September 4, 1996
Nicholas Tremulis Band, Bloody Show (Black Vinyl Records 1996) - On Bloody Show, popster Nicholas Tremulis completes his work with the renowned beat poet Gregory Corso. On some tracks, Corso reads his works to music played by Nick and his band; on other tracks, Nick just cuts loose. The result is an earthy, unusual integration of spoken word and rock 'n roll.
Which means that Bloody Show has few peers. Think Chicago power pop (not surprising, considering that the album was mixed by Jeff Murphy of Shoes), with some Nick Cave and Kim Fowley thrown in. In addition, Tremulis has a little bit of David Bowie circa Diamond Dogs in him, as evidenced on such tracks as "Suicide Doors."
But don't think of Tremulis as just a moody outsider with a chip on his shoulder and 16 tracks that he wanted to commit to posterity. By 17, Nick was recording songs for an independent label in Chicago; he was later was signed by industry legend Chris Blackwell to Island Records, where he recorded two albums: Nicholas Tremulis (1987) and More Than the Truth (1989).
After extensive touring with such acts as Joe Cocker, Shreikback, Sheila E., and Nona Hendryx, Nick decided to abandon his familiar R&B format and concentrate on performing a mixture of poetry and music.
The result is Bloody Show, which integrates poetry, musical interludes, pop numbers and hard-edged guitar-driven songs in a unique fashion. From pop-oriented songs like "Big Fish" to moody rockers like "Out the Window with the Window," Tremulis shows himself to be a master of many styles.
In addition, Corso's spoken contributions on such cuts as "The Whole Mess Almost" fit smoothly into the whole; Corso's semi-serious contributions are reminiscent of the spoken parts on Bob Geldof's overlooked masterpiece, The Happy Club.
Nick is joined on Bloody Show by some of Chicago's finest musicians. The album also features percussion work by Michael Blair (who has worked with Elvis Costello, Lou Reed, and Sam Phillips), and production expertise from Jay O'Rourke (who has worked with Liz Phair and Ministry).
I look for something new, something different in recordings. It's easy to spot the obvious. It's hard to find the challenging pieces that push the envelope and expand the genre. Bloody Show is one of those efforts.
Sarah Brown, Sayin' What I'm Thinkin' (Blind Pig Records 1996) - With the release of her debut album, Sayin' What I'm Thinkin', Sarah Brown shows why she's developed a reputation as one of the top R&B bass players in this country during the past 25 years. The new album spotlights Sarah's many talents by combining blues muscle with soul sensibility and this bandstand veteran's ability to think on her feet.
Now a resident of Austin, Texas, Sarah was raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan and enrolled for a year at the Berkelee College of Music in Boston. During her career, Sarah has played with an impressive list of blues greats, including Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, and Otis Rush. Moreover, her discography includes credits on more than forty recordings.
The release of Saying' What I'm Thinkin' brings Brown's recording career full circle at Blind Pig Records. In 1973, she appeared on the label's very first release, a 45 single by the Vipers, an Ann Arbor group which included Fran Christina (who went on to become a mainstay with the Fabulous Thunderbirds).
Sarah notes that she is happiest playing a variety of styles. "I think I always felt a little constricted being just a blues bassist. That's one of the reasons it was a breath of fresh air to come to Austin. One of the first things I noticed was that everyone enjoyed going to everyone else's gigs, and soaking it in."
Actually, I was disappointed by the album's opening numbers, including "Barbed Wire Kiss" and "Not as Sorry as I Used to Be," both of which sound cliched.
But after awhile, Sarah settles into more of a lusty, expressive groove on such cuts as "Turn the Lock on Love" and "Devil's Best Disguise" (the best song on the album). Also featured is the playful "Hey, Big Sister," which includes veterans Doyle Bramhall on drums and Marsha Ball and Lou Ann Barton on background vocals.
Sarah (who looks extremely good for her years) takes awhile to find her own voice on Sayin' What I'm Thinkin'. But when she does, she has an honest, earthy vocal presence that's reminiscent of Bonnie Raitt's recent prime work.
Now, that's high praise. But it's warranted. When Sarah gets settled into her own blues groove, and sings a song with feeling, she's her own woman. Sarah may have been raised on the blues, but she also knows how to mix in rock and pop elements. Try Sayin' What I'm Thinkin'.
-- Randy Krbechek
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