,” ‘cause it’s one of my least favorite songs on the record. Still, it’s pretty damn good. If you don’t have this record, please correct your error. It’d probably be a drawback for some that the young, fresh-faced Undertones remind me of mixing The Ramones with the cast of “Leave It To Beaver.” That sounds kind of horrible but I think that’s part of their appeal to me. All of the hooks and brevity and power and joie de vivre of the first few Ramones records are present in the Undertones but minus the image and surly attitude. Of course, image and surly attitude are what we love about the Ramones but the absence of it is somehow part of what makes the Undertones so great. Simple concerns (girls, cars, friends, candy), simple songs and no pretense whatsoever.

TrustyCapitol Hill
There was some confusion amongst Dischord fans in the mid-90s when a new crop of bands began appearing on the label that had seemingly no musical connection to Fugazi or Jawbox or Soulside or any of the quintessentially “D.C.” bands that helped make the label’s reputation as source for kinetic, serious, slightly arty punk rock. The new additions: Smart Went Crazy provided a brainy, self-aware blend of dark pop music; Branch Manager was an odd mix of guitar jams and other instrumental wankery; and Trusty was a sharp, honest pop-punk band. I don’t mean pop-punk in the way that it was practiced primarily at the time. In those days, pop-punk veered wildly away from its roots in bands like The Buzzcocks and The Undertones and towards a more unfortunate strain that looked to “snotty” groups like Screeching Weasel and NOFX for its cues. Trusty wasn’t quite as angular as, say, the Buzzcocks, and that lack of edge, combined with the general confusion that greeted their joining the label that had Fugazi as its flagship band meant that Trusty never got a fair shake. Their first record for Dischord, 1995’s “Goodbye, Dr. Fate” has a slew of great songs. The singles and compilation tracks in the couple years leading up to that record (“Kathy’s Keen,” “Wish It Were Me,” “Bus Stop”) were even better. One of those comp tracks is this one, “Capitol Hill.” It was on a compilation of D.C. bands put together, strangely, by a label from Arizona called Third World Underground. “Echos From The Nation’s Capital” (that’s right, no second “e” in “Echos,” for this compilation!) included this Trusty song, along with The High-Back Chairs (a definite fellow traveler for Trusty), Tsunami, Edsel and a few more. I still love “Capitol Hill.” You can’t mess with that chorus. In the legacy discussion, none of the bands from that mid-90s Dischord era are spoken of much anymore, though Smart Went Crazy certainly left its mark with a small but fervent band of followers. Still, I hope people don’t sleep on Trusty too much. There are nuggets of pop brilliance in there.

Mark Eric - Take Me With You (Mp3)
Orlann Divo - Voce E Paz (Mp3)
Trusty - Capitol Hill (Mp3)

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