Tuesday, June 29, 2021

A brief review: Mumps - Rock & Roll This, Rock & Roll That... (2021, Omnivore), Holsapple & Stamey - Our Back Pages (2021, Omnivore) and The Rubinoos - The CBS Tapes (2021, Yep Roc)

Even if the late Lance Loud had never pitched his hat into the nebulous arena of rock/pop music in the 1970s, his legacy would have still been very much cemented by virtue of his stature in the pioneering 1973 TV serial An American Family.  Though the term "reality television" hadn't been conjured up yet, the short-run, twelve episode program filmed in 1971 and airing two years later honed in on the comings and goings of The Louds, a successful middle class family in Santa Barbara, CA. Unscripted (and if it's to believed, with no financial compensation accorded to the Loud clan) America was introduced to seven perfect  strangers who were a perfectly intact nuclear family when it's first installment aired, and were somewhat fractured by the time the series finale rolled around with the heads of the household Pat and Bill Loud separating, and ultimately divorcing not long after the film crew had packed it's last tripod.  The prime-time show garnered as many as ten million sets of eyeballs, and although the majority of the "cast" went back to living their quiet, private lives one of Pat and Bill's kids, Lance inadvertently parlayed his profile on An American Family into cult iconography, due in no small part to him fronting the New York City art/glam rock quintet, Mumps circa the Carter-era.  Rock & Roll This, Rock & Roll That - Best Case Scenario, You've Got Mumps, is the most recent compilation of the band's relatively sparse body of work, and makes a compelling case for Loud & Co.

Despite American Family's popularity during it's initial (and for better or worse, only) airing in '73, the show is rarely talked about these days (with the latest blip on the radar occurring earlier this year with the death of the aforementioned matriarch, Pat). It hasn't been in syndication since, nor has it been offered up on DVD or streaming services, and at best, even YouTube has archived merely a few tightly bite-sized minutes of the program. I haven't viewed so much as one entire episode myself, however American Family's most noted moment came when Lance came-out to his father Bill in one of the later installments.  Keep in mind, this all transpired in the early seventies.  In what little video I've taken in of AAF, Lance did boast something of a flamboyant persona, vaguely suggesting an interest in the arts and theater, eventually leading him to the Big Apple where at one point he ingratiated himself in Andy Warhol's inner circle.  Mumps were actually born out of a larger contingent of players, simply dubbed Loud, containing as the moniker might suggest some of his siblings, specifically sisters Delilah and Michele on backing vocals. By 1975 the group was pared down to a more succinct five-piece, with keyboardist Kristian Hoffman serving as the combo's predominant songwriter.  Mumps were legendary fixtures at CBGB's with Lance playing the role of a very extroverted and animated frontman, often working himself into such a sweaty frenzy that the first front rows of onlookers couldn't help getting saturated in some of his...uh...stuff.  

Despite their venue of choice the Mumps were not akin to the Ramones, or even the Stooges or Heartbreakers. In fact, their proto-punk bona fides didn't emanate as much as aggression as the New York Dolls or T. Rex, two of the band's closest sonic counterparts. They wielded a mild theatrical and sardonic bent for certain, but beyond their magnetic stage presence they were fortunate enough to fall back on memorable songs...of which there was something of a deficit of.  Save for two independent singles released in 1977 and '78 the band had little else to boost their profile, save for gigs in New York and the occasional tour.  And it wasn't for lack of ambition or effort. Mumps had the competency and potential to be if not outright stars, they easily possessed the chops to hold down a deal with say an imprint like Sire Records.  The cold hard truth is that at the time major labels weren't willing to gamble on openly gay artists, regardless of their capabilities (e.g. Freddie Mercury was still very much in the closet during the '70s and most of the '80s for a legit reason).  

If the band's sound wasn't necessarily advanced or cutting edge, the arrangements themselves were sophisticated, wherein warm reverb had plenty of space to waft around in.  The Curators of Rock & Roll This... were wise to designate some of the Mumps most nascent material (predominantly recordings from 1975/76) as "bonus " tracks, as they weren't up to the caliber of the singles and demo recordings, they committed to tape in the late '70s. And while everything on this compilation is certainly listenable, it's easy to discern what's dated and what isn't.  As for the Mumps creme de la creme, there are dazzling single sides in the form of the taught, power pop-tinted "Crocodile Tears," and "That Fatal Charm," the latter exuding a hint of New York Dolls-y savoir faire. "Muscleboys" a Lance Loud-penned piece, busts out an even glammier stride, with the topic of it's title leaving little to the imagination.  A bevy of outtakes from Mumps creative peak, including "Did You Get the Girl," "Just Look Don't Touch" and the pure-pop delight "Anyone But You," should have all found their appropriate slots on the group's first proper studio album, that alas never transpired. There's sheer gold to be had here, but given Mumps fleeting time in the studio those nuggets were preciously limited.  

In fairness Rock & Roll This... is the third attempt to compile Mumps recorded output, and for better or worse we aren't provided any visual evidence, as the DVD that was bundled with 2005's How I Saved the World collection didn't make the migration here.  Still, we get virtually every single one of the band's recorded highlights, and this set features a couple of exclusive songs from the rambunctious pre-Mumps outfit Loud, who I mentioned in one of my earlier paragraphs. Rock & Roll This... can be purchased directly from Omnivore or Amazon

In 2005 fans of the dB's were treated to a full brown reunion of the NYC-by-way-of North Carolina quartet for the first time in some twenty-plus years with all original members present and accounted for: Chris Stamey, Peter Holsapple, Will Rigby and Gene Holder, if only for handful of shows. 2012 saw the reconstituted college-rock pioneers releasing their fifth album, Falling Off the Sky, their first collective recording venture since 1981's Repercussion.  While the lineup for Falling... mirrored Repercussion (and the dB's debut, Stands for Decibels, also an '81 effort) thirty years had nevertheless passed.  Well received as that reunion disk was, it didn't quite exude the band's indigenous, jangly hot mess of yore.  With such a substantial layover it wasn't a surprise so much as a mild letdown.  

It should be noted that there was a dB's respite or sorts in all those intervening years. Under their own names, Stamey and Holsapple collaborated for 1991's Mavericks.  Well, what do you know but another three decades flew by and the duo in question worked up a nostalgic Jones in the most delightful way possible, with the self-explanatory dubbed Our Back Pages.  No this isn't some slapped together retrospective of old dB's standards, rather a fresh acoustic reinterpretation thereof...and then some.

The dB's halycon era arguably stems from 1978 single "(I Thought) You Wanted to Know," up until the aforementioned Repercussion LP.  Two more albums followed with a Stamey-less incarnation of the band, specifically 1984's excellent Like This, and The Sound of Music following three years later. Needless to say Our Back Pages emphasizes the era when the dB's were still composed of the Stamey/Holsapple nucleus. Early masterstrokes "Black and White," "Happenstance," "Nothing is Wrong" and "Dynamite" all make the setlist here, in lucid, stripped-down readings that only an acoustic motif could reveal. There's more from the Stands For.../Repercussion tenure as well, but I don't want to extol any more spoilers. Our protagonists revive a couple of the choicest cuts The Sound of Music Had to offer, namely "Molly Says" and "Today Could Be the Day," plus "Depth of Field," a tune from Stamey's early solo venture, It's a Wonderful Life. "Picture Sleeve" is a much more recent piece, plucked from the dB's 2011 Record Store Day single, and another post-Stamey cut shows up as well, "Darby Hall" circa Like This', which functions splendidly in a more economic context.  All versions herein are exclusive to Our Back Pages, and is not to be passed over by aficionados of any era of the dB's. The vinyl variant of this album was yet another RSD exclusive, and CDs and downloads are ripe for purchasing over at Omnivore and Amazon.

Four guys walk into...a recording studio.  And not just any studio, rather one owned by CBS.  Those "guys," The Rubinoos, were on the cusp of etching their baby steps in the then newly excised granite slab most of us refer to as "power pop."  Here's the scene: November 3rd, 1976 - the day before the foursome in question were about to get down to the brass tacks of recording their 1977 self-titled debut.  Before their work began in earnest they decided to use that particular date in November (just a day after Jimmy Carter's election win, per Tommy Dunbar's liner notes) to get a feel for the studio - and ostensibly get some rambunctiousness out of their systems. Eleven songs were cut to tape in a seemingly random, freewheeling session, all of which hadn't seen the light of day until this year as The CBS Tapes.  As Dunbar puts it:

Imagine that someone followed you around with a camera for an hour in high school and showed you the film 40 years later.  That's what it's like listening to this tape we made in 1976.

And pre-tell what did that particular reel capture?  Well, just a bunch of coming-of-age miscreants busting out a deluge of (mostly) covers - "Heartbeat It's a Lovebeat," "I Want to Hold Your Hand," "She Loves You," "Sugar Sugar," and "Walk Don't Run." among others.  To their credit they up the credibility ante with an unorthodox reading of Jonathan Richman's "Government Center." We're also treated to a couple of originals that ironically didn't make The Rubinoos album - the catchy "All Excited," plus the ragged and lovingly loose "I Want Her So Bad."  The studio banter is chockablock with vulgarities (as occasionally are the lyrics).  They demonstrate competence in the studio, albeit having no shortage of cheeky fun in the process, but in the grand scheme of things, The CBS Tapes is predominantly just that - good frivolous fun.  Die hard Rubinoos acolytes will appreciate this audio snapshot in time, yet it's in no way, shape or form a pivotal artifact, not to mention it's an inadequate jumping off point for the unacquainted.  Don't shy away if you're an established fan, but if you're a Rubinoos neophyte, stick to their first two albums, 1983's Party of Two ep, and if you can locate it, the excellent Basement Tapes outtakes collection.  The CBS Tapes is available from Yep Roc Records as we speak.


Jim H. said...

EXCELLENT read!! When i briefly lived in Phoenix in 1982, a friend made me a cassette with Mumps' 'Rock n Roll This & That' and 'Muscle Boys' and then I was a fan!!!!

Scottdammit! said...

I remember reading an interview with Kristian Hoffman where he told of hitchhiking with Lance to see the Stones play at Altamont. They taped recorded the show and learned the then unreleased "Brown Sugar" off of it and became backyard party Gods for a few months playing their "new" song!
Thanks for posting all this good stuff!

spavid said...

Scott - I was reading that in the liner notes to the new CD. Absolutely amazing!

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