By Tom Reardon, September 2020 issue.
Some say music heals the soul. Sometimes I wonder if this is really the case. Or is it that musicians are the ones who need to heal, and our adoration of their output is what really heals them? This month is all about renewing what makes us whole and, in one case, remembering what once was.
Stevie D and R. Shipp — Live To Tell
I’m a sucker for most music that has the vibe New York Underground poet kind of vibe. Some people derided, for example, the later output of Lou Reed when he just sort of talked his way through songs instead of singing, but I loved it. I also think that Lou never really was much of a singer, but his earlier work definitely had a bit more melody in the vocals.
Stevie D (Steve Davis) and R. Shipp (Robert Shipp) have put a new cd, Live To Tell, on Onus Records and it is really fucking good. With Stevie D handling some very cool spoken word-ish poetry over R. Shipp’s instrumentation, the songs tell stories of characters like “the raven headed one with the praying mantis boyfriend” and the late, great Holly Woodlawn. Usually a bass player, Stevie D comes off as being completely comfortable behind the mic as if he has been delivering these lines forever and his stories are both entertaining and interesting. It is not difficult to close your eyes and see a broken down “Ranchero in front of a house for teen runaways.” R. Shipp provides a compelling sonic back drop to his friend’s stories while providing fans of grungy atmospheric guitar something to enjoy. Check out Onus Records for more information on this new dynamic duo.
Harry the Nightgown — Self-titled
Ever wonder what audio engineers do when they are left alone in the studio? Harry the Nightgown is an answer. The brainchild of Sami Perez and Spencer Hartling, two knob twiddlers with San Francisco’s Tiny Telephone Studios (which was owned by the brilliant John Vanderslice), Harry the Nightgown is the perfect background music for elevating a pandemic-y mood.
Perez’ soothing vocals are the stuff indie rock wet dreams are made of and the two musicians create some killer songs that grow in intensity and catchiness as the record progresses. “Ping Pong,” which is the cleanup hitter here (4th for non-baseball fans) features Hartling and Perez sharing vocal duties and sounds a bit like early Modest Mouse, which is never a bad thing. There are hints, throughout the record, of Beatles-esque harmonies that work over the subtle yet intricate instrumentation. “Talented, they are,” Yoda might say, and the force is strong with these two musical partners.
Now that the pair has moved down south to Los Angeles and are part of Vanderslice’s new Grandma’s Couch studio, it will be interesting to see if there will be more from Harry the Nightgown. I certainly hope so because their debut record is pretty darn great. I just need a nice soft blanket to settle down with while I take this in again and again.
Deep Purple — Whoosh!
I freely admit that I chose to review this record purely on shock. I was, and still am, shocked that Deep Purple, the band that brought us “Hush” and “Smoke On The Water,” still exists in 2020. What is not shocking is that the album is not good. Whoosh! Is the first album by the band since 2017 and it is such a departure from those early, classic songs that I mentioned that I am hard pressed to understand why Whoosh! even exists. “Drop the Weapon” features some of the classic Hammond B3 organ sound that the late Jon Lord made famous on those great late 60s/early 70s records. In fact, the best track on this record is “And The Address” which was first featured on their classic debut, Shades of Deep Purple (1968), and that is not saying a lot because it was the weakest song on that record. The only original member of the band left is drummer Ian Paice although bassist Roger Glover has been around, off and on, since 1969. Either way, this is crap. Avoid it like the plague. (Wait, can you still say that?)