Off The Beaten Track: Music Reviews & Musings by Mary Leary
Kelley Stoltz: To Dreamers (Sub Pop)
The Magnificent Brotherhood: Dope Idiots (World In Sound/Trip In Time)
Dead Gumbies: Three-song EP (Dead Gumbies)
Peter Stabile (1947-2010)
I don’t just feel like a dummy, I feel like a dummy-squared.
“Well, you seem pretty intelligent to me, Mary,” I hear you answering.
Hiding a slight wince at the modifier “pretty,” I slant my head and say, “Until last week, I didn’t know who Kelley Stoltz was. I saw him in June with Sonny and the Sunsets and didn’t even know that guy behind the drums was this incredible pop songwriter/performer. And I felt rather cranky when Fred Mills, my editor at Blurt, felt compelled to insert Stoltz’s name into my Sonny and the Sunsets album review ( http://beta.blurt-online.com/reviews/view/2417/) – like, I mentioned the only other member who stands out on the CD. And now I’m speaking in awkward sentences, which are too often ending with the word ‘was’!”
After glancing at your watch, you venture, “Well…the name ‘Kelley Stoltz’ doesn’t have any sort of ring to it, and Kelley is a pretty common name…”
With my family situation, and Peter Stabile killing himself two weeks ago, for a few weeks I was back in one of those slumps where I just ignore the pile of media I’m supposed to be considering. Occasionally I muster some energy and throw one CD on after another, trying to figure out how to say anything interesting or constructive about a bunch of derivative drek driven by no apparent original verve or compositional aptitude. Or the music’s okay; I’m just not finding it inspiring or stimulating.
I’d forgotten about the Kelley Stoltz one. But before the first track, “Rock & Roll with Me,” is half over, I’m goin’, “Yeah!” and, again, “Yeah!!” And then I’m amazed, ‘cause not only is the next song really good, but it’s good in a different way. As is the next, and almost all of the songs after. A few hours later, I want to hear To Dreamers again. After playing it a few more times I realize Stoltz has crafted something cohesive; a complete work of art. He has also managed to integrate The Kinks, glam/glitter rock, The Hollies and even early Roxy Music so well that he intuits exactly which style to pull out of his kit bag; nailing the right nuance for every inch of every song.
Stoltz could draw a road map for something accomplished by very few ‘60s/’70s –inspired artists –and that’s not only playing this stuff as if he were born in the late ‘40s, but making it sound completely now. He does this with joy and élan, as if his songs, and the ways to best present them, appear to him during daily naps.
While there are no videos at the moment of Kelley performing To Dreamers songs, here’s a good one from Circular Sounds (2008).
By the way, “Rock & Roll with Me” might lead you to believe the album’s a full-on hip-shaker. Umm… not so much. The song is just an invitation, the kind that reminds me of kids’ birthday party invites with lots of round shapes and bright, happy colors, and a little button you press for music that sounds like Gary Glitter if Gary Glitter sounded more like The Human League. Stoltz is yet another San Francisco talent – his more rockin’ stuff has some of that John Dwyer/Oh Sees fervor. You can see how he and Sonny Smith must support and influence one another.
Basically, if you have a yen, and are in a position to relocate, I’d draw an arrow with its point ending somewhere between San Francisco and Seattle. If pressed, I’d tilt the arrow toward ‘Frisco: Amazing scene happening there.
While Stoltz inserts tasteful bits of Farfisa where indicated, Berlin-based The Magnificent Brotherhood wants to have sex with a row of these organs. Some of its tunes, like the one performed below, nail a sweetly-moody, Human-Beinz or Outsiders vibe. Some of them make me want to yank the CD off and throw on The Blues Magoos. If your compass points toward Germany, you know where to go for some serious fruggin’.
I’m also warmed that TMB is releasing Dope Idiots via both CD and “gatefold vinyl.” And gotta heart the band featuring a Sky Saxon pic and quote (“The Magnificent Brotherhood, one of my favorite bands down here on earth”) on the promo flyer. It doesn’t make any sense – shades of Spinal Tap!
Before we tackle the last couple items, Stoltz and TMB have brought The Syndicate of Sound to mind. Here the band lips syncs “Little Girl.” I love how the guitar sounds like it’s fluttering, which throws a compelling bit of conflict into this garage classic.
One afternoon in these two depressing weeks I was alternating some other work with clicking through to whatever artists promoters were pushing via email. Nothing resonated. Then Dead Gumbies popped up with a Myspace friend request (note to musicians: get to journalists when they’re weary and defenseless). I slid over to the band page to be rather moved by the slammin’ power chords of “Politicians Reign.” Since I don’t think gumbies can move very fast, I’ll go ahead and say the rest of their stuff is pretty ridiculous. Actually, “Politicians” is based on a Beavis and Butthead sorta syllogism (is that ever a bad thing?). And was Gumby ever alive? Is this a question for philosophers? I know, I know: What the guys in the band are saying is that when, at the age of four, they kept switching channels and finding nothing but Clutch Cargo and Gumby cartoons (either of which would make any bright toddler sneer), they wanted to shoot a hole through the screen… or was that just me?
Anyways, sometimes a blast of dumber-than-carrots, moderately-revved speed metal is just what the doctor on the Tex/Mex border… ordered. Re: the links at the page bottom I got the bright idea of directing you to my Myspace rather than the Gumbies page (just kidding, Gumbies, you’re there too). I was in such a fast ‘n’ loose space, day I heard the song, I added “Politicians” to my profile playlist. In case you’re wondering, you can find Gumbies merch on Ebay. (I don’t have to bother: the duo included a black-and-green t-shirt with the EP. Jeez, you have to include at least two Ts to buy this writer, guys…)
I’m dedicating this installment to Peter Stabile. About two weeks ago, I was shocked when my friend Michael sent a simple message: “Peter is dead.” I just screamed, “No!” before heading over to a gathering of shocked friends and family.
Suddenly there was a hole in one of the most wonderful places in San Diego (Auntie Helen’s) , and in a community. It’s such a big loss, I haven’t been able to do any creative writing for a few weeks although a good, monthly spoken word gathering, Stanza, has manifested (every first Sunday at Thumbprint Gallery, 6:30 p.m.). Last Sunday I forced myself out the door ‘cause I knew I’d be sorry if I missed it. Before I could perform anything else I improvised something about Peter. That helped me get closer to any sort of acceptance.
One of the many points of resonance between Peter, Michael and I has been our experience of retro rock and pop. Without it’s ever coming up, I know Peter loved the Syndicate of Sound, and probably had memories connected with “Little Girl.” And I think he would have loved Kelley Stoltz. The Dead Gumbies? All I can say is, he’s the kind of guy with whom I could share a smoke, trying to explain a band like that, and know he’d never raise an eyebrow or look at me like I was crazy. Friends don’t care if you’re nutty – at least mine don’t.
During the late ‘90s I sometimes performed a piece called “Between Life and Death.” The part of the poem where T’s guitar and my verses stopped and I deadpanned, “Did he think, ‘I am dead already’?” comes to mind around a lot of the stuff to which I’ve lately borne witness, including Peter’s suicide. The way I presented that poem was influenced by experiencing Patti Smith in NYC in ’74, when she still incorporated a lot of poetry. She dropped my jaw with “Piss Factory” that night. Along with a few tracks from Horses, it’s among the few Smith compositions that have held my interest. It’s a furious poem. I’m tired of how hard life is for so many good people. I was so furious about losing another great soul, I couldn’t even get to any tears until I let some of the anger out at Stanza.
I hope you enjoy at least some of these sounds. I hope I’ve provided some sort of enrichment, and helpful fiber, with this installment.