This nine-cut release does much to show off the exuberant strengths and minute weaknesses Orphans Reason has to offer. Stripped of all pretense and studio-generated illusion, Steel Spring comes across as a working man’s recording-full of rich harmonies, singing thoughtful songs through rather predictable arrangements. But whathe songs lack on production savvyis easily compensated for throughthe heartfelt presentations of lead singers Jamie Ewing and Janet Price. For there are many rough cut gems among the songs presented here.
“Nowhere in Califomia” is driven by Rob Ingram’s hard charging bass line, while Jamie sings “The perfect fruit is on the way! Crossing the border in trains and truckloads! Safe from mouth of bird and insect! Just don’t forget to wash the dust away/ In California.” Jamie’s acoustic guitar melds with the slightly rushed quality of Kirk Smith’s drums to sound not unlike some runaway train, chugging ceaselessly along.
“Spider Web” features a charming chorus wherein Jamie echoes the litany of verbs Janet chants in the lead vocal. Jamie‘: lead guitar circles around melodic phrases without ever quite landing. This one reminds me of the dear departed Riflebirds and Kate Lieuallen.
“Crossing Water” is probably the hit of the album. Janet sings in a slightly restrained manner while the guitar and bus bubble up around her. Comparisons to 10,000 Maniac’s Natalie Merchant are inevitable. But sometime soon I expect that Janet will gain control of her big voice to avoid such easy similes.
Not unlike Paul Simon’s “Boy in the Bubble” (but don’t ask me why) “Bombshelter Baby” has a certain militaristic feel rhythmically, but all in all is a queer little song about one survivor’s post-WWlll significant other.
And the intro to “Beads For the Natives” sound: like U-2 from the Boy period till Janet kicks in vocally. Ethereal guitar chimes and pulsing but motivate thls number. “For every box of Bibles/Bring along a bag of beads.” You bet!
And Janet sings “Best of Me” with subtle delineation. Beatlesque in structure, the song shows possibilities—though the call and response does not work between Janet and Jamie here. A different arrangement, and this song might shine. Perhaps with almost a country feel to replace the folk. A little more chord movement. A little more development on the melody.
That‘s the point this band is at. Orphans Reasons are easily one of the best new bands on the local scene. But Steel Spring points out that a good band grows, matures, evolves. It will be interesting in 1991 to see how Orphans Reason evolves. My guess is that being a witness to the metamorphosis will be all the fun.
Here‘s a good, young band that makes up with energy what they perhaps lack in the area of execution. And while every song here does not succeed, the balance does weigh heavily in favor of this talented foursome.
The initial cut, “Mr. Creed,“ is deﬁnitely a keeper; reflecting solid ‘60s values: scuddy guitar tones, close two-part harmonies, and a certain detached perspective that’s difficult to pin down. Here the high fretted triple time electric rhythm guitar reminds of Brian Jones- period Stones, with touches of Kinks, Who and Beatles. The text runs along the line of ”I wouldn’t be caught dead in those shoes. And you hate me and l hate you and your scrofulous lifestyle…” And there you have it.
“Dress.” with its ringing acoustic rhythm guitar and jangling harmonies sung in ﬁfths, bears some resemblance to Mitch Easter’s work. Guitarist/vocalists Mathew Pearson and Michael Donhowe (whom I recall from Walk on Fire a few years back) meld well in both categories, blending, rather than competing for space. The primitive dual guitar solo in the middle of the tune is expertly delivered; controlled yet chaotic.
“Late” begins promisingly enough, with one guitar doing a wah-wah thing and the other quaking with the tremolo turned up to II. The intro wands like a direct throwback to Status Quo’s original version of “Pictures of Matchstick Men.” But after the big build-up the song sort of goes nowhere, which is disappointing—but the tune isn’t a complete loss. And the following number, the instrumental “Mystery Skate” seem pretty pointless all in all.
Still, the next three cuts—”Eastside Home,” “Spiderman” and “Mrs. Osboume”—are tightly focused gems, with much to recommend them. “Eastside Home” kicks in with a biting guitar ﬁgure, and tightly wrought harmonies: reminiscent of the Three O’Clock or the Connells, and lists the tributes of a loved one. “You’re not like them, you’re not boring.”
“Spiderman” probably bears too much of a similarity to REM‘s “Superman,” but it’s a good song anyway, with the guitars rumbling like dark clouds around a lyric delineating the scrutiny of a personality disorder. The rhythm section of drummer Peter Ericksson and Brady Smith on bass, stands out on this cut. While elemental in their approach, like the rest of the band, Smith and Ericksson play well together. They don’t overplay.
“Mrs. Osbourne” starts off like a cross between the Byrds‘ “Eight Miles High” and the spoken portion of Eric Burdon‘s pitiful classic “San Francisco Nights,” but resolves into a Neo-Beatlesque (distinct “Taxman” references can be heard) swirling, churning tune detailing the paranoia of being at the mercy of the tax collector.
“Polka Dot” is driven by a cool acoustic guitar and a Neil Young- like electric guitar tone. The introspective lyric is not distracting. A good song with an original sound. “Recess” rates high in crunch factor. with slamming towns on the verses and Lydon inﬂuenced vocals. though the spleen here is aimed in the direction of a late arriving party—hardly grist for Johnny Rotten’s millstone. “Ferry Boat” too, rocks hard, with a strong chorus and well-hewn chattering guitar solos.
Sugarboom is a band abounding in possibilities. They are versatile as songwriters and musicians, within the limitations of their abilities, and they play extremely well within those limitations—not unlike the Beatles theyselves. This is a (mostly) exciting tape, recorded on a low budget with not a lot of frills. But Sugarboom glitters like anti-aircraft fire over Baghdad, shimmers with promise, and is definitely a band upon which to keep a close car through the coming year.
The Willet Lussenden Group
The keenly scrutatious among you may recall that about a year ago I raved on and on about the Satriani-like stratospherics achieved by this unlikely monickered chap. This year he takes things a step further by choosing this butt-ugly name for the recording project; but hey, babe, what‘s in a name after all?
This time out Willet spreads out into more deeply jazz-rooted turf. “Saturday Girl“ begins in an acoustic format, evolves midway into laconic electric solos, and alternates. While resembling the approach of Al DiMeola somewhat—a lot of emphasis on technique, it does not contain enough melodic magnetism to sustain the attraction of one’s attention. Background music.
“Cadillac Avenue” however combines elements of – Satriani, Clapton and even ﬂashes of the late great Stevie Ray into a tantalizing concoction, invigoratingly funky and rivetingly succinct. The tune is too short, and that’s the highest compliment I could give. And the gorgeous “Melancholy Man” recalls Peter Green, Roy Buchanan, Pre-Mahavishnu John McLaughlin, and even David Gilmore, Santo and Johnny, and perhaps every other guitar legend who has come around in the past twenty years. Willet is that good, I ain’t kiddin’. He makes it sound so easy. That’s why he’s so dangerous. Kids pick the damn instrument up and think they can do it too. Rotsa ruck.
The skittering riff that propels “Gotta Get There” sounds deceptively simple, like Jimi during the Rainbow Bridge period. Scrabbling guitar sonics soar above an almost orchestral atmosphere, resolve into a section that prickles and bridles with energy. The folk-like acoustic ﬂavor of “Thin Ice“ echoes Steve Horse of Dixie Dregs without being even slightly imitative. Willet has his own style. But it evolved from the conscious (or unconscious) assimilation of the styles of all the aforementioned to get him to this space.
“Died and Went to Kelso” is a bluesy little jazz ditty that sort of heads off sideways into gospel inflected pyrotechnics, then back to square one. Not the strongest cut here, but I temporary diversion. “If Not For You” has its roots in the Eric Johnson school.
All in all it‘s another stalwart effort for the Willet Lussenden Group. Rumor has it that the band might be playing out soon. It might be a good idea to’ catch them in action. Certainly nobody can touch Willet’s ability, at least not in this neck of the woods. Willet Lussenden, not a name that rolls off the minds‘ tongue exactly, but I swear that after you hear him play, you’ll never forget Willet Lussenden’s name. With a name like that, he’s just gotta be good. And believe me, he is.
Young Turks recently relocated to Portland from New York City—probably because of the enormous opportunities for National exposure that Portland might afford them. Well, whatever the reason, the Turks bring with than an exciting, original sound. Singer/Guitarist Billy Snow reminds me of John Lennon vocally: not that he sounds like Lennon at all. but Snow has John’s ability to coo and scream, to whisper and wail. It’s a vital gift to be able to control any instrument with that much dynamic precision. Billy Snow has that kind of ability with his voice.
“Nite Haul” ﬂashes through a driving rift‘ shared between bassist Ray Wood and Snow’s “self-modified 9-string electrified acoustic” guitar. Well that guitar rings like a twelve-string on this cut, jangling and churning, if you can imagine Billy Idol fronting the Bongoes, then you can imagine “The Wound.” Snow plays an inspired solo in the middle of this curious droning yo-yo of a tune.
“NY Walk” kicks in with an instantly addictive guitar riff, floats off on Snow’s vocal, and jarring rhythm guitar interjections. This is a tremendous song. Wicked, raw, smug and leering, cool and cajoling. A great dance cut.
The Young Turks bring with them from the East Coast a pretty impressive resume, with an illustrious list of former players, and at least big time minor league credentials. I think as soon as they get out and get heard, that they will be very popular in this. the land of the star making machinery.
Here Comes Everybody
Here Comes Everybody remains one of Portland’s more esoteric pop hands. They don’t play around much, and the only consistent members are the husband and wife songwriting team of Michael Jarmer and Rene Ormae-Jarmer. But with Michael on drums and vocals and Rene on keys and backup vox, they pretty much have a band. Here they are backed up by Greg Kirkelie on guitar and John Huckfeldt (formerly of the Corps from Eugene) on bus.
“Happy” has a Tears for Fears feel about it, leading in with lush grand piano and Afro percussion ﬂourishes. Michael slips through the verses gently on the vocals. But like angry waves crashing on rocks, jagged guitar currents and glancing keyboard ﬁgures wash him into stormy currents. An intense and probing song.
“Mail Bomb” begins as a jaunty little tune with a certain foreboding about it. Reminds me slightly of an old Wang Chung tune. I’m not sure why. This is a country tune with a decidedly urban arrangement. I mean I could hear Buck Owens doing this tune. Well, if Scritti Politti would be his back up band…
HCE have a certain XTC quirkiness bout them that is ostensibly off-putting to the average brainless consumer. Tough shit. For those of you who like a good think to go along with your tunes consumption, well I guess Here Comes Everybody is your kind of band.
Probably not many of you are wondering to yourselves, “Gee, I wonder whatever happened to Thin Man?” Probably, there are more of you wondering “Gee, who‘s Thin Man?” This postulation is proffered, because l have come to terms with the grim conclusion that the collective attention span (and therefore, the long-term memory) of you, the Rock and Roll Public, is probably six months or so. lf a band is out of action for any longer than that—I mean without any rumors of internal strife, drug problems, or other exceedingly time-consuming side endeavors to keep the band’s name ﬂoating around—well, they’re history.
Thin Man dates back to the veritable Dark Ages of local rock: like, clear back to the early to mid- ‘80s. Some think of that time as the good old days: but, hey that’s their problem, let ‘em live with it.
Anyway, the brothers Langdahl, Rod and Rick (not to be confused with ex-Obit, M-99‘er Rob Landoll, or John Lindahl of Fresh Tracks), roared up the Valley, from Lebanon with Jenny Di Flora, of the ill-fated Jenny and the Jeans. About the time Billy Rancher and the Unreal Gods were hitting it big, and bands like the Odds. Modern Problems, eccentric, Posltlve Waves, the Results, the Dots and Neo-Boys, et al., were beginning to make the alternative scene alive with possibility—Thin Man emerged upon the shoulders of Rod Langdahl’s good looks, and good hooks spun through carefully crafted pop tunes.
The Portland music public never quite embraced the thin guys, and after years of local frustration, the brothers took the show to Sonyland: LA.
This tape contains a couple of Rod’s most popular compositions—“Heartprints” and “Hard Times” along with four newer cuts. Traditionally, Thin Man recordings have sucked: terrible sound quality, tepid performances. Fortunately, such is not the case here. For while the tape quality is still below average, the performance is animated and loose. “Love Conquers All” is a typical piece of Langdahl pop confection: innocuous lyric, leading to an inevitable chorus “Love conquers all/ Love is a law, and you’ve been arrested.” Uh? O.K. Molliere it ain’t, granted, but hey…Rod snaps in with a lightning bolt guitar solo—then into the cut-time part, where the band sounds a lot like INXS or Ice House. It’s a good cut.
“Call of the Wild” is out in Bryan Adams territory, with perhaps overtones of Midnight Oil (really!) in the ensemble playing, and tenor: though not at all political in context. ‘‘I Don’t Want to Save It” is built around a catchy “Layla“ like chord riff, and some inspired solo work. “Hard Times” has been updated, with some well-executed horn-synth charts and snappy guitar licks. This cut seems to be recorded on a bigger budget than the rest. The sound too, bears a lot of resemblance to the work of the Southern Hemispheric bands mentioned heretofore.
“Heartprints” also bears the mark of some serious studio time. Sounds like Rick Springﬁeld or something. I don’t know, a lot of bully bluster and strutty snuff—but not a whole lot of tangible juice. It’s kind of a pop hit from 1986. Dump it. Ditto, the ﬁnal cut, “Throw No Stones.”
Somewhere in the middle of all this is a really good band. Rick’s basswork is always pushing the beat, and his harmonies are those that only a brother could provide. What is lacking here is any kind of a social perspective. Lyrically, this is like sitting in a living room, observing a couple that’s just about to break up. Hey, Rod, there’s a war on. Lots of human beings are getting bombed on and shot up for no damn reason. What do you have to say about that? Maybe “Love Conquers All,” but I see oil and blood in the greedy waters of tranquillity, and it’s washing all over everyone. It’s time you got out of the house more often, Rod.
For Lovin’ Me
Gary sounds a lot like Neil Young. Here, producer Cal Scott has him sounding like Don Henley. Such a musical set-up wouldn’t work so well for Neil and it doesn‘t work so well for Gary, either. “Why Baby Why?” is a simple song that is pumped up to epic proportions, thereby draining the song of any real emotion. A more direct arrangement of the tune would certainly allow the lyrical perceptions contained within to ﬂow more freely.
The title tune works better because the presentation is more restrained. A nice sax solo by Danny Schaufﬂer, elevates the tune as well. Ferreira has sighing-like quality at the end of his vocal phrases that is reminiscent of Craig Carothers. KINK would play this record.
“Mistakes” could pass for a Stars and Bars out-take, and benefits greatly from Steve Savoie’s authentically raunchy lead guitar. The chorus suffers from predictability, could be dressed up through different chord changes, or melodic variation.
Gary Ferreira writes good pop songs, nothing to get hung about, but there is a homespun quality to his observations. It is my impression that it is the country market to which musicians like Gary should be tailoring their recordings. I think only Neil Young can get away with being Neil Young.