Sunday, January 28, 2007

Best of 1989

Here's a portion of the "50 Albums of 1989" list that was published in New Musical Express at the end of that year. Click on it for a larger, readable image. And there we are, in the lower right corner, smack in the middle of the pack at #25, surpassed only by the likes of Elvis Costello's 'Spike' (not pictured) and Bob Dylan's 'Oh Mercy' (pictured, and the best album he'd made in quite some time). Ken, I recall took particular delight in the phrase "lovable[y] batty." From this, one might surmise that a career in the music business might have been in store for us, that major-label status and full-time musicmaking was just around the corner. We certainly surmised that.

The album in question, 'Why Should I Stand Up?' conjures mixed emotions for me, and, I suspect, for other members of the group as well. It was the first full-length recording that I played on with CbJE, and it documents that the transition to the horn-infused sound of the new group took some time. There are some great songs on there: the title track, the wondrous "Buster Cornelius," the inscrutable "Hi-Fi Alphabet," "That's Entertainment," and others. And, I think it began to approach the sound and vision for the group that Chuck had had all along. But the album (for me) is hampered by a two-dimensional sound quality, flat and undefined, as well as excessive horn overdubs on "Why Should I Stand Up," and "He Must Have Been Quite Guy." (Those are my fault.) I am quite proud of my solo on "Polka Girl" (the only CbJE thing my clarinet teacher ever complimented me on) and the clarinet/guitar interplay of Phil and I on "I'm a Sailor." And the amazing string of solos/duos on "Buster Cornelius" is a magical piece of musical storytelling.

WSISU, unfortunately, was the only album the band made that was widely distributed in the USA and overseas. It's still the easiest bit of CbJE to find on eBay. The album that followed, 'Strange Sounds from the Basement,' shows that we all had learned from our mistakes. Recorded at the same studio, it has more clarity, and despite being an acoustic album, more power. If WSISU had been recorded with the sparkle and oomph of that later album, it'd be a classic.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

In between San Francisco and the Fullham Greyhound

The White Caps put out the horrific America, America/Blind Girl 45. The San Francisco line-up was documented with the now hard-to-find Talk To Me single. The other sessions that yielded that platter may someday come to light.

The best document for the post S.F./pre-touring line-up has to be the first self-titled Colorblind James Experience L.P. which features the "hits" Considering a Move to Memphis, Dance Critters, A Different Bob and Fledgling Circus.

Meaning no disrespect to the host of great players who have done their time with the Experience, I've always considered the line-up of Chuck, Ken Frank, Jimmy Mac, Dave McIntire, Joe "the Bone" Columbo and myself to be not only the definitive band but also the one that best represented Chuck's vision.

That being said, I can't stress enough the importance and the fondness I have for the 1985-1987 line-up of Chuck, Bernie Heveron (upright bass), G. Elwyn Meixner (guitar/banjo), Jimmy Mac and myself. It was a completely different band that was in many ways more diverse, less focused and more humorous than any version before or after it.

The biggest difference was the more "democratic" approach the band had. It was closer to Chuck's early jugband days in the Water Street Boys. Save for Jimmy Mac, everybody sang and everybody contributed original material.

Bernie's contributions included the popular First Day of Spring ("She's a witch!"), Three Feet and Nocturnal Emissions. G. Elwyn's songs included his own I Gave You My Number (which exists on the "Live at Jazzberry's" cassette) and Poor Able, which later appeared on the Crossing Lake Riley LP by his own group the Wilderness Family. I tried out a bunch of songs but the one's that stuck were the instrumental Havoc Theme and the song that became a millstone around my neck, Summer Of Love.

The gigs were often chaotic and silly and bounced from Bernie covering Sesame Street songs ("Hey, Kid! Where'd you get the lid?"), G. Elwyn's 10-minute workouts on Ry Cooder's Chevrolet and my primal scream nonsense on S.O.L. Chuck would bide his time while everyone took their turn until he could launch into Rodeo Night, Walking My Camel Home or some other chestnut.

G. Elwyn was the first to leave, needing to pursue his own leadership role in the Wilderness Family. The W.F. also released its own LP, Crossing Lake Riley, on Personal Effects' Earring Records. For the short time they were around, they offered the Rochester scene a completely unique sound of Gary's beautiful voice and very underrated guitar backed by upright bass, drums and accordion.

G. Elwyn originally had been the vocalist on Chuck's "German Girls" but Chuck went in and re-recorded his own vocal once Gary split.

Bernie's departure was more problematic in that his song "First Day of Spring" was included on the first LP, getting airplay on John Peel's show, and talk of touring was in the wind. Night after night in England Chuck would find himself apologizing to fans that we were not going to play FDOS because the guy who wrote it was no longer with the band. Regardless of what one may think of the song, Chuck would never sing someone else's song unless it was some time worn gem of Americana. Some fans were irate, to say the least.

Once the line-up got overhauled with the addition of Ken, Dave and trombonist John Ebert, Chuck took the opportunity to end the democracy and place himself as sole songwriter. I encouraged that as well having experienced an immediate sense of band focus after G. Elwyn's departure. Not contributing original material played a big part in Bernie's decision to leave to. For awhile he put his own band together, Flatfoot, to highlight his songs.

For many fans, the sheer absurd fun and potshot approach of the early line-up was everything. Many did not transition into the touring line-up. It was more focused but for them, too much was lost in achieving it.