Off The Beaten Track: Music Reviews and Musings by Mary Leary

This installment doesn’t lasso anything very far from what might be called the mainstream–which, for me, is rather off the beaten track. But I’ve never really cared whether I’m adhering to whatever the coolest Heather or most terminally unique record collector thinks should be the focus. It’s led to a happier life, including good pop (although it’s hard to say without blushing, I’ve been known to smile at Hall and Oates), and, sometimes, flat-out schlock (especially if it’s amusing). Here’s a pop song that’s pretty schlocky:

Up and Coming Local Song Wiz, Rob Bondurant

Up and Coming Local Song Wiz, Rob Bondurant

Rob Bondurant

Occasionally some things just make sense. Local songwriter/performer Rob Bondurant’s spot in the finals of Shaner Promotion’s 2009 Songwriting Competition is one of them.

I became aware of Rob when he showed up for an open mic. at a café I was booking a few years ago. He caught every melody-hungry ear with “Waitress,” possibly the most compelling original we heard that night, and certainly the best for anyone his age, which at that point I think was 19. His presentation gleamed with a fresh, breathless excitement I heard from few others on the scene, including people who were more confident or technically skilled.

Two years later I caught up with him at a venue with dreadful sound. It didn’t matter; among several sublime moments, the chorus of the recent composition, “Crossing Lines,” raised the hairs on the back of my neck. Rob says it will be one of his two entries in the competition, which happens at Humphrey’s this Sunday, September 27, from 2:30-6:30 p.m.

If you miss that, Rob’s first Lestat’s show happens October 24, when he opens for Josh Damigo, himself an ingratiating performer. All the det’s are on Rob’s Myspace: http://www.myspace.com/rbm18

More on The Love Me Nots and The Wandas after the jump.

The Love Me Nots: UpsideDown InsideOut

Maybe you’ve heard how hipsters in hot, dry Arizona are staying hydrated. It’s an odd little method, also known as copious alcohol + the Love Me Nots, who tend to surface in dimly-lit enclaves throughout the state. Around this new album they will go further, with junkets to the Northeast and Northwest.

On September 20 the mood reported on their Myspace is “hungover,” which makes sense after a CD release party. As a former hard drinker (which, as a half-Irish poet, may go without saying), I often wonder at people who can throw ‘em back until they get sick, then be (or care about being) functional.

Drunk or getting over it, the Love Me Nots continue to churn out impassioned regurgitations of Farfisa-driven, ‘60s-flavored rock somewhat colored by later regurgitations (Blondie, the Cramps, and more). There’s no irony in it, or it’s all irony without chuckles, which is part of why this has been something of a tough sell for me.

If a style is being redone, I tend to like one of two approaches: Do it straight, as well or better than the original. Or, as Rudy Protrudi (Tina Peel, the Fuzztones) figured, knowing his audience knew the originals – poke fun at it and yourself while taking a few left turns and somehow creating something new, or at least different, along the way.

The LMNs do neither, playing it straight but as if new/post-new wave colorings were part of the original deal. This is something I see often with indies from roughly 1998-forward. I suppose it’s an inevitable consequence of the ready availability of all recorded media.

Even though I’d rather go see the Satelliters (for the straight-ahead approach) or Imperial Teens (sweet pop glory + satirical schlock), there are some reasons for the buzz that’s been buzzing around the LMNs.

If these musicians were cooks, food critics might say the band’s fresh spy/surf/mod vibe is well tempered by the “acid” of Laurenne’s icy passion. Producer Jim Diamond’s (Romantics/White Stripes) involvement hasn’t hurt. Re: this CD, the tracks I’d recommend are “Do What You Do,” “Train Wreck,” and “Rosie.” Also notable, and rather feminist, is the anthem-ish “I’m Not That Kind of Girl.”

I just have one cranky critic’s quibble: The LMNs think big, as in referencing a mid-‘60s classic, the Yardbirds’s “Over Under Sideways Down” (one of the best rock ‘n’ roll singles from an extraordinary era) along with calling the Cramps and Sonics influences. Well… the Yardbirds, including sometimes over-his-head singer Keith Relf, could have kicked the LMNs offstage without missing a beat.

Part of that song’s power is in the approach, and it’s partly in great song writing. Re: approach, here’s an example of passion mixed with humor–in this case it’s not so much about technical proficiency as sloppy abandon and/or dropping “the act,” mixed with just enough discipline:

When the names of major talents are dropped, what I hope is happening (on the part of the band) is what the French call “homage,” and that critics are combining wishful thinking with impatience for this generation’s Next Big Things. Big ambitions could mean the LMNs will still manifest fantastic art.

My apparent naysaying is really a sly way of whipping the band on to greater heights. Here’s one idea: since the LMNs seem to do exciting shows and Phoenix isn’t that far, they should play the Casbah. They could open for Grand Old Party (or the Dum Dum Girls–whatever band includes Kristin) and there could be a metallic-girl-voice battle-of-the-bands.

As Steve Marriott (Small Faces) might have said: the LMN’s clothes and graphics are boss. In fact, presentation is part of what piqued my interest, and then I felt a bit duped by the reality.

The Wandas: New Wave Blues

My experience with the Wandas has been nearly the opposite. The name doesn’t really convey anything. I wasn’t compelled by the CD’s cover art, which looks more appropriate for a sci fi tome. But I’ve found myself loving this music much more than I expected from my first look at a video (above) that drew over 36,000 views on Fuse.tv this July.

At first, New Wave Blues’s title track feels annoying: Why would I want to listen to a lead singer (Keith McEachern) who sounds like Julian Lennon on thorazine? After the guitar really kicks in there’s a nonchalant but inevitable-feeling progression, kind of like Sinister Luck or even Wilco, and then I get tired of reaching for comparisons because the work has the sort of strength that yells (which McEachern is sort of doing by the chorus, with backing): This is just us, doing what we do. Which makes me cock my head at whoever wrote this bio tidbit: “The Wandas have created an album that incorporates contagious hooks and rich harmonies while maintaining their indie integrity…”

Believe me, there are a lot of indies who should have this much integrity. And now I’ll tell you what I really think: “Indie” is a term that might as well be interspersed with “hip” at this point, and, uh, I kind of said all this in my Micachu review months ago, so if you’re interested, please just go back and read it. There should be no apology for wanting to write really great music in return for one’s rent or mortgage. And with the shake-up that’s rocked the record industry and made older indies scramble to keep up, it’s all coming down to what people want and like; what resonates – and what resonates often feels real. Like the Wandas – who also make me smile at how they’re carrying on a Northeast tradition of thoughtful, open, populist, loving music (the Lovin’ Spoonful, the Little Rascals, NRBQ, Innocence Mission–with, turning West, a dash of Bright Eyes).

“Bending Over Backwards”is another solid pop song. “Everyday” benefits from lead guitar that so effectively channels George Harrison in the ‘70s, I can forget what year it is. The cat sleeping next to me looks annoyed by the sudden energy of “Trepidation,” which is absolutely brilliant. It makes me want to go see these Cambridge-based young men live. It gets me excited about living even though I’m frustrated ‘cause I don’t have anything like the budget to run to Boston for a Wandas show, to see what kind of scene generated, and is supporting, this phenomenon.

“1 in 4″ shines with some of the exuberance that knocked everyone over as the Beatles did with early singles like “From Me To You” or She Loves You.” “Fighting a War” sounds more specifically like the latter’s Mystery Tour phase, even throwing in some Paul McCartney “oohs.”

A warm folk-rock harmony kicks off “The Lady,” which throws a few left elbows in our ribs. “Lose You”turns right and ends up sounding rather like a Rivers Cuomo-Peter Svensson collaboration. Closer “Better Now” is a relief, since a painful break-up has clearly permeated this collection. Erica Mazaika’s added vocals are one of many wise choices ensuring the variety of sound fueling my Hearty Recommendation: Get this now, for the $9.99 suggested download price, or free, which is also on offer. In either case I have every reason to hope the Wandas will be around to add to some of the best pop I’ve heard this year. Here’s some footage from a surprising (they must have gotten passes from school that day) appearance on one of the last episodes of The Gilmore Girls.

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