Out Here

Tiny Tim, big record
Girl
Tiny Tim with Brave Combo
Rounder Records

After struggling for so long to shrug off the novelty tag that has nipped at its heels since the get-go, Brave Combo teams up with the King of Shlock--the little freak who goes on Howard Stern to talk about his impotence and Depends and skin-care regimen, the man who's so novel he's a library. After a handful of so-called comebacks that were thrown back, solo records, and one-offs with the New Duncan Imperials and Aussie metal bands, this is Tiny Tim's first and best stab at leaving behind a legacy that extends beyond "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" and The Tonight Show; this is nothing so much as a goof that transcends its initial laugh and grimace, the proper context in which one can finally understand Tiny and appreciate his unique talents.

Tiny is one of those few singers who use their voices as true instruments, his as evocative as a trumpet or as sly as a piano. It matters not what he's singing, but only the inflection he uses to do so, so much so that the disconcerting and dizzying blend of material (19th-century pop ditties, "Sly Cigarette," "Stardust," "Stairway to Heaven"--oh, Lord) makes perfect sense after a while. Once you get past hearing "Stairway to Heaven" recast as a jazz ballad or "Hey Jude" redone as a psychedelic cha-cha and then snorting in disbelief, you'll realize there's some genuine genius here. Tiny, like the crooners of the 1920s he admires and fashions himself after, inhabits a song as though it were his own baggy skin; he turns "Stairway" into a big-band plaint, "Hey Jude" into a giddy and psychotic lark, and "Over the Rainbow" into a bizarre high.

None of this would have been possible without Brave Combo, which has forever waltzed on the head of a pin without even slipping. The band has arranged the material in such a way as to embrace the quirks of Tiny's voice--growlingly creepy and frighteningly deep in some places, helium-high in others--yet never hides its own identity behind the diminutive vocalist. Brave Combo redeems "Hey Jude" as a cha-cha, beefs up the ancient "Springtime in the Rockies" until it sounds like a barroom waltz, and provides the rollicking backbeat to the Big Bucks Burnett-penned ode to his favorite number ("Fourteen," appropriate for the man who ran 14 Records...into the ground). Most importantly, Carl Finch and the band--which appears in several incarnations since this record was recorded from 1988 through 1993 and sat on the shelf waiting for an unsuspecting distributor--treat Tiny with the respect and dignity he probably deserves but never gets after all this time. Never once do you get the idea that they sat behind Tiny in the studio laughing, pointing, and wondering how a prank grew into a project.

--Robert Wilonsky

 
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