Jaimie Vernon: Compact DISCovery – May 12

I’ve recently received a surprising number of CDs that stall out at five or six songs. It brings to mind a conversation I had several years ago with International Pop Overthrow Festival founder David Bash who, as a music connoisseur, doesn’t like EPs. I was never able to follow the reasoning – only that he will dismiss an artist’s release because it’s an unsatisfying teaser and a waste of his time. Ironically, less music means he’s SAVING time…but it got me thinking about how many acts may have been dismissed by the industry, media and fans for the same reason. Is it a perception that the artist isn’t committed enough or prolific enough to pull off a full album? Do they think the artist is lazy? Is it a perception of value for purchase price? After all, it costs the same amount of money to manufacture a CD with 10 songs as it does for six. The answer to these questions depend on the intent of the release in the first place.

If it’s geared towards only attracting record label and media attention then it makes sense that they release an overview of their best new material for promotional purposes. These releases occasionally pop up on merch tables at gigs as some fans absolutely must have everything the artist is putting out – no matter how many songs are on them.  If the material is merely to say: “HEY! Here we ARE!”, then it might be prudent to proceed with caution and not give away the whole long-tail career strategy by blowing their wad out of the gate. In a music world where being prolific and timely are mutually exclusive ideas, there is wisdom in releasing 6 songs first. If the artist/songs explode and success is instant, there would most likely be a reserve of material to do an immediate follow-up. If the band only has 12 songs in their repertoire, and releases a full length CD and the artist/songs are successful, the follow-up might take a year or two…thus negating any momentum they would have gained.

The best example of this strategy was a Canadian act called Platinum Blonde. They were a marketing dream come true – three attractive 20-somethings who were creating original material on the back of a previous incarnation as a Police tribute act who dressed like Duran Duran. They were signed to CBS records who wisely led the marketing campaign with the single “Doesn’t Really Matter” along with a cutting edge MTV-worthy video which sent the song to the top of the charts. The tune had been extracted from their self-titled 6 song EP. The follow-up single was called “Standing In The Dark” and while it was running itself up the charts, CBS unleashed the full album of the same name – featuring the same 6 songs plus four new ones. This gave the band a third (“Sad Sad Rain”) and fourth (“Not In Love”) charting single. The net result was Platinumania. They became the object of hysterical teenaged girls and middle-aged women which equaled platinum sales. Platinum Blonde:  Doesn’t Really Matter

I once went to the International Pop Overthrow Festival in Boston and saw Massachussetts native songwriter Mike Previti perform and immediately bought a five song EP of his first recordings. On the 14 hours trip back to Canada it was the disc I had to listen to after the Catskill mountains blotted out radio reception. By the time I got home I was ready to sign Previti to my record label. It was that good. Mike ended up with a deal elsewhere but the EP had inspired me enough to record my own version of his song “Audio” [which he flew up to Toronto to back-up sing on!].  So, the EP served a third purpose – publishing demo. Jaimie Vernon: Audio

But would that strategy work now? Hard to say. Here’s the latest EP releases which we can only wait and watch and see if careers can be built on them:

THE STEADIES – self-titled (5-song EP)

The Steadies caught my attention initially not because it’s the new vehicle for ex-Wide Mouth Mason bass player  and vocalist Earl Pereira but because they created a damn awesome album cover. It’s a mini-album sleeve created in the form of a children’s colouring contest entry. It even comes with four crayons. Fans are encouraged to colour the cover and submit it to the band for a prize. Very clever marketing right there. As for the music, Pereira has pulled as far away from the Wide Mouth Mason train station as one can go. Overall, it plays to a Two-Tone ska and reggae audience. The opening track – a most radio friendly groover – is a cross between Hedley, Maroon 5, 10CC’s “Dreadlock Holiday” and Moving Targetz’s 1988 college radio tune “Who We Are”. “See You When I Go” is straight up second generation Ska which has the energy of King Apparatus’ “Made For TV”. “Heart of Ice” veers off the path as a reggae track featuring the skat hip-hop rhymes of someone named Make It Hap’n. “Foolish Game” is 1960s psyche-garage power pop complete with “Palisades Park” Farfisa accompaniment. “No Time For Love” breaks the momentum and plays out as a second generation Fastball outtake. Overall, the effect has me intrigued because the band hasn’t settled into stylistic rut. Would like to hear what else Pereira has been keeping back after his years with WMM. The Steadies: See You When I Go

ANDREA WAPPEL – “This Is The Way Out” (5-song EP)

This is the second Andrew Wappel CD to grace my desk in the last year. I had been intrigued by the previous one and my expectations were for a full-length album. She had impressed me that much. But that expectation does not diminish this release.  This is another vibrant singer-songwriter effort from a lady who has taken the intimacy of a sleepy cabaret Sunday open mike and given the material gravitas. David Wyndorf’s “Space Lord” sounds hippie-esque on the surface but it’s worthy of some of the best folk festival presentations out there. Similarly, Noel Gallagher (Oasis) gets less Beatle treatment and more adult polish on Wappel’s re-reading of “D’ You Know What I Mean”. As good as these versions are, the cover tunes have the disadvantage of not coming from the psyche of the performer – merely interpretative recitations. Wappel’s own songwriting chops are better in my humble opinion because she writes to her strength – mood and intensity. Producer, engineer guitarist Dave Dunlop compliments those elements with sparse arrangements and feverish dynamics on “Haven’t Given Up”, “Knocked Up” (with the great lyric “I’m not mean but I’m not always nice”) and the best track on the disc – “To The Edge” – with its haunting Chris DeBurgh (when he was a troubadour) bewitching harmony vocal hook. Though it’s an acoustic guitar concerto, the addition of the chilling piano fade out (think of Faith No More’s coda on “Epic”) takes this song from locomotive high to lullaby in less than three and a half minutes. An EP is not enough to control Wappel’s energy. We need more.

MELISSA BEL – “Distance” (6-song EP)

A female blues guitar player is rare enough (Rita Chiarelli and Bonnie Raitt lead a very small club of successful ones), but a female blues guitar playing singer with a killer Aretha-meets-Sheryl Crow vocal is even rarer. These are usually mutually exclusive disciplines but Melissa Bel is the whole package. Add to that a strong debut EP produced by Tom Treumuth (Honeymoon Suite) with original songs hinging on traditional blues (“Distance”, “He’ll Never Be You” and “Lovesick”), a haunting remake of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and uplifting original horn-infused R & B numbers and Melissa Bel makes a strong case for the EP as teaser – leaving the listener wanting a LOT more. She doesn’t overstay her welcome. Looking forward to the full-length follow-up.

POOR YOUNG THINGS – self-titled (6-song EP)

Bumstead Records’ newest signing is Poor Young Things who have been opening shows for The Trews in Canada. There’s nothing distinctly new or earth-shattering on this 6 song EP. However, it’s really well produced – especially the rhythm section of Scott Burke (bass) and Konrad Commisso (drums) – and smacks of the heady days of 1990s with bands like Soap Opera, Buffalo Tom and Soul Asylum. What elevates this material beyond the anonymously faceless jangly guitar releases from that time period is pop melody and harmonies on songs like “Blame It On the Good Times” and “Let It Sleep” (which has the most misleading title when the chorus monster hook says “We fight the war on the weekend”).  This is not a retro release by any stretch but some will yearn for earlier College radio and alternative rock fodder by REM once they hear Matt Fratpiero’s vocals channeling Michael Stipe without the vibrato and nasal whine. He, instead, favours a crisp staccato accuracy in hitting all the right notes particularly on “Reckless Young”. There are also references to long out of fashion Tom Petty affectations and Barney Bentall with a tunes like “Hearts And Minds”.  This release appears to be a ‘throw it at the wall’ and see if kids dig release from Bumstead. If the reaction is good we may just hear a full-length with full-growth from them down the line.  Poor Young Things: Blame It on the Good Times

SEND YOUR CDs for review and your music news to:

Jaimie Vernon

180 Station Street

Suite 53

Ajax ON

L1S 1R9


Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia available at http://www.bullseyecanada.com/encyclopedia.html

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