Tag Archives: Ben Vaughn

Ramblerin’ Gamblerin’ Man

It’s never a bad day to pimp Ben Vaughn.

Fourteen years ago this Friday, I felt the same way. Lots of people were going the indie route and recording in their home studio. Not many were doing it in their car. (Recording, I mean…I’m sure lots of people were “doing it” in a car. Some things never change.)

Here we go, from April Fools’ Day in 1997, and I was most certainly not pulling anyone’s leg. Still not. Get your Vaughn on.

If it sounds good in a car, why not record it in a car?” – Ben Vaughn, 1996

Probably the only people not shocked to hear that Ben Vaughn recorded his new CD inside his 1965 Rambler American (“the Fender Telecaster of cars“, says Ben) are his fans; they know that Ben is capable of just about anything. So what to do after less accessible side projects like Cubist Blues (recorded with Alex Chilton and Alan Vega) and the pairing with Kim Fowley? Vaughn uses his zaniest concept to date to create his best record since Dressed In Black.

Two songs are co-written with Bill Lloyd, and they’re both killer. The opening track “7 Days Without Love” rocks, complete with feet slapping on the car’s floorboard. “Boomerang” combines Vaughn’s megaphone-induced vocal with an instrumental punch straight out of the Sir Douglas Quintet. (I’d believe they were actually on the track but I know he couldn’t have fit them in the car). “Rock is Dead” is an example of Vaughn’s wit, an ode to the future when there’s “a blank space on your TV/where the music channel used to be” and “abandoned tour buses scattered across the hills“.

Outside of the sitar solo on “Levitation”, the stripped-down arrangements force Vaughn’s songs to be judged on their own merits. One listen to a simple melody like “Song For You” and those who are not Ben fans may be quickly converted. A Vaughn album is always a mix of surf, pop, country, rockabilly and anything else he can get his hands on. Rambler 65 is no different, with pop oddities like “Perpetual Motion Machine” (suggesting his work for TV’s “Third Rock From The Sun“) countered with bluesy wisps like “Beautiful Self Destruction”. An actual Rambler ad is even tossed in just to keep you honest.

Vaughn claims he was able to record the record in six afternoons because “everything was a first take because I just wanted to get the hell out of the car!” Cramming a small mixing board, effects pedals, a turntable, mikes and a reel-to-reel inside a car with the windows rolled up is about as intimate as you can get. And while recording in a car has other drawbacks besides leg room, Vaughn made the best of them. With airplanes flying overhead every so often, he finally gave up avoiding them and included one as the intro to “The Only Way To Fly”. Typical Vaughn, using whatever is necessary to deliver the goods, and it works.

And yes, there’s an engine solo

Ramblerin' Gamblerin' Man?

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New Album! Rob Skane

Well, new as of last September, anyway. I only have two ears.

Rob Skane, an upstate New York pop songwriter, has assembled a really nice acoustic based collection of three-minute pop songs. Weaving your way through you will probably draw the conclusion that Rob is a fan of Paul Westerberg (“Army of Individuality”), Elvis Costello (“You Preach Peace” – A/B that puppy with “Radio Radio”), Graham Parker (“Ballad of a Small Man”), Paul Collins (“I Waited”) and Nick Lowe (“In My Room”). The whole album has that loose, casual feel of  Marshall Crenshaw. Hell, that’s all from the good end of my record collection.

Ironically released on LoFi Records, Skane’s songs are primarily fueled by chunky acoustic guitar, simple but infectious melodies and choruses. His lead vocals, while not stellar, are well-suited to the songs; if you can appreciate Jesse Malin, Jonathan Richman, Eytan Mirsky, Michael Shelley or Ben Vaughn this is right up your alley. There are no explosive moments; guitar solos are brief, playing is tight without being flashy.

Video: “I Waited

While many of the songs are three chord wonders and can be a bit repetitive (especially the first two), most of them really grew on me.  (With one exception – I have no idea what’s going on with the hidden track, but if the purpose is to remind you to get up and take the CD out of the player, mission accomplished.) It would be almost impossible to hear “Girl Next Door” or  “I Waited” and not drum on the dashboard, and “You Preach Peace” deserves much wider airplay.

Give Phantom Power Trip a listen; I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Visit the Rob Skane website.

Buy at CD Baby or Amazon.

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Mixtape: She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not

 Mixtape time again!

This one, She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not – was from my monthly mixtape swaps back in 1997. Here’s what I wrote back then as an introduction:

Love comes in spurts, says Richard Hell. Love comes in cycles, sez me. The wonder of a crush, the rush of recognition that affection is mutual, the delicate jab and parry of getting to know someone, that first kiss, the first mistake, the uneasy first fight, the first break up (and the wonderful first make-up), the second mistake and third, the wandering eye, being taken for granted, being misunderstood, falling apart, getting sad, getting bitter, getting haunted, that smile-on-the-surface but acid-in-your-stomach feeling of seeing them with someone else, the greens and blues, the depression, the worthlessness and then just when you think you’ll jump…that new person who sends a thousand volts through your spine and into your heart. Another chance, and you drag your still smoldering carcass through the whole mess again.

So here’s the yang and yin; the L-O-V-E and H-A-T-E tattoos that Robert Mitchum wore on his knuckles are now on your heart.

(This one’s for you, Eli.)

SHE LOVES ME side

DANIELLES MOUTH – Crush

Sweet, saucy, sexy – is there anything better than a crush? Can be innocent, but I know what Danielle wants!

JONNY POLONSKY – Love Lovely Love

I know Jonny isn’t sixteen, but it’s that bubbly optimism that gets me. Great pop record, except it was only 30 minutes long…

BIG STAR – Thirteen

One of my favorite songs, ever! Alex Chilton perfectly captures that frustration of being a (sorry, Dion) “teenager in love”

MARSHALL CRENSHAW – I’ll Do Anything

From maybe the best debut record ever….love makes you do funny things!

DWIGHT TWILLEY – Please Say Please

This Beatle-esque rocker a bonus track on the reissue of the great “Sincerely” record. Self-explanatory!

THE REPLACEMENTS – Kiss Me On The Bus

Maybe the same couple from “Thirteen”? Forget what’s proper and KISS ME, baby!

PHIL SEYMOUR – Baby It’s You

The late, great Phil with what has to be one of the most perfect pop records ever made! Sing it LOUD!

ADAM SCHMITT – Garden of Love

So you’re afraid, baby, been hurt before? Trust me! From what might be the best record of the 1990’s

LOU CHRISTIE – Lightning Strikes

I remember this from when I was a young pup, having my heart yo-yo’d for one of the first of many times. A classic!

BEN VAUGHN – Words Can’t Say What I Want To Say

Yeah, I’ve felt like this. That ga-ga, mouth-open, please-god-don’t-let-me-say-something-stupid moment

RICHARD X HEYMAN – When She Arrives

I can’t wait until “Cornerstone” comes out so you can all see what a great record this is. A love cycle in itself!

THE FACES – Tell Everyone

A Ronnie Lane tune, but Rod sings it…true love settles in for the long haul?

CROWDED HOUSE – Fall At Your Feet

An adult version of the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There”, with music so pretty I’d love it even without the words! Uh-oh, side’s over….

SHE LOVES ME NOT side

JOHAN – Easy

Swedish pop rules! A 1997 record that almost slipped by sees the chink in the armour…

THE FLASHCUBES – You’re Not The Police

Things are starting to fall apart..we can’t go on together, with suspicious minds. GREAT 1997 reissue!

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS – Bored Of You

Uh-oh….nice guys finish last. Why do women want to be treated like queens and then fall for rude assholes? Moe knows…

THE RUBINOOS – Over You

Where I start lying to myself, saying that it doesn’t hurt…all the while my heart is bleeding…

THE MONTGOMERY CLIFFS – Tonight

More bravado, and two can play that game, baby…this time when you put the cheese in the trap, I’m not buying.

JEN TRYNIN – I Resign

I think Jen is the best female songwriter around. I love the way her mind works!

THE RASCALS – You Better Run

Pat Benetar, eat your heart out. Oh yeah – I ain’t gonna eat out my heart anymore……

THE BEAT – I Will Say No

Go on, get out of my life, and let me make a new start. Maybe the longest fade out in pop history

KENNY HOWES – Somebody

Not sure if she’s still trying to come back or whether I’m fooling myself, but I feel better. Get lost!

THE KINKS – Set Me Free

It’s frightening to think just how many great songs Ray Davies wrote in about three years time. Bye Bye Baby!

DWIGHT TWILLEY – Release Me

I never put an artist on a tape twice, but have to here. SINCERELY is a Desert Island Disk! Heartbreak!

TOMMY KEENE – Nothing Happened Yesterday

More self-denial from one of the great pop unknowns. I am man, hear me roar!

TONIO K – Stay

Oh shit….two damaged people see that spark and circle each other – should I try to fall in love again? Flip the tape over, honey, ’cause here we go again!

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Blast From The Past: Ben Vaughn

Let's see Ted Danson try and pull this off!

Let's see Ted Danson try and pull this off!

I first encountered Ben Vaughn when I went to see Marshall Crenshaw perform at a small college; Ben was the unannounced opening act who was the sacrificial lamb to a group of stoners impatient to hear the headliner. I must admit that I was not open-minded either; Vaughn was far from dynamic given the circumstances and the ambiance of a gymnasium certainly didn’t help. But right near the end of his half-hour set he pulled out “I’m Sorry (But So Is Brenda Lee)”, a song Crenshaw would soon cover himself. I knew from that moment I needed to follow this guy. (This thought was reinforced in spades years later when he recorded an album using the interior of a 1965 Rambler as his studio)

By the time Dressed In Black came out, Vaughn was respected enough to call upon the services of guests like John Hiatt, Alex Chilton, Peter Holsapple and Foster & Lloyd to join him in the studio. The result was probably his most accessible pop album, with takes on punk (“Cashier Girl”), rockabilly (“Growin’ A Beard”), commercial pop (“Big Drum Sound”), retro/surf (“Don’t Say You Don’t Wanna”) and even pop music tragedy through Neil Young flavored Americana (“Poor Jimmy Gordon”). The songwriting is clever; the performances note perfect.

Video for Cashier Girl

Songs like “Words Can’t Say What I Want To Say” and  “The Man Who Has Everything” are as effervescent and accessible today as they were in 1990, and the brooding “Too Sensitive For This World” should be on many artists’ short lists of songs to cover. There’s really not a weak track on the record; in the days of auto-reverse cassette decks I would often let this ride two and three times in a row without regret.

He’s found great success as a producer – That 70s Show and Third Rock From The Sun feature his music – and his musical bandwidth continues to grow. But Dressed In Black remains not only my favorite Vaughn album, but also one of my favorite albums, period. If you do not own this record I can not recommend it more highly.

I’m now off to pay closer attention to his recent Vaughn Sings Vaughn series; if he’s re-recording his catalogue with a new band, I’m willing to listen.

Ben’s website

Ben Vaughn on MySpace

More info at Wikipedia.

Dressed In Black for a song

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Under The Radar: Eytan Mirsky

I'm always ready for Eytan

I'm always ready for Eytan

Eytan Mirsky has been on my radar for over a decade, but thanks to the wonderfully closed shop we call pop radio, he’s probably flying under yours. Then again, you might be familiar with his work by accident – a few of his pop chestnuts have adorned films like American Splendor, Happiness and The Tao of Steve.

Mirsky has four albums out, all good, but if you’re going to start somewhere I suggest his 2000 release Get Ready For Eytan (my original review follows below). And keep an eye – or ear – open for his songs in some of your favorite independent films where this talented man enjoys a broad and diverse career.

eytan mirsky get ready

New Yorker Eytan Mirsky might be filling up his press kit with clippings about his soundtrack contributions, but if Get Ready For Eytan gets some circulation, the accolades will start flowing in from that as well. In the independent film Happiness, Michael Stipe and Rain Phoenix sing the Mirsky-penned title track, an ironic title for a film centered on so many dysfunctional characters. Mining the same territory, Get Ready is a fourteen track collection of vignettes about unrequited love, betrayal and just plain neurotic romanticism, and if Mirsky isn’t culling notes from his own scrapbook, he’s done a great job of scoping out his behaviorally stumbling peers.

Lyrically funny and straightforward, Mirsky is drawing comparisons to Marshall Crenshaw and Nick Lowe for his clever wordplay and knack for classic pop hooks. But I hear something much more left of center – Michael Shelley, Jonathan Richman and especially Ben Vaughn come to mind time and time again. Why? Well, I’m laughing my ass off at him and feeling sorry for his misfortunes at the same time, like an audio Woody Allen experience. More often than not, the songs find this lovable loser – and who hasn’t uttered this one – looking in the mirror asking “What Did I Do?”. And when he does get lucky, he still gets screwed – like when the girlfriend in “All The Guys You Loved Before” insists upon divulging her past to the cringing Eytan.

Well I’m not saying / that you’re promiscuous / but did you really have to go / and make a list?

Mirsky wrote all the songs and sings lead and background vocals; the band is a simple guitar/bass/drums/piano combo that is energetic but not loud, equally effective ripping through surf riffs or steering slow dancers through mid-tempo ballads. Larry Saltzman, in particular, does not let the sparse production prevent him from rocking out when called for (especially on “Record Collection” and “Outta Sight). And just one look at song titles like “Somebody To Blame”, “Allergic To Fun” and “The Vulture Of Love” tells you this is something different and worthwhile. As he sings, his yearning, confusion or misguided superiority (the hilarious “Drop That Loser”) comes across loud and clear even though his style changes as subtly as a facial expression.

Writing this off as quirky pop tunes is unfair. Mirsky is a clever writer with the ability to make the three minute pop song sound new again – no fog machines or lighting trusses necessary.

Visit Eytan’s MySpace site.

Grab some Eytan via CDBaby.

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