As I sit here writing, I'm listening to thundering bass, guitar, and drums on the CD, "Cooking With Pagans", by the bad-ass psych/metal Swedish band, Freak Kitchen. Their treatment of the 50s Frankie Lymon hit, "Goody Goody", is unbelievable...and unforgettable.
But that is not what I want to talk about right now. I've been on the road again, just getting home Friday night. Friday night was the debut performance of Casino Royale, a band that was formed by notable journalist, songwriter, and musician, Bart Mendoza, with other notables, Normandie Wilson and David Fleminger. All have had quite a few bands with successful careers in San Diego and elsewhere. Normandie's album "Geography and Other Problems" was nominated for best pop album at the 2014 San Diego Music Awards, and David was in the bands, Manual Scan, and True Stories, along with Bart, as well as forming several other bands over the past decades, as has Bart. David currently has an excellent chamber-pop band, The Comeuppance, along with his wife, Heather Vorwerck on cello and more recently adding Tom Ward on bass. Normandie, a multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter, is currently part of the lounge-cabaret group, Blue Velvet, but has had a solo singer/songwriter career for years, along with playing in the sprawling, all-over-the-map-musically band, Red Pony Clock, which to these ears sounds like a collision between Jad Fair's Half Japanese, Ken Kesey's Acid Test recordings, and the Baja Marimba Band done fervently and joyfully yet with full-on teenage angst. Talking about collisions, Normandie (or rather her car) was rear-ended in a freeway accident just over a week ago and it was worrisome whether the whiplash from the accident was going to affect their performing. Luckily, pain-and-all, she was able to persevere.
On the way home from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania I noted that I would be arriving in San Diego, after connections in Philadelphia and Dallas, at 7:05 PM, if all would go as planned. Casino Royale would hit the stage at 8:00 PM at Java Joe's in Normal Heights. I could make it. Unfortunately some subconscious part of my being decided that my breakfast looked better on my shirt than in my stomach. I called Nancy and asked her to bring an extra shirt to the airport. It was Kismet. We landed in San Diego five minutes early. My bag was one of the first to plop onto the baggage carousel. Nancy scooped me up at the curb, and we pulled-over on a side street so I could change out of the winter coat and stained shirt, and to change drivers. I attempted my imitation of an amphetamine-driven taxi until we ran into a long line of cars waiting for an even longer train. Hurry up and wait. Despite this minor frustration, we made it before the band began. It was a friendly crowd. Most of the audience knew or had seen at least one of the three members perform and all were eager to hear this new trio of masters.
The band said they were nervous, but it sure didn't show once the first chord was struck. Normandie was drop dead gorgeous, but you could tell through her movements that her neck was giving her troubles. You could not tell from the quality of her performance. All were dressed in a 60s style that fit the music perfectly.
The Music of Casino Royale: As the name implies, we are talking primarily 60s. No, they didn't do the movie's theme song, which was a hit for Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass, but we did hear Herb Alpert's "This Guy's In Love With You", deftly sung by Bart. The repertoire included popular and not-so-well-known songs by The Beach Boys, The Zombies, Burt Bacharach, and others. They did a fast-paced version of "Dream a Little Dream of Me", made popular by Cass Elliot of The Mamas and The Papas. This unique treatment worked well on that song and Normandie's vocals were perfect for it; her keyboarding was spot-on. I learned something when Normandie talked about the origin of the Bobby Hebb song, "Sunny", which was masterfully sung by Bart. It made me smile, as I remembered that when I had a band 44 years ago we did that song.
All three members took turns singing. David sang one without guitar, very emotional, and well-executed, but for the life of me I cannot remember the song! Blame it on my age-addled brain, or blame it on the bossa nova but don't blame it on the band, or David. But, it was well done. Overall, David's jazzy solo guitar work and Bart's rhythm guitar worked well with Normandie's keys. Only one drawback is that the group did not harmonize vocally on very many songs but when they did, such as on The Hollie's hit, "The Air that I Breathe" it left me wanting to hear more.
There were some more recent songs - one by Swedish pop singer/songwriter, Sondre Lerche, as well as one written by Bart Mendoza in the 90s. And there were crooners such as the Dean Martin hit "Ain't That a Kick in the Head" sung by David. There was also a song by a little known (in the States) 60's French pop singer, France Gall, sung in French by Normandie. Overall, quite an impressive and eclectic set, yet staying within the framework of the band's namesake.
I look forward to hearing more from this group.
In Other News...
I received the Sundazed reissues of Soft Machine's first two LPs, the Sony double-cd reissue of Soft Machine - Third, Blue Cheer's Vincebus Eruptum in mono on Sundazed, and the Columbia Legacy reissue of Bloomfield-Kooper-Stills - Super Session with bonus tracks. What a delightul set of upgrades from my older CDs of these titles. In addition I also received a CD by Swiss band, dAWN, titled "Darker". Have yet to listen to "Darker".
I decided a week ago to begin a set of "road-trip" CDrs that I have titled "Train Tracks", and it is exactly what it says: selections with a train or railroad theme from my music collection. So far, I have filled five 80-minute CDrs with train-themed recordings going as far back as Jimmie Rodgers' recordings from the late 1920s to the most recent by local group The Western Collective. All styles of music, from Blue Train by John Coltrane, to Guns n Roses' Night Train. I still have more to go. When I started this, it was my intention to collect all the songs I have with this theme but I never realized how many I actually have! It is fun looking for these. Most unusual train song so far, "Centaur Train" by Jandek...with a close second being "Dog Train" by To Nije Sala.
Tomorrow morning I head to Atlanta. Last time there, the resident band at Trader Vic's, the exotica restaurant & bar, was Tongo Hiti. Lots of fun. I hope they are still performing. If not, I hope there will be someone just as good.