Jennifer Gentle is a quirky Italian pop band that doesn’t so much march to the beat of a different drum; it hides in a dark, dank basement from any human contact whatsoever. Previously a two-member unit — founding co-member Alesso Gastaldello left after the band’s 2005 album, Valende — it is now just Marco Fasolo at the helm.
His new album, The Midnight Room, will be a hard listen for some. What saves it from being totally annoying is that it has that hard-edged, trouser-clinging sexiness of The White Stripes mixed with the spooky silliness of The Fiery Furnaces. Like those bands, Fasolo seems inspired by various kraut rock bands, Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett — the band’s name comes from a Barrett lyric — and music geek favorite, Frank Zappa.
Fasolo recorded the album, playing every instrument himself, in a studio where the prior owner killed himself. So there’s a real claustrophobic edginess to the psychedelic rhythms and rhymes. There’s playfulness in the dark but it’s not clever enough to impress. He’s too steeped in his influences and never does anything unique with them. He just does what they did, er… his way.
There are a few fun tracks here. “It’s In Her Eyes” and “Take My Hand” work best. Guitars, kazoos and pianos get their freak on while Fasolo’s boyish whiney voice trickles in and out.
On “Take My Hand” Fasolo sings, “Take my hand early in the morning/ Take my hand, if you please.” The lyrics are never that special.
It ends up being a spirited album by a clever-enough fellow who thinks spending time with yourself in a basement spewing instrumental jizz everywhere constitutes true artistry. While the album surprisingly never gets pretentious, there’s just no real pain in all the weirdness flying about. There’s premeditated brooding in this one-man band. There’s something fake about it all.
I love it when a forgotten song that was once so familiar just pops up into your life again; a song you loved as a kid, that you sang at the top of your lungs when it played on the car radio. For me, Jack Blanchard And Misty Morgan’s 1970 hit, “Tennessee Birdwalk” is such a song. I totally forgot about its existence until a friend of mine passed along her copy of Jack & Misty, Life And Death (And Almost Everything Else). The album is a compilation of the best of their ’70s recordings. It’s wickedly fun.
This Buffalo-based husband and wife team are off-kilter songwriters who still record today. The liner notes describe them as “Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood on acid.” Exactly.
Morgan is considered country music’s trailblazing female record producer. She’s the first woman in country music to have coproduced a number one hit (“Tennessee Birdwalk”). She was also a one-woman band. She attached electric devices to her piano, so they never needed to tour with band members.
“Tennessee Birdwalk” could now just be considered a silly novelty hit like Jim Stafford’s “Wildwood Weed” or “Convoy” by CW McCall. But it’s way too cool to throw in that group. The jingle-jangle guitar picking seems to mock Blanchard and Morgan’s deadpan delivery. The production is humorous, yes, but also infectious as it assaults your ears with crowd-pleasing sound tricks and backup vocals that scream “Nashville.”
They sing, “And take away the bird baths/ And the dirty birds will soon be ev’rywhere/ Take away their feathers and/ The birds will walk around in their underwear.”
All the songs echo the seemingly generic country pop of the times. Think Glen Campbell, Sandy Posey and a splash of Patti Page’s frequent Country Music toe-dipping. There’s always a harmonica, slide guitar, fiddle and a few cheesy organ riffs thrown in to keep the audience giddy. It’s AM radio at its best. It never offends but the music is never slick and contrived either.
Songs like “Poor Jodie” or “The Autumn Song (On A Yellow Day)” are nothing special but Jack and Misty are at their best with quirky offerings like “Bethlehem Steel,” a song about the closing of the town factory.
“Goodbye honey/ Goodbye money/ Goodbye Bethlehem Steel.”
But “The Legendary Chicken Fairy” (another bird number) is one hell of a rockin’ ditty about “Mother Goose’s butterfly.”
“When you wish upon a bird/ Makes no difference how absurd/ The Chicken Fairy hears each word/ And all your dreams come true.”
I think I have a new favourite song.