Tag Archives: Ducky Carlisle

New Album! Bleu

I was an instant fan of Bleu’s first commercial album Redhead; although it came out early in the year I predicted that it would be tough to top as the year’s best and indeed found it placed atop my Best of 2003 list. And although I enjoyed the reissue of his regional debut Headroom and the Alpacas Orgling album that his pop supergroup L.E.O. issued, they weren’t as strong. Even the highly anticipated Major Labels band (with Mike Viola and Ducky Carlisle) seemed to be missing the fire and with A Watched Pot Bleu seemed to be going against his own instincts to create music that would fit a more vanilla format.

So he decided to strip it all down and use Kickstarter to raise funds for a new project where he could follow his own muse and not the expectations of others.

Bingo.

Here’s my review from the current issue of Bucketful Of Brains

“Just when you think it was a waste of time / you come to find / everything was fine”.

For his aptly titled fourth album, Bleu McCauley embraced the new paradigm by choice (or by necessity) and turned to his fan base to help raise the funds to record and release the album. Perhaps it was the artistic freedom, perhaps it was the pressure to deliver, But Four is head and shoulders better than last year’s disappointing A Watched Pot. On that album it seemed as if Bleu was trying to craft radio hits to fit a more vanilla format. Here he’s relaxed and confident, and as a result the songs are vessels for his talent rather than adverts for his pop skills.

Back is the energy and passion he displayed on his astounding Redhead album, tempered by experience. What we have here is a more mature, but still exuberant, songwriter who can’t help writing ear candy, even able to get away with lyrics like “don’t ever think your shit don’t stink, ’cause everybody’s does“. Working again with producer Ducky Carlisle, the slower songs sound anthemic and the uptempo tunes jump out of the speakers. And my god…that voice! His theatrical and expressive voice can nail a slower tune; “Ya Catch More Flies With Honey Than Vinegar” flaunts his falsetto while “I’m In Love With My Lover”, a slowly simmering soul ballad, has Van Morrison written all over it.

Perhaps the uncertainty in musical direction gave cause for Bleu to think of his mortality – he sings about leaping out of the casket in “B.O.S.T.O.N.”, but even that pales in comparison to the horn-laden gospel rave-up “I’ll Be Dead In The Morning”. But Four is anything but a downer; the gauntlet thrown down in the kinetic opener “Singin’ In Tongues” gets an aptly upbeat answer in the closing track “Everything is Fine”, featuring Roger Joseph Manning.

Well, the advertised closing track, anyway – as usual, Bleu hides a gem at the end. This time it’s the 70s-ish “My Own Personal Jesus”, sure to get those glowing cell phone screens waving back and forth at concerts.

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New Album! Bleu

(Well, not brand new. But I do hold these back until after the print magazines have hit the racks.)

In 2003, Bleu’s Redhead album blew me away. I was on that one so hard and so fast, Columbia used my pull-quote on the front cover of the album. It came out early in the year and I predicted it would hold off all contenders, and it did – I voted Redhead as the best album of the year.

Fast-forward through the next dog year, and Bleu is recording a few one-offs, working with other artists, joining an ELO-inspired collective and even forming a pop geek supergroup with Mike Viola and Ducky Carlisle. And now, finally, that carefully Watched Pot.

I think Bleu has a lot in common with Butch Walker – he’s so talented that the tendency is to have him do too many things at once. And if I were that fortunate, to be both talented and in demand, who is to say I wouldn’t say yes more than I should? At least that’s what I surmise is happening, for as good as A Watched Pot is, I feel…well, to follow his metaphor, that it never quite boiled.

So here’s what I wrote for the latest Bucketfull of Brains.

I guess the pun here is that “a watched pot never boils“, and in fact this third album was bottlenecked by label apathy and the artists’ own perfectionist tendencies. Not that Bleu McAuley hadn’t been a busy guy since moving from Boston to the west coast; collaborating with pop savant Mike Viola (and Bleu’s Beantown producer/drummer Ducky Carlisle) in The Major Labels, and releasing a blatantly affectionate ELO nod (L.E.O.’s Alpacas Orgling). But this on-and-off project has taken quite a while to see the light of day. Maybe the formulaic music industry wasn’t cooperating, or maybe (as he sings in the first track) “nobody saved me from myself”. The irony is that while the pot is here, the contents are not exactly boiling.

I don’t think there’s a film using “There’s No Such Thing As Love” as its title theme, nor “Save Me” or “When The Lights Go Out” (the stunning vocal duet with Sandra McCracken). But if I were a screenwriter I wouldn’t hesitate to incorporate them; hell, the arrangements are so huge that they would be tempted to write a screenplay around them. On most of the songs Bleu sounds like he’s going for the brass ring, seeking either the big hit single or (via a cover version by a name artist) the big royalty opportunity.

Carlisle and John Fields have helped sculpt a huge aural platform for his songs, both lyrically and musically complex. And Bleu’s wordplay and sense of humor is firmly in place as is his subtle sinister side. Much like the stalker reveal in Redhead’s beautiful “Watching You Sleep”, his “I Won’t Fuck You Over” seems apologetic…until the very last Hitchcock-ian phrase. And  I suspect the clever Bleu used the amusing tale of opposites attract in “Boy Meets Girl” to take a subtle shot at reviewers trying to pigeonhole his music (“it’s like Jesus Jones and The Rolling Stones  in a game of Twister“).

My first impression was a bit of disappointment that Bleu didn’t rock out a little; some of the more engaging songs on Redhead had a little more energy behind them, like “I Won’t Go Hollywood” and “Could Be Worse”. Aside from “Kiss Me” – which crosses 60’s Motown with 70’s Philly Soul – everything on A Watched Pot is pensive and lush. But when I revisited Redhead I realized it had the same ratio of tempos; it was jus that those two songs jumped out more from the pack. 

Those seeking the power in powerpop might be a little put off by the slower, more dramatic pace and struggle to take it in a single gulp. But there is no denying Bleu’s uncanny ability to create majestic pop songs with huge arrangements, and when they are sung by what might be the best pop voice since Robin Zander, that’s a small nit to pick.

Bleu on MySpace

Video for “There’s No Such Thing as Love“. (Damn…I should have been a photographer.)

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New Album! The Flashcubes

We want YOU...to want US!

We want YOU...to want US!

Let me get the caveat out of the way right up front. I know all four of the guys in the band, I watched their career happen right before my eyes, I wrote about them at the time, and I even booked them to play at a couple of clubs I was managing. So I’m not exactly impartial.

That said, I’d recuse myself in a heartbeat if I had written the liner notes, recorded the music, remastered the tracks or was any way involved with the release of their material. My only advantage coming in to A Cellar Full Of Boys is the anticipation based upon knowing the material. But if you aren’t familiar with The Flashcubes, I’m not feeling superior – I’m feeling a bit envious. Because you get to hear one of the great lost pop bands of the 70s fresh and new.

In brief, The Flashcubes were a punk and power pop band from Syracuse, New York who almost grabbed the brass ring. Despite wowing the local community, opening shows for virtually every famous name who came through town and having heavyweights like Greg Shaw and The Ramones among their advocates, it just didn’t happen. Well…until twenty-five years later when half a planet away, the Japanese pop community determined that a band this good deserved better. What had been a couple of reunions and the occasional tribute album track exploded into a full-blown renaissance.

Gary was always taping, thankfully. Now these Basement Tapes breathe new fire into the Flashcube legend. You can read my full review of the new album at BLURT.

Flashcube button

The Flashcube Story in 3 1/2 minutes.

Listen for yourself at their MySpace site.

Bright Lights (the anthology)

Brilliant (the new material)

Air Mail Recordings.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Syracuse Summers

We Gotta Get Out Of This Place...

We Gotta Get Out Of This Place...

As a follow-up to yesterday’s reminiscent jourmey, I want to use this week’s TGIF entry to clue you in to just ten of the many great artists and bands that came out of that smowy little hellhole known as Syracuse, NY. This list is by no means complete – none of my TGIF entries are – but this is but my small way to pay respect to The Little Town That Could…and Did.

So keep your eyes and ears open. Like my very good friend Dave always says, sometimes the best music is right in your own backyard.

Not the puffy shirt

The Flashcubes – If they had only been in a bigger market, their records would sit in every collection next to The Romantics and The Ramones and Cheap Trick. They were lightning in a bottle and dominated the pop scene but somehow didn’t make the jump. Ironically, a career resurgence over the past decade finds them more popular than ever, and the albums they should have been able to release then are available now. Gary Frenay and Artie Lenin still play as The Neverly Brothers (and in other configurations), Tommy Allen enjoys a great career as producer and drummer and Paul Armstrong still kicks ass (see below)

Screen TestGary Frenay, Artie Lenin and Tommy Allen mining a more melodic pop sound after the demise of The Flashcubes. Equally laden with hooks (Frenay is a vastly underrated songwriter) they have also seen a career resurgence and an anthology is being released in a few weeks. Like with the ‘Cubes material, I am still gobsmacked that songs like “Nothing Really Matters Whan You’re Young” did not become massive hits. Maybe now?

1.4.5. – When Gary, Artie and Tommy formed Screen Test, Paul Armstrong hooked up with Ducky Carlisle and Dave DeVoe to form this trio and spearhead a Pink Invasion (don’t ask). Both Dave (Rochester NY) and Ducky (Boston) are successful producers; Ducky has been popping up on scads of albums (Bleu, Mike Viola, Mandy Moore, etc.) and Paul still rocks out with his…oh, you know what I mean.

Masters of Reality – Although the original band split in two, with guitar whiz Tim Harrington going on to The Bogeymen (with another great Syracuse musician, George Rossi) and Creepjoint , Chris Goss is still kicking ass both as an artist and a producer. It’s a long way from sitting on the curbs sharing beers and war stories at 4am, Chris.

Hamell On Trial Ed Hamell, like most, started out playing in cover bands until he realized that he’d be playing in local bars forever unless he started writing his own music. The Works were one of the hardest working rock bands trolling the East Coast, but it wasn’t until Greg Spencer and Blue Wave Records allowed him to record his solo vision that things really clicked. Fans around the globe are thankful.

Elf – (OK…technically Cortland, but that’s almost a suburb.) So you want to know what Ronnie James Dio was doing before he became a heavy metal legend in his own time? The rest of the band was the embryo of Blackmore’s Rainbow (no one played piano like Mickey Lee Soule) and you might also want to check guitarist Dave Feinstein’s other band, The Rods.

The Kingsnakes – From the ashes of The Sandy Bigtree Band (a Firebarn mainstay) came one of the great blues and boogie bands that featured great musicians over the years like axeman Terry Mulhauser and Pete McMahon (later of Savoy Brown) on vocals and harp. Another Blue Wave artist.

The Penetrators – Self-proclaimed Kings of Basement Rock, they took a lot of shit for being sloppy, loud and abrasive, traits that played well for straight punk bands…so since when do garage bands sound perfect in their embryonic years? I am one of those who didn’t get it at first listen but have come to appreciate some of the great nuggets over time.

Joe Whiting – Still one of the greatest vocalists the Salt City has ever produced. Jukin’ Bone, his first band with Mark Doyle, got to release albums on Epic and the Doyle-Whiting Band shows are legend. Joe can sing anything with soul, fire and passion.

Mark Doyle – If it looks like a rock star and plays like a rock star, it is a rock star. Doyle is one of the most in-demand guitarists around and – like Jeff Beck – looks remarkably the same today as he did in his youth. Carrot juice or a deal with Satan? I’m not telling.

Oh, for a video of The Machine and Hummerwho had the man/beatbox thing down cold a decade before anyone scratched a turntable – or a CD release from The Ohms (“Teenage Alcoholic” remains my favorite single from that era). And the list of great bands who burned brightly but too early for an Internet footnote – Dress Code, Steve Neat and The Chances, Midnight Oil, Boss Tweed, The Natives… – could go on for days. Ditto volumes about those who were just as important off the stage (Dave Frisina, Mike Greenstein, Chuck Chao and Dave Rezak, just to name a few) in making this scene work. More tales for another day.

I guess you had to be there. Glad I was.

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Under The Radar: Jack Lipton

Jack Lipton is holding fast to his original gameplan, and it looks like the rest of the planet might be coming around full circle. You might remember Jack from The Penetrators, a Syracuse-area garage band that struggled to make its mark in a market more focused on the seedlings of hair metal. Of course, karma is a bitch – none of those spandexy preeners lasted while The Flashcubes, Hamell On Trial and Masters Of Reality are still writing and recording music thirty years later for a global audience. (Oh, Syracuse…”you coulda been a contender“).

Although The Pentetrators took a bit of abuse at the time – count me among the original naysayers – garage fans around the country thought otherwise and treasured their worn tapes of “Scandalizer” and “Drive Me Crazy”. And while they might not have hit the level of The Chesterfield Kings or The Oblivians, their recorded legacy is available for your own ears to judge.

Lipton’s most recent appearance is with Mark Doyle as part of his latest project Mark Doyle and the Maniacs  (more on that soon). But you can be certain that wherever Jack is, there will be rocking.

Cult of personality

Cult of personality

(Here’s the review of Bad Boy that ran on Pop Culture Press not long ago – the EP was later expanded into Bad Woman)

Bad boy Jack Lipton first warped ears with his classic garage band The Penetrators while trying to claw his was out of dead-end Syracuse New York. Not much has changed in Jack’s attitude – older, yes, mellower, never. Instead, garage rock has come full circle and pulled up to Jack’s stop once again. Passionate but straightforward rocking covers of “Search And Destroy” and “Dirty Water” feature fellow Syracusans turned Beantowners Ducky Carlisle, Paul Armstrong and Mark Doyle.

More impressive are the other two tracks, collaborations with producer and multi-instrumentalist John Fannon. “Get Off That Corner” is Lipton’s take on urban gospel, while “Trouble” boasts a great hook, melody and harp-driven chorus – great, gritty pop soul by way of latter-day Ian Hunter. Dare I say a commercial garage sound? Too few tracks to proclaim the second coming, but interesting enough to hope for a full length. 

Visit Jack’s website.

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