By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
They're not the most commercial of bands, but the Green Romance Orchestra has finally released an album into widespread circulation. The band is half longtime (but now defunct) local jazz-rock group Ten Hands (J. Paul Slavens on piano and keyboards and Gary Muller on the Chapman Stick), plus drummer Dave Abbruzzese (formerly of Pearl Jam, or as he puts it--in a manner more endearing than disingenuous--"the old band") and guitarist Doug Neil. Unlike their first effort, Play Parts I & IV, whose 1,000 copies were available only through the mail, this new album--Play Parts I & V--will be carried in places like Tower Records and Best Buy, and may even generate enough heat to compel the immensely talented, rather idiosyncratic group to consider live performance.
Abbruzzese's stay in Dallas--before he went west and eventually hooked up with you-know-who--makes working with Slavens and Muller particularly resonant. "They were my favorite band when I lived in Dallas," Abbruzzese says. "They contributed so much to my listening then that it's really great to be working with them now."
The band certainly records like no other, and their collaborative music--an unlikely mix of jazz, rock, groove, and studio wizardry--is as hard to classify as their creative process is to describe. Abbruzzese, who is as likely to call the cuts on the album "events" as he is to use the word "songs," elaborates: "It's not like one person brings in a song and the others work out their parts based on that," he explains. "Every event is different; right now I've got over 200 hours of music on tape. We just hang out as often as possible and play a ton of music, and occasionally a gem pops out. We try to stay refreshed, and we try to make each other laugh." Out of late-night jams and general fooling around, songs are born, often forming around different parts, a coalescence greatly aided by noteworthy local producer Dave Castell (X,Y), whom Abbruzzese calls "the fifth member of the band."
GRO formed with little thought about commerce at all, but public demand has exerted a certain pull on them from the beginning. The first limited pressing of Play Parts I & IV was sold by mail order only, and marketing was "real low-key," in Abbruzzese's words. "But we sold almost all of them," he recalls. "It kept me on the floor, cross-legged with my feet falling asleep, filling orders." Hence Play Parts I & V, on Seattle's Free Association Records. The similar titles are no mistake--much of the material on Parts I & IV appears on the new album (10 out of 14 songs). "That's the 'Part I,'" Abbruzzese confirms. Already out in Japan, the album is slated for release soon, perhaps by the beginning of October.
The album also is generating quite a bit of buzz--more so than band members at first anticipated--and raising the question of whether the group will consider playing live. "Yes and no," Abbruzzese says, "Nothing's in concrete one way or the other. If people want us to play, we'll play. The response so far has been such that I'm sure we will at some point."
"The logistics of getting us four together are pretty involved," explains Slavens from a back-patio table at Club Dada, where he's performing his regular Wednesday-night gig before flying out to Seattle to hang with Abbruzzese. Slavens, who from time to time still seems to smart a bit from the dissipation of the promise of Ten Hands, one of Deep Ellum's earliest and hardest to explain shoulda-beens, is optimistic. "It's so nice for this to be going this way, naturally, and not like"--he holds his hands in front of him, his fingers curled into claws, and affects with his expressive face a look of overwhelming anxiety--"'This is it! It's make or break! We gotta! We gotta!'" He flops back into his wrought-iron chair. "All the stuff that seems to be happening now, it's the kind of stuff you normally pay for," he says with a smile.
The September 5 show by Brit space-rockers the Legendary Pink Dots was an object lesson in why it's important to stay until the end of the show. Although Les Dots for the most part alternated between flaccid evocations of Ummagumma-era Pink Floyd and verbal fits delivered by their prodigiously annoying frontman Edward Ka-spel, the last 20 minutes saw things change much for the better, with a welcome infusion of bass and volume finally attracting and holding the attention of those few audience members who weren't tripping their brains out. Encountered at the show was Vas Deferens Organization member Eric Lumbleau, who reported that VDO has two new albums about to come out: one that he describes as "perhaps the most cosmic, 'out there' thing we've ever done," and another that he says is a "lot more funny and exaggerated, almost cartoonish."
The local avant-space scene is the subject of a major spread in this month's Magnet magazine, with particular attention shown to Mazinga Phaser, VDO (Magnet's editor had earlier expressed awe and admiration over what he termed the Organization's "brain-throbbing music"), and Lost Records' two front-runners, Iron Bong and the Modern Whigs. Also appearing in a "Recommended" sidebar that accompanied the article were Bag, J. Bone Cro and his Jaloppy, the late Lithium Xmas, and Fort Worth's Ohm...on a related front, Drew Wallace of Lost Records is tickled pink that Kramer--producer of such acts as Galaxie 500, Ween, and Gwar, as well as a member of NYC band Bongwater--has agreed to come to Dallas sometime in November to produce new albums by Iron Bong and the Whigs...
The video from Hank Thompson's single "Gotta Sell Your Chickens," cut with Junior Brown and off his upcoming Duets album, started off last week on medium rotation on CMT and TNN; tickets for the big record release party--to be held at the fabled Longhorn Ballroom October 18, with Bill "the Midnight Cowboy" Mack as host--go on sale September 17...Soak will play Trees Saturday, September 27...Wilco has all but confirmed a show at Trees November 6...
Alan Wooley--he of essential local country-rock bands Killbilly and the Cartwrights--has been tapped by Jack Ingram to replace lead guitar player Chris Claridy, who reportedly is eager to do his own thing. Wooley--who had never even met Ingram, but is reportedly enjoying himself hugely--was flown up to Toronto to practice and ended up sharing a rehearsal space with some English lads who call themselves the Rolling Stones...
Chatting with a sweaty Fred LeBlanc after Cowboy Mouth's opening slot for Sammy Hagar, we happened to mention the excellent demo of his solo work that's floating around and that we'd recently heard. The Crescent City Madman--who several times expressed his appreciation for the New Orleans band's loyal contingent of fans here in Big D--denied any intentions of following other band members like guitarist Paul Sanchez into a parallel solo career. "Naw," he said. "It's too much like what we do with Cowboy Mouth and would only detract from our momentum." Perhaps LeBlanc should open up a counseling center; his first day he could max out his Daytimer and schedule appointments for STP's Weiland, Prince's long-ago cohorts Dez Dickerson and Morris Day, David Lee Roth, Suede's Bernard Butler, Izzy Stradlin, Susanna Hoffs, and any Jackson siblings not named Michael or Janet...
In a shocking incursion into the afterlife, The Lone Star Country Club has started importing bands from across the river Styx (pun intended), following a Badfinger show September 12 with an October 11 appearance of Kansas and a show by the Marshall Tucker Band on October 26. Surely the gods of the underworld will not let this trespass on their turf go unpunished...
Street Beat values more than the summery smell of freshly mown grass your input, comments, and tips at Matt_Weitz@dallasobserver.com.