BOASTING A VINTAGE FLAIR: Far Off Place
Some time ago I went into the deep woods of South County to pay a visit to a band called Far Off Place. Band manager Jamie Gardner brought in Artie Kornfeld and Shelly Yakus to work with his young trio, which includes two of his kids. If you’re not familiar with those names, Artie and Shelly are legends in the music industry. Yakus has been an engineer on records by John Lennon, U2, Bob Seger, and Tom Petty, among many others; Kornfeld’s first claim to fame came in 1969 when he assisted in the production of the Woodstock festival. He went on to work at Capitol Records as a writer, producer, manager, and promoter. By the age of 24, Kornfeld had written more than 75 Billboard chart hits and his work appeared on more than 150 albums. So you can see why a trip into the woods beckoned. Here was a band with three high school-aged kids working with outright music biz legends. Pretty damn cool.
The record took a while to surface, because schedules needed juggling. But the final product, Far Off Place, the band’s first handful of tunes, is at last available (at www.faroffplace.com). You can feel the presence of Yakus and Kornfeld almost immediately. The production (with additional work by Scott Rancourt) is rich in depth; everything is in the right place and at the proper levels. The songs, written by frontman Jason Gardner (with two exceptions), are muscular pop outings that lean heavily on Gardner’s melodic singing. Drummer Tim Gardner supplies a pretty sturdy rhythm with some impressive fills, and the same can be said for reliable bassist Jim Burns. There’s a vintage flair to some of the material, especially on “Elena,” a brisk acoustic rocker, and the garagey “Walk Alone.” The material avoids trite expression, a credit to the tastemakers behind the board. The melodies are accessible but not obvious, especially on “What Have They Done.” This debut may not land Far Off Place in that far off place called success. But working with Yakus and Kornfeld provided them a truly memorable experience, and suffused them with the kind of value that will be with them even if they never reach that prom-ised land.
Bash and thrum
Like many of Providence’s exploratory acts, Rhythmafia’s sound is purposely category-defying. Driven by drummer Rob Cinami (Anomalous/Overfiend) and Zach Chagnon (bass, etc.), Rhythmafia is seeking authenticity. Their last album, 2006’s Bass Beats and Brass, was somewhat easier to pin down, an amalgam of Primus and Dark Magus era Miles (thanks to Steve Testa’s acid-stoked trumpet). Mob (myspace.com/rhythmafia), however, is a horse of a different color. Minus Testa’s brass overtones, Cinami and Chagnon are left alone to bash and thrum like madmen. Chagnon levies his bass with some heavy distortion to fill up the space, and Cinami is busy busy busy on the skins. In fact, the whole duo parry is keenly Providence, with the duo, likely amid a circular throng, giving its audience a bird’s-eye view of the creative process. That’s generally what happens when a drummer leads a band.
That is not to say Mob is overwrought or tedious at all. There are exhilarating passages and the band ends up on some compelling tributaries. “Rum and Coke” has a vague Jamaican flair and “Jesus Crust” rips into funk and psych-jazz riffs. Again, these tunes aren’t cyclical or repetitive. They start at Point A and end up somewhere at the opposite side of the alphabet, stopping briefly at some scenic layovers before moving on quickly and hyperactively. It’s the biggest thrill of listening to Mob: wondering where these guys end up next.
If you’ve seen them live, you know that the sing-along sailors of Sharks Come Cruisin’ — Ed, Mark, Seth, and Paul on accordion — sure do know how to throw a party. For those who haven’t, here’s re-corded evidence. Live at Jake’s (at sharkscomecruisin.com) has 10 songs that evoke the “yo-ho-ho and a bottle o’ rum” days of swaggering, sinful, and besotted men of the sea. On the one hand, what SCC do is rather charming, a sort of historical musical preservation for the alt-rock set. On the other, it’s just a grand time, an exciting way to feast on, rather than stand back from, a band’s performance. There might be a limited appeal, recording-wise and subject matter, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. And it even ships off with the classic “Blow the Man Down”: “If you give me some whisky I’ll sing you a song!”
Herd of Mers
John Orsi (Overflower) has been creating noisy, wandering, evocative, often beautiful music for a long time. Karen Orsi, his significant other and collaborator, takes control of the material here for the first time on her band Herd of Mers’ debut, Aurora Caught Napping (It’s Twilight Time, at overflower.com), and she exhibits even more delicacy and restraint, though with slightly more conventionality. There’s air and space between most of her notes — all of which are supplied by the duet on guitar and drums. Karen’s voice lingers sweetly and most meaningfully on quieter tunes like “Single Hour” and “Midge.” It reverberates more fully on “Walls,” which has a psychedelic, post Velvet Underground feel. Aurora Caught Napping is a searching work, with lots of solid ideas. For me, the prettier moments work best.