Cracked Rear View Turns 20, What Does That Mean?

crv

Not much, really, would be the short answer, though at the time it was a pretty big deal around these parts. Columbia, South Carolina was not exactly a hotbed of popular music, or even a ‘hip scene’ like Athens, Georgia or the Triangle area in North Carolina. The anomaly that was Hootie & the Blowfish wasn’t even really much a part of the original music scene in Columbia, anyway, as their fan base came from years of playing the cover band bar circuit. One of the most fun cover bands of their time at USC, the guys covered everything from the Police, U2 and R.E.M. (lots and lots of R.E.M.), to Hank Williams, Jr. and obscure tunes from the likes of 54-40, The Rave-Ups, and The Replacements.

My own personal experience with the guys in Hootie comes mostly from that time, when as a USC freshman I spent many Friday nights at their gigs in Pappy’s, the local college burger joint and bar across the street from our collective dorms. Serving as a DJ at WUSC alongside Hootie guitarist Mark Bryan meant I heard the original versions of most of those ‘obscure’ tunes the band was covering. Mark, Darius, Soni, and Dean were as much music fans as they were musicians, and these early years hashing out others’ songs were invaluable experiences.

What folks who weren’t there for the pre-Cracked Rear View years don’t know or don’t realize is that the band worked hard for years in the same kinds of crappy college bars, even after they started playing more and more of their own original music. They were successful not just because they got lucky but because when it was their turn to be lucky they were ready to capitalize on that luck and translate it into a career.

Cracked Rear View, in hindsight, came along at just the right time and place in music business history. Grunge music, the raging genre of the time, imploded with the death of Kurt Cobain and I think the public was just ready for some sunnier-sounding material. “Hold My Hand” isn’t Dylan or the Beatles, but it certainly is easy to sing along with, as are “Let Her Cry” and “Only Wanna Be With You”, the other big hits from the album. The irony is that for the most part the album is full of fairly serious topics, from the flag protest “Drowning” to songs about deaths in the family, “Going Home” and “Not Even The Trees.” Don Gehman’s production kept everything sounding upbeat and positive, however, so the overall effect was still fairly uplifting especially compared to what was on the charts at the time. My personal favorites are two of the less-played tracks, “Time” and “Hannah Jane,” both feature good harmony singing on the choruses and catchy wordplay that’s not quite as trite as the big hits.

From a local standpoint the most important outcome was the proof that lightning could strike in Columbia; whether it would again didn’t matter as much as the fact that it had, once. A blessing and a curse at the same time, now every band wanted to be as successful as Hootie, and many of them thought they deserved to be even if they were wrong. Not for lack of trying, several acts attempted to follow in the band’s footsteps with varying degrees of success. Cravin Melon, Edwin McCain, Treadmill Trackstar, Jump Little Children, all of them had major deals for a while; none of them kept them for long (though McCain had some hits including a #1 single, “I’ll Be”).

There will never be another Hootie & the Blowfish, from Columbia or anywhere else, given the current upheavals in the music business; the band itself has said they are still interested in pursuing one last album together at some point. Given Rucker’s current hit country music career, that might not happen for a while, however. Until then, throw Cracked Rear View on for another spin, it’s held up well for its age.

Random Findings from Treadmill Trackstar

treadmill classic

(Treadmill Trackstar in Major Label mode)

 

 

Any time Angelo Gianni deigns to release music under the Treadmill Trackstar banner is cause for celebration, and today a tune was unceremoniously dumped in my email inbox from the band’s Bandcamp page under the heading “Random Finding”.

It’s not a ‘new’ song, but rather one that Gianni found in his archives–I imagine those archives are probably a closet or storage room piled high with outdated media like cassettes and 2-inch tape that may never see the light of day; that this tune surfaced is a minor miracle.

“Our Ride Down” appears to be, as Gianni himself notes on the song page in Bandcamp, written after the band got dropped from their Breaking/Atlantic contract back in the late 1990s, a scenario which pretty much caused the group to shut down soon after–hence the reason this recording wasn’t officially released until now.

I remember this tune vaguely from seeing Treadmill shows back then, mostly for the memorable line “Mona Lisa’s on the rag again.” The gist of the lyrics are Gianni’s typical self-flagellation over perceived inadequacy:

For my part I’m not drinking to celebrate

breaks my heart

penalty is its own reward

for my part I’m not drinking to celebrate

our ride down

Hear the track for yourself here:

Devereaux Shares “Rendezvous”

Heyward Sims a/k/a Devereaux has new music coming out in September, Pineapple Flex. The first real listen comes this week courtesy of the song “Rendezvous”, a slight track built on a burping bass line, repetitive synths and syncopated percussion, like Toro Y Moi without the funk element. The new album is a full length follow-up to his 2012 Cacti Pace EP, here’s hoping it will allow him ample room to stretch out his ideas into more adventurous territory.

 

Tom Petty and the New Paradigm

Tom Petty gets it. Nobody wants to bother with purchasing a new album any more, other than your diehard fans and even they will probably just stream the tracks. You’re still a viable and vital touring act, however–with a band like The Heartbreakers, how could you not be, they’re the best non E Street combo extant–so for the upcoming North American tour, all tickets will include a copy of the new album Hypnotic Eye.

No, it’s not the first time an artist has done this, it’s not a Radiohead or Prince kind of move, but for an aging rocker with arena-sized audiences it’s a smart promotional ploy that gets his full set of new songs in the hands of those who might care about them the most. Without it, how many units would you expect a Tom Petty to move? This way it makes him look like he’s still selling tonnage without having to market both the album and the tour. Nobody cares about new music from Petty, they just want to hear the hits again, and again. Which they will, at the show, where the new songs will allow time for bathroom breaks and beer runs to the concession stand where the venues make their money.

Complain that nobody buys your album if you put it on Bandcamp for free streaming, or if it’s up on Spotify where you get fractions of fractions of a cent per play, but if it’s not there nobody but your friends and family will probably be listening anyway. Is the album dead? Not as an artistic statement, perhaps, but as a business venture it has no future in any kind of stand-alone way. Wait for a year, or two, and release a full album’s worth of songs with one or two great ones surrounded by filler? Go ahead, but prepare to be forgotten in the interim.

I’ve said for several years now that most acts would be better served going back to the singles mode of the early 1960′s, releasing one song at a time over frequent intervals, then packaging them up later in album-sized bundles for those who still want that. In an internet era where we all move on to the newest, latest trends, hashtags, news stories, and celebrity mishaps within hours, not days, how do you expect to continue generating interest in a full album six months after its release? Put out a song a week, or month, however, and you’re hitting the ‘refresh’ button every time a new track comes out. Pair them with videos, even if they’re homemade, or lyrics-only clips, and you get the Youtube eyes on them as well.

I still listen to, and review, full albums every day. I can understand the artistic value in presenting a song cycle that is thematically linked, or that represents where you are as an artist at that time. But after the reviews are done, how many do I really go back to? Very few, and even then it’s to the one or two tracks that caught my ear the most, not the eighth or ninth same-sounding cut that’s not worth the effort to click forward to hear. And you expect a casual listener to do any better than that?

There was an old saying in pop music, “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus.” This is akin to today’s plethora of album length material sitting out there on Spotify, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, etc., waiting to be heard. Most of it will never be streamed, by anyone. So when Tom Petty decides to give away his new album to those who pay for a live show ticket, he’s at least getting it into the hands, and ears, of someone who might actually listen. What are you doing to ensure your music gets heard?

Check out the promo clip announcing the tour and album here :