JAIMIE VERNON – AMERICAN SINGERS, AMERICAN LEGENDS (BOP BOP BOP)
Those who’ve known me a long time – including the pre-curmudgeon me in the days before the intertoobs – can attest to my unapologetic, jingoistic rah-rah All Canadian mantra. I love my country. I love my music. But despite my seemingly anti-‘Merika crusade dating back to Ronnie’s Rocket Regalias in the early 1980s, I do love my American pop music.
During my label Bullseye Records’ 2nd Phase – the one where I finally quit my day gig and buckled up for a full-time rollercoaster ride – I was looking to do more than pound Canadians in the eardrums with stuff they already knew.
DBAWIS writer and perennial pop music pontiff Gary Pig Gold had hooked me up with many contacts during the assembly of our ‘Men In Plaid: A Tribute To The Bay City Rollers’ compilation CD through 1998 and 1999.
I worked those connections and investigated the catalogs of many of the American power pop acts that graced our tribute disc and beyond. As a member of a Yahoo! Mailing list dedicated strictly to Power Pop (musicians that bowed to the 4B’s of pop music, namely, Beatles, Byrds, Badfinger, Beach Boys) and watched a wildly underground music scene emerge. Many, if not all of these fans loved artists who were virtually unknown in Canada and so I thought I might create a distribution channel for them and thus the catchy, but in hindsight, rather patronizing series of releases I called ‘Star Spangled Pop’. The doors were wide open to whoever wanted to market themselves under the banner as long as it was catchy, jangly guitar pop. The program ran from 1999 to 2001 with some of the more popular acts finding a home in Canada’s CD players right through 2005 like Robbie Rist’s Masticators:
So here I am 10 years later, getting ready to re-launch the label internationally (Phase 3) and have been doing my best to keep up with the indie scene Stateside. It’s beyond impossible, of course, and have left the heavy lifting to fellow blogger Frank Gutch Jr. who has far more time than I do to parse the orbits of colliding American music scenes. However, there are acts that have come to my attention and the bending of your ear.
FRANK MARZANO “American Proust”
Full disclosure. Frank’s an old friend of mine – we met back in the early days of the internet through a mutual love of the Canadian band Klaatu and I covered a version of his song “Drink Her Goodbye” on my last solo album. Frank’s a Pennsylvania math teacher by day and a Beatles nut by night. His own music takes its cues from the Fabs and all things 1960s and 1970s pure pop. His is a DIY approach. He’s self-financed from endless one-man shows he performs every weekend throughout the eastern American sea-board and once a year sets about writing and recording his next batch of homespun folk pop wrapped in an insightful singer-songwriter wisdom. ‘American Proust’ is no exception. The clear influence from straight up pop material comes in the form of “Robin”, “Slow and Steady”, “Sleeping With Strangers” and the McCartney-esque Vaudevillian “Golden Years” (which make a great musical interlude by Scooter on an episode of ‘The Muppets’)
His lyrical approach is more Harry Nilsson and Warren Zevon than anything Beatlesque (“Flashlight”, “Someone Else’s Sin”, “Make It Home”, “Tough Cookies”, and the Country-redneck spoof “Keeper”) but all of it is part of Frank’s arsenal of clever quips and observation about the human condition. Along with his own guitar, slide and bass playing with vocals, Frank’s crafted a lengthy suite of songs with the capable support of producer Michael Miller and backing musicians John Caruso (drums), Joshua Mayes (bass), and Adam McKillip (mandolin). It’s a very effective team and one that Frank might want to utilize on his next outing as well.
BRADY EARNHART “Last Time I Promise”
My first impression of Virginian Brady Earnhart’s new CD was mild annoyance when I saw that it contained 16 tracks. Who the hell does that these days? Robert Palmer was a musical genius but he was the first person to stick 17 songs on a CD and we’ve been paying for that test of tolerance ever since. HOWEVER, Earnhart is a brilliant student of pop music marketing. So brilliant that his songs cap out between the two and three minute mark (the longest tune, “Lie Down”, wraps up in 3:52). My hesitation became anticipation as I dug into this collection of heartfelt singer-songwriter tracks.
From the pleasant adult oriented acoustic and percussion intro to “The Rope” we’re set adrift on Brady’s musical tide washed along on a sea of inspiration by conquering self doubt. The theme carries over into “Meaning to Play” which talks about spending too much time as an adult and not enough time being a child – seen through the eyes of a child that just wants to grow up. The song, like the entire album, is a series of life lessons that Brady deftly handles with his plaintiff vocal approach and narrative that are almost talking, sing-song realisations. He’s also well read with tips of the hat to literature and how they relate to the here-and-now on tracks like “Huck’s Confession”, “Doctor’s Son” (of which he is), “Orpheus” and the children’s storybook sing-a-long “Baby Bear’s Porridge”. Stick through the disc until the end. The ‘badly hidden’ bonus track is worth the price of admission alone. http://www.bradyearnhart.com
KEITH MORRIS & THE CROOKED NUMBERS “The Dirty Gospel”
Keith Morris & Company are back with another installation of their rock and gospel-oriented Americana. There’s hell-and-hallelujahs and swamp rock grit all over this puppy. While the March-break College kids are puking in the back alleys of the French Quarter in Nawlins during Mardi Gras, Keith & Co. are holding court in the backrooms of some smoke and whiskey drenched speakeasy between Bourbon and Royal Streets laying down the 10 Commandments of Hard Luck Town. It’s difficult focusing on specific tracks because the entire album is a solid soul flogging from beginning to end. If you like your Tom Waits more groovy, if you like your Dylan less obtuse and if you like your Tom Petty without Jeff-fucking-Lynne, this is the record for you. Stand out tracks are the almost Henley-like cynical bite of “Psychopaths & Sycophants”, the “Rockin’ In The Free World” melodic drive of “Prejudiced and Blind” and the ascendant artistry of ballads like “Devil’s Stew” and “Chipper Jones”. Excuse me, I need to go to confessional and erase my sins with Holy Water & Jack Daniels…and I’m an atheist non-drinker! http://www.keith-morris.com
Finally, in response to my blog last week about the dross coming out of Country music circles, I’ve been pointed toward a number of artists trying to make their Country more meaningful. Things come from the oddest places and I find myself attracted to the new Buck Lake track produced by Gerry Mosby (The Hunt, Rhinegold) called “Love My Music” – a metaphor for the loves of his life. No pick-up trucks and lazy dogs here, just an appreciation for life and where music belongs in it. https://vimeo.com/144027660
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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 and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.comhttp://gwntertainment.wix.com/jaimievernon