Friday, August 23, 2013

Brinsley Schwarz - Hen's Teeth

Hen's Teeth (1998) ***1/2

Those interested in the early heydays of Brinsley Schwarz are advised to skip over the first pair of albums and go directly here, for reasons of both chronology and quality.  This grab-bag of tracks (most of which were not released under the Brinsley Schwarz name) spans from 1967 to 1975, broken down thusly:

1-10:  Kippington Lodge, the mod-era precursor to the Brinsleys
11-12:  The Hitters, the Brinsleys in dreadlocks as a one-off cover of Leroy Sibbles' "Hypocrite," which was credible.  The flip side, an instrumental dub version entitled "The Version," however was not.
13-16:  The contents of a pair of A/B-sides released under the Brinsley Schwarz name, but not placed on any albums, since the A-sides were covers that ventured too far afield from the Schwarz's laid-back country-pop.  A shame that the Brinsleys had hitched themselves to such a stylistic album-oriented rut, as both Naomi Neville's R&B roller "I've Cried My Last Tear," and Tommy Roe's bubblegum-glam stomp "Everybody," are fine tunes that prove the Brinsleys were adept at more than just hippie neo-twang.
17-20:  A/B-sides by the Knees and the Limelights, aliases for four Vanilla Fudged Beatles covers.  While it's practically impossible to improve upon the originals for even the brightest of talents, these are all good fun, and these Beatles chestnuts are amusing to hear to in a modernized (for 1975) context.
21-22:  The final Brinsley Schwarz single, released in the year after their final LP.  Both the A and B are fine little pop/soul confections.  Nothing earth-shaking, just well-crafted pop, which sums up the Brinsleys for ya.

The Kippington Lodge material deserves a paragraph of its own.  By the time the Lodge had changed their name to the Schwarz, of the original members only the guitarist Brinsley Schwarz remained - mystery of eccentric nomenclature solved.  Little of this material was composed by the band themselves, much to their chagrin, with songs shoved at them from outside 'professional' songwriters - but like a famous man once said, "Those were different times."  For factory pop, most of it's pretty dandy, and if their only artistic contribution to their debut single "Shy Boy," was the vocal track (session musicians sat in on the commissioned tune), that doesn't change the fact that "Shy Boy," is wonderful little slice of Brit-pop - it could've fit in fine on Something Else by the Kinks or even more appropriately The Who Sell Out.  Reminds me a bit of "Odorno," for some reason.  Must be the office setting.  The flip side, "Lady on a Bicycle," is even more intriguingly odd (for the times) lyrically - a gushing schoolboy ode to an older dame who'd most likely find herself on the Sex Offender registry these days.  She gives this teenage boy a ride on her bicycle every day to school, you see, goes the storyline....  While none of these early tunes sound like surefire hits, they're all good songs, comfortably entertaining on the B to B+ level of songcraft.  It's surprising that none of these wound up on the U.K. version of Nuggets box set - picking one or two for inclusion would've fit that collection just dandy.  The final Kippington Lodge single is of note for two reasons:  the A-side is the first of their several bombastically metallized Beatles covers ("In My Life"), while the B-side is notable for being the first Nick Lowe composition to make it to record (the urgently paranoid "I Can See Her Face").  Minor-league but entertaining (as usual), these odds'n'ends snapshots may be the best place to get first aquainted with the Brinsleys.

Not much of this material available on Youtube, unsurprisingly.  This underproduced, inferior BBC radio session version of "Shy Boy" will just have to do.

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