Greetings readers, it has been a while since I have laid my golden pen to paper and I attribute my post New Year’s slump to a run of bad luck. Though things ain’t exactly looking up, I realized the only thing that pleases me more than the sound of my own voice is the sight of my own words. To that end, all I needed was a good record to draw me out of the doldrums, get my creative juices flowing and the short circuited synapses firing. Last week I received the requisite inspirational gem that offered some classic songs for my listening pleasure.
Next month, a documentary commemorating the 40 year anniversary of the passing of Nat King Cole will be aired across the globe; and Capitol/EMI is releasing a companion CD titled The World of Nat King Cole with 28 fully re-mastered songs that should please old fans and damn sure make some new ones. This comprehensive retrospective features material that was recorded during Cole’s 20-year career with Capitol Records that began during the mid 1940’s and was cut short by a three pack-a-day cigarette habit resulting in his untimely demise. Forty years is a long time and I for one was just a wee lad when Cole gave up the proverbial ghost. He began his career as a jazz piano player and a great one at that but ended up as one of the premier American vocalists. This forty year mark is the perfect time to revisit his music and remember just how brilliant his talent was.
Surprisingly enough, I only own one Cole record and it is his Christmas Album; you know, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” So it has come as somewhat of a refreshing surprise to comprehend just how many wonderful tracks this silky voiced songster recorded. Yes, I may be getting older but that doesn’t mean this music belongs only to my parent’s generation, does it? This new collection begins with the cool jazz vibes of Bobby Troup’s classic “Route 66,” which was recorded by the Nat King Cole Trio and features a groovy little guitar and piano solo in the middle section. “Straighten Up and Fly Right” exemplifies the jazz vocal sound of the mid 1940’s and has some silly lyrics about buzzards and monkeys. The trio sound is lean, clean and swings like the Rat Pack on steroids.
In 1948, Cole recorded the stunningly beautiful “Nature Boy,” where his simpler approach was traded in favor of the richer sound of neo classical piano supported by lush string arrangements. This formula gave him a smash hit and set the standard for popular ballads of the post World War II period. This orchestrated method also became a signature style for the artist and “Mona Lisa,” a song that won an Academy Award, was featured in a now obscure film called Captain Carey, USA. However, the track remains a melodic masterpiece.
Another ballad that makes me want to weep in my supermarket fresh, German Pilsner is “When I Fall in Love,” which was recorded by Cole in 1952 and struck gold again in the United Kingdom in 1978, becoming a number one single on the pop charts. Sure, the lyrics are a bit sappy but the combination of violins, cellos and harp, along with a perfect vocal performance are simply exquisite. For you “Unforgettable” fans, you are treated to both Nat’s original version recorded with the late, great Nelson Riddle and the more recent duet with daughter Natalie that rendered a Grammy award winning, posthumous smash hit for her father and mega record sales for her. This song is a testimony to the enduring appeal of a timeless talent and the birth right a daughter who had precious little time to know her famous parent.
I believe it was French poet Rimbaud who said something to the effect of “there are shooting stars that blaze across the night sky.” Perhaps this is a metaphor for brilliant and talented people that we have on this earth for but a short time. Depending on your tastes, it could be Charlie Christian, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Hank Williams, Charlie Parker or Kurt Cobain. With the exception of Charlie Parker, none of these innovative musicians ever saw their 30th birthday. Nat King Cole also had a relatively short life, leaving us just before his 46th birthday. Yet he made an indelible mark on the history of American music and his legacy is a remarkable body of work that can be enjoyed on this new compilation of music. It is small reminder of how the light from his star was spectacular, luminescent and burned far too briefly.
Crossed Keys – Saviors
Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds
Philadelphia’s Crossed Keys are an interesting intersection between melodic hardcore and punk, taking an earnest approach to the sound that made its way from the underground in the late 90s and early 2000s. This relatively new outfit is the result of Kid Dynamite and Samiam in a blender- in the best way possible. The Kid Dynamite influence may be a given since Crossed Eyes features KD’s drummer Dave Wagenschutz, but the band’s pedigree also includes members of bands like Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer and The Curse, all backing the melancholic vocal work of frontman Joshua Alvarez (Halo of Snakes). So while Crossed Keys are somewhat new, its members have been cutting their teeth within their respective circles for years, and their new EP Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds.
Saviors is backboned by the furious urgency and energy that Kid Dynamite showed through their history, but while Jason Shevchuk’s vocals were beautifully abrasive, Alvarez takes a more restrained, wistful approach to singing. Songs like the opening “Times of Grace” are musically up-tempo percussions and razor-sharp guitars, but are buoyed by Alvarez’s more melodic vocals. His vocals rest at a good place between Samiam’s Jason Beebout and that NYHC tone exhibited by bands like Token Entry and Grey Area. In songs like “R.J.A” and the closing title track, Crossed Keys find more success with their brand of blistering speed meets harmony- slowing down only for the kind of melancholic punk that made Samiam a noted name. While much of Saviors is built on pace, it wasn’t always this way for the band. In fact, their 2017 EP, I’m Just Happy That You’re Here, leans closer to Samiam than it does to Kid Dynamite (the song “Jeff Pelly vs. The Empire” is particularly fantastic), so there’s been an uptick of urgency with Saviors.
For fans of any of the aforementioned bands here, there is plenty to like with Crossed Keys and plenty to like in Saviors. It’s succinct, to the point, but filled with ample reflection and exploration that gives the EP depth and resonance. Any band that has found influence from Kid Dynamite is most certainly OK by us (this site is named after a KD song after all), but Crossed Keys does more than just tip their cap. This one’s a really good one, and worth your time.
Every last time: Revisiting Gameface’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”
A glorious sound of a time gone by
Southern California’s Gameface were always a band that seemed perfect just below the cusp. Their brand of pop-tinged punk was somewhere in between the melancholy driven emo of the early 1990s to what would become of radio-friendly punk bands evolving from the Jimmy Eat Worlds of the… world.
I loved this band. It was songs like “My Star” and “When You’ve Had Enough” that captured my attention. They didn’t fit in with the punk explosion of the mid-90s and had more melodic chops than those that remained in the underground with bands like Quicksand and Texas is the Reason (the latter being the most musically similar).
To this day, I count their track “How Far Is Goodbye?” as one I can listen to on any given day and still feel the same way about it as I did years ago. It’s a glorious sound of a time gone by, and Jeff Caudill, who has been the backbone of their songwriting since the beginning, has still got the chops his ilk can only dream of. There’s a tinge of melancholy that conjures up a certain sadness, a scene in a movie where the protagonist is making their exit into the distance as the scene closes. Something about the song, the sentiment, and the lyrics that always reminds of driving away while looking at the rear view mirror.
Five years ago Gameface released a new album, Now Is What Matters, an album that perfectly encapsulated their ability to write with emotion, melody, and magnetism that only a select few seem to possess. I interviewed frontman Jeff Caudill before the album came out to chat about the band, an interview I think still holds up. Caudill has been busy since then with a lot of solo material, while the band themselves have been releasing music sporadically (mostly singles) since 2014.
While their catalog is deep, there’s one song I keep coming back to, and that’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”. Originally released on the split 10″ vinyl with Errortype: 11 in 2000, the song received an update in 2018, which you can hear below.
Gameface photo from Gameface facebook page.