Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Brinsley Schwarz - s/t

Brinsley Schwarz (1970) **

The Brinsleys, or the Schwarzes if you want to call'em (sorry if that offends any of my Yiddish African-American readers) (actually the band was named after its lead guitarist, which doesn't make any sense, since he's not the creative leader and this is not exactly music to air guitar to) are remembered, if at all, for four reasons:

a) Nick Lowe's later solo career (bass, lead vocals)
b) Brinsley Schwarz (guitar) and Bob Andrews' (keyboards) later career with Graham Parker in the Rumour
c) Ian Gomm's later solo career (but he's not here yet)
d) Billy Rankin's (drummer) later career as a session musician

....in roughly that order of importance, as you might've guessed.  However, anyone looking for embryonic pub-rock or New Wave, proto-Rumours or proto-Attractions, shall be sorely disappointed.  The cover should've clued you in:  this is more like post-Poco.  Bandwagon-jumping country rock that while reasonably crafted (this is Nick Lowe we're talking about) and unfailingly pleasant (this is country rock we're talking about) is also more than mildly derivative and bears the faint whiff of smarmy insincerity (this is Nick Lowe we're talking about).  From the very beginning, Lowe (who wrote'em all) possessed the natural knack for penning mildly catchy ditties in his sleep, and more than mildly catchy ones if he put in any elbow grease, but he's a lazy old sod.  The seven songs on the BS' debut (heh, I like that abbreviation best of all) are a melange of late '60s hippie rock cliches in vain quest for a distinct identity.  And believe me, some of the lyrics and presentation are laughably bound to the era beyond belief:  the extended bongo solo that concludes "Shining Brightly," (and let's not even get into the lyrics about hand-made urns and Grecian Apollos); the a cappella break in "Lady Constant," where for a few brief seconds they channel the sound and spirit of early Yes ("coloured serpent coiled around your wa-ai-aist!"); and so on.  Mostly, however, they come off as a slavish British derivative of Crosby, Stills, and Nash (except for "What Do You Suggest?" which rednecks like the Band) - exquisitely vocally harmonized tunes that are far too laid back for those who prefer their tunes non-snoozy.  This is hippie country rock as that genre's detractors would stereotype it - goofily hippie beyond belief, and dang it, where's the gosh-darn energy?  The occasional presence of heavy guitars livens things up a bit, but they're sideshows.  The ten minute concluding track, "Ballad of a Has Been Beauty Queen," sports a Vanilla Fudge-ish heavy intro that goes on for nearly two minutes, which has nothing to do with the melodic meat of the main section, and could easily have been detached with no harm done to remaining sections.  The music-biz sendup, "Rock and Roll Women," while it's no great shakes, does demonstrate the first hints of Lowe's trademark dry wit and deadpan cynicism.  Certainly nothing else here on this highly pleasant, not at all unlistenable (but quite skimpy - 7 songs!) album, bear any traces of the pints of pubs to come.

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