New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: richard mcgrath guitar

80s Psychedelic Guitar Legend Russ Tolman Makes a Rare Stop in Brooklyn

Russ Tolman was the leader of one of the 80s’ most legendary guitar bands, True West. Though never as famous as their pals the Dream Syndicate – Tolman and Steve Wynn were in the equally legendary Suspects, and Wynn contributed some gloriously savage lead guitar to True West’s cover of Pink Floyd’s Lucifer Sam – Tolman’s songwriting was no less brilliant. And True West were every bit as incendiary live, fellow Telecaster player Richard McGrath dueling it out onstage with Tolman night after night. The band’s first two albums, Hollywood Holiday and Drifters are iconic: with its brooding layers of reverb guitar and Tolman’s ominous lyricism, the latter is easily one of the fifty greatest rock records ever made.

The original True West lineup hung it up in 1985; there were some sporadic but rewarding reunion tours in the mid-to-late zeros. All the while, Tolman has been releasing albums here and there, from Byrdsy folk-rock to low-key electronic experimentation. If he’s ever played Brooklyn before, it’s been a long time; if he hasn’t, then his show at Pete’s on Sept 14 at 8:30 PM will be his debut in the borough. Either way, he’s overdue.

Tolman’s latest recordings are a couple of singles. With it stomping beat and a whirling lead guitar line that brings to mind another great 80s guitar band, the Rain Parade, Marla Jane could be an upbeat track from True West’s peak era. Something About a Rowboat switches in a mandolin for the Tele Tolman might have played it on thirty years ago. Tunewise, this breakup anthem is just as strong – it’s interesting to compare Tolman’s flinty vocal delivery with the bravado of True West frontman Gavin Blair. Awfully heartwarming to see such an important, underrated artist from back in the day still at it and still at the top of his game.

Band of Outsiders Take Their Classic CBGB Sound to New Heights

Band of Outsiders’ drawing card is the twin guitars of Jim McCarthy and Marc Jeffrey, intertwining with the same kind of kinetic alchemy as Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine in Television, or Richard McGrath and Russ Tolman in True West – or, for that matter, Evan O’Donnell and John-Severin Napolillo in the Brooklyn What. The first two comparisons ring especially true since Band of Outsiders were active during the tail end of the classic CBGB era and caught the paisley underground train right when it pulled into the station in the mid 80s. A handful of well-received reunion gigs inspired the band to reunite in 2008, and they’ve been going strong since. They put out a tantalizing ep last year, Sound Beach Quartet and have recently released the full album, Sound Beach Time, comprising the ep tracks plus eight other new songs. It’s amazing how vital and inspired they sound after all these years – they might actually be better than they were at the peak of their popularity in the mid 80s. The new material is more expansive and also more dynamic – they’re a lot closer to Television than the proto-Brian Jonestown Massacre sound the band was best known for in their mid-80s glory days. .

The albums opens with Gone for Good, an elegaic, death-obsessed, Stonesy groove with flamenco touches and a long, brooding acoustic guitar solo out. The concert favorite Lost and Found works a steady midtempo post-Velvets pulse. It has a sarcastic edge: “How we walk behind the sacred cows, annihilating and sanctimonious….” McCarthy muses. With its evocative, reverb-drenched slide guitar touches, Red Eye Blues is even more memorably sarcastic: it’s not hard to picture Jeffrey scrawling the lyrics on an airline napkin, surveilling the twistedness around him.

Jeffrey sings the gentle, folk-rocking One Life Is Not Enough: “When you’ve got time for anything, you haven’t got time for regret” might be the best line on the whole album. They follow that with the bittersweet Gods of Happenstance, with both Television and Grateful Dead allusions. The Graveyard blends neo-Velvets groove with skittish New York Dolls glam riffage, while Your Pleasure opens with hints of acoustic Led Zep and then the Church, and builds methodically to a long, slithery jam, a rich stew of all kinds of delicously sparkly, watery, clanging guitar textures.

There’s more of that gorgeous, jangly, limitlessly clanging and ringing guitar interplay on Why Would You, a bitingly enigmatic backbeat number. The epic Trickle of Love winds its way majestically to a Beatlesque bridge and a wailing, crescendoing slide guitar solo before descending with a surprising gentleness. Time and Again, with its chorus-box guitar, gives away the band’s 80s roots, which the band maintains on As It’s Written with its new wave beat and hypnotic Feelies jangle. The album ends with the gritty, morbid magnum opus Dead Reckoning, the most overtly Lou Reed-influenced song here. Richard Maurer’s nimble drumming and David Lee’s bass give the music a lithe pulse that Reed seldom had, through garage riffage, echoes of glam on the chorus and one sparkling, spiraling, synapse-tingling lead guitar line after another. It’s a good story, too: somebody ends up dead on the kitchen floor, somebody else in the hills of Santa Cruz, Jeffrey’s narrator painting a vividly dingy punk-era East Village tableau, gimly observing that

The past is never gone
Like some tv that’s  always on
Look away but don’t you touch that dial
It’s said that all the world’s a stage
Well I see curtains on a cage
With no escape except you pass away

The allusive riff at the end drives it all home with a mighty wallop. Much as there’s plenty of good, psychedelically-inclined rock coming out this city, Band of Outsiders put a lot of the new jacks to shame.