Friday, January 05, 2007

Records in Review

Czar Caviar, "Girth"
Hawksbill Records, 2001

When you're a motivational speaker and sales trainer, there are few alternative avenues for such a strong release of your creative juices. Apparently, one of the solid options available is that of singer for a stage revue or band. Czar Caviar is one such band. I met the musical group's front man, "Mr. Caviar," during a series of events I helped organize for a business magazine I used to work for. Not many people attended the event he led (not his fault), which was held at a suburban hotel in the south, but the workshop leader and I bonded momentarily over the fact that both of us had sung for a band. I once fronted an act called the Anchormen in the Boston area, and he had recorded at least one album, as well.

This is that album. He gave it to me the night of our event at that suburban hotel in the south, which leads me to think that any gig is a possible lead to another kind of gig. I may have later reciprocated with the CDs the Anks recorded. I don't remember. Truth be told, however, I haven't listened to his album until tonight. I wish I had, and I wish I hadn't because it leads me to question my own band activity.

It's not bad as a record. Mr. Caviar's vocal style is interesting in a Rocket from the Crypt by way of the Cramps kind of way, filtered through the entire '90s decade wave -- and wake -- of rockabilly and swing, and the music's not all bad. But in the end, the record lacks heart, if not art. Oh, it's plenty smart.

Live, I can see this working. It's a dark club, somewhat lounge-like. Mr. Caviar's a real personality, perhaps acting as emcee as well as front man. And the band's a show, their songs interlacing and building to some sort of stage-show crescendo involving smashed martini glasses and stand-up basses. But on record, it falls short of the concept I'm sure started the whole wheel turning. That might be Mr. Caviar's downfall.

This is neither a dark rockabilly record nor a shady swing record nor a psychedelic garage rock record. It takes aspects of each and mixes them up in a studio project-like setting that doesn't give much indication of what the live performance might have been like, if ever there was one. In fact, this record sounds like a calling card for a live show.

That means it feels a business book by a conference speaker. Like a workshop by a former executive. Like a CD made by people who primarily do things other than make music. I used to be in that kind of band. At least that's what I brought the Anchormen. The other guys in the band did other things to fund and fuel their musical and other activities, but I was a weekend warrior.

There are also joke elements to this CD that make me question the integrity of the concept and project at root. The songs entitled "White Stripes Song" and "Phish Sucks" predate many too-late mainstream embracings of both. They also telegraph a concern with an of-the-now popcult awareness and mainstream consumerism that is neither necessary nor necessitated by either of those sources, at least within the genres in which the band has chosen to revel and wallow.

If you don't take the sources of the pastiche you're producing seriously, how seriously do you take the end project in itself? This is far from a parody, but I'd be much more comfortable if I could hear the other musicians' records -- or more love of the source material in the overall effort.

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