November 2, 1999
FIVE EASY PIECES,
Five Easy Pieces
(MCA Records), 1999.
Five Easy Pieces is the self-titled first offering by the LA-based band. I missed their gig at Monsoon's in July, but as a physician I was intrigued to read that the lead singer/guitarist Marc Dauer had been a surgery resident. He quit medicine for music, and along with Jay Schwartz- Keyboard/co-lyricist and Jason Sinay-lead guitar, he makes up the stable core of Five Easy Pieces. The band has seen several changes in drummers and bassists including at least two of each during the recording of this album. The current rhythm section consists of Darren Embry- bass and Matt Luneau-drums. Like the line up, the album is an eclectic mixture of influences. The sound is contemporary, blending a western style of rock and country with a pop radio accessibility.
Lovers", the first track on the album, is reminiscent of John Hiatt's "Memphis in the Meantime", only darker and more Hollywood. The version on the album is a remix of the original demo recording. The raw vocals and edgy guitar sound give the listener a feeling of what the band must sound like live. Clearly the best tract on the album, "Lovers" has an urgent, alternative pop feel. "Bittersweet" and "Crazy" are heavier and more like the 70's rock sound of The Black Crows and Aerosmith. Although the rock guitar licks are in full force, they never overwhelm the melody or the lyrics.
"Losing when I Win" and the angst filled "Flowers" sound much like The Wallflowers. Ironically, the most disappointing tract on the album is "South," especially when you consider that it was produced by T-bone Burnett, the man responsible for the production magic on Bring down the Horse by The Wallflowers. The song starts out strong with a haunting melody and lyric, but at nearly 6 minutes, it goes on just a little too long. No doubt a shorter version will probably be offered for radio airplay, but I wish they could have condensed the album version. Yet easy on the ears, it is a small vice on an otherwise outstanding album.
And just when you think the guys are stuck in a Eagles-like depression of girls and LA music-biz funk, the last two tracks draw you back to the light with the almost happy-go-lucky "Turn it Around" and "Something to Believe." With lines like 'the ceiling is just the floor turned upside down' and 'a smile is just a frown til you turn it around,' it's hard not to smile, and they make it sound so much cooler to be laughing. "Something to Believe" is not the most technically difficult song on the album, but the classic keyboard intro, jangling guitars, crisp drum sound and simple raw vocal make "Something to Believe" one of the strongest songs on the album. It will be interesting to see if the band can duplicate this unique blend of talents in future. But for now I chose simply to believe.
-- thomi sharpe
WORLD DOMINATION ON $3 A DAY,
(Crazy Owl Records), 1999.
In a live setting Fez has certainly proven themselves capable of overcoming the inherent limitations of surf music. By mixing up their sound with jazz and rock they provide a consistently entertaining show. Throw in the Tiki Gods and on stage schtick -- like throwing a beach ball out to the crowd while playing the aptly titled "Beach Ball", and you've got a hell of an entertaining show. They have certainly started a buzz here in Mobile. They have attracted the media and are starting to draw the crowds. It would seem that Steven "Monkeyboy" Harper has got it right this time. His previous bands The Aboriginals and Crashcow, while always inventive never generated this much attention.
Now comes WORLD DOMINATION ON $3 A DAY, their debut album on Crazy Owl Records and the big question is how good is it? Well, pretty damn good to tell you the truth. Recording in Nashville has given them a decidedly slick sound they may not have been able to duplicate here in Mobile. Although my one complaint with the record is that it is a little too slick. Surf music is supposed to sound dangerous, as if it may fall apart at any moment. Fez is never in danger of that. A few rough edges would have been nice just to rub the sheen off, but this is a minor complaint.
The musicianship is excellent throughout. Mrs. Harper, those guitar lessons have certainly paid off for young Stevie. Harper's guitar is stunning. Hearing him stretch out over an entire album is a delight. Ben Harper and David White make a tight and durable rhythm section as well. Never at any time does one forget that this is Steven "Monkeyboy" Harper's show. His guitar is all over this record like that curse the tiki god put on the Brady Bunch in Hawaii.
The tunes, almost all composed by Steven Harper are as inventive as the constraints of the genre will allow them to be. The standout track being the six minute "You Keep Telling Me (You Belong To Me)" which slowly builds to an intense ending. Other standouts include "Venus, Planet of Love", and "Raiders Of The Lost Daiquiri," which rates a mention for its title if nothing else. Fez even takes a spirited pass at "Pipeline," the Holy Grail of surf music.
On the whole WORLD DOMINATION ON $3 A DAY sounds like the lost soundtrack to a Frankie and Annette movie that never was. Fez stands ready to make a bigger noise than any local band has done in a while and WORLD DOMINATION is a worthy platform to shout from.
-- Jay Sharpe