One of the big pitfalls lurking under the surface of most versions of romantic love is an implied masochism, an idea that suffering is somehow relative to emotional depth. It's what scuttles most of what could be referred to (sneeringly or not) as "sensitive" music, songs that deal with emotions and the various torments life visits upon the heart and soul.
Colin Boyd has certainly trodden that ground. A long-standing local favorite, he's a sincere and earnest singer, songwriter, and guitarist with a pure, sweet tenor. Most people find him only slightly less endearing than Snuggles, the fabric-softening bear. His first album, 1994's Juliet, contained songs like "Number Two," with its words of aching, loyal endurance (or dumb-ass acceptance, if you wish): "When your number one don't love you/Just come to number two."
Boyd leavened things with humor--"Buddy Holly's Ghost" explained and capitalized on his wholesome appeal, and his between-song patter was honestly engaging--and talent. As a songwriter, he was developing into someone who could be sad or silly but reliably smart.
His tape release of last year--Peggy Sue Went Surfin'--wasn't really an album. It was more of a demo-quality holding action, put out to give his fans something to listen to while he worked on Juliet's follow-up, keep his name and product in the public eye, and raise money for the new album. Fun but ultimately a bit insubstantial, Peggy Sue was primarily a rehash of past patterns--some middling live stuff, the title track--with a few good songs set amid the styrofoam peanuts. Was Boyd in a rut? Out of ideas? Beginning to "do" himself?
The release of Sincerity proves something that has actually been fairly apparent if you've caught Boyd live over the past 18 months: He's growing as a songwriter and maturing and expanding his reach, and his growing skills are lifting him further out of the coffeehouse/folk/singer-songwriter ghetto where many place him. The past year has seen Boyd collaborating with writing partners like Austin's Monte Warden and local guitarist Matt Iddings, and the fruits of those collaborative efforts--with Iddings on "Doesn't Matter Now" and "I Wanna be the One"; Warden on "Near You" and "Forgetting"--reveal that Boyd's muse responds well to cooperation.
There is also a toughening of tone and a definite assertiveness that makes emotions like those in "Number Two" sound faithful and patient rather than needy or insecure. This self-assurance is all over Sincerity, announced with the title (and initial) track, which is a kiss-off wrapped in a thank-you: "If this is sincerity/Then I thank you for letting me know," Boyd sings over his shoulder as he heads for the door and greener, more honest pastures. "I Know What She's Saying"--a song Boyd wrote five or six years ago that was first recorded on Peggy Sue--has a wounded context, yes, but it's a lot more eye-rolling exasperation at the utter predictability of the barracuda who hurt him.
Sincerity is much sharper and more sophisticated than his previous work and definitely follows an Americana/alt-country track, heavy with the steel of Milo Deering and the lessons learned from observing the success of Jack Ingram's version of Boyd's "Flutter," which went to No. 51 on the Billboard country singles chart.
"I wanted to take a step up," Boyd explains. "I had arrangements, but I also wanted to get somebody that could help me compete on the level of Freedy Johnston. What that would end up sounding like, I didn't have any idea." The person Boyd chose for that help was buddy and longtime local contributor Terence Slemmons, known for his work with many artists including Little Jack Melody and Dah-veed Garza. Slemmons--joined by Jim Dailey on drums--also plays bass with Boyd's live combo.
"I always thought that my stuff could fall into that alt-country or Americana slot," Boyd says. "I've always loved country music, but I've always thought of myself as a rocker, even though most people think of me as folk." He doesn't chafe under the folk label, though. "I'll take it," he says of the popular perception of his music. "I'm not on some mission; I'll just play what I want and just let the chips fall." He is glad, however, to be slipping out from under some of the snares that come with the romantic form.
He's not renouncing his old songs or his sweeter side, however. Witness the pop precision of "Someone Who Can Do No Wrong" or the '50s-pop "This Kiss," co-written with Warden and Sara Hickman. "Take 'Much Better Off Without You,'" Boyd says as an example. "That guy [the narrator] is pretty pissed, and he's pretty tightly wound up."
He pauses. "I would never try to 'toughen up' a song," he says, "and I don't shy away from a straight-ahead love song or a heartbroken song. I can still sing a song like 'Number Two' and happily do sing it, but it's not the kind of thing I would write now."
Boyd has faith that his audience will follow him. "It's kind of a challenge to the people who like me for that hopeful--or hopeless--romantic in those songs like "This Heart" and "Juliet," he says, "but I think that's still there."
Colin Boyd will be celebrating the Denton release of Sincerity at Dan's Bar on Thursday, November 13, and the Dallas release the next night at Poor David's. The final step in his quest for world domination--the Fort Worth release party--will be held at 4 p.m. on Saturday, November 15, at Borders.
VDO makes AP's best
Definitely bent and totally fearless, the musical mad scientists at the helm of our own Vas Deferens Organization have garnered yet another prop from the national print media, this time from Alternative Press, the monthly that serves as an international reference point for indie and truly alternative music. In the spring of this year, Managing Editor Dave Segal came across VDO's '97 release Transcontinental Conspiracy in the magazine's slush pile of unsolicited albums, demos, and musical miscellany.
"I didn't know who they were," Segal admits from AP's offices in Cleveland, Ohio. "But I recognized some of the names of people that I liked and respected--Brad Laner, the Mercury Rev people. When I played it, I found it to be one of the most inventive, amazing albums. I wrote a pretty positive review of it, and after it'd come out, I got this big package in the mail with their entire back catalog.
"I listened to all of it," Segal explains, "and I realized that these guys are really special--prolific, but with a super-high quality control. Their stuff was not only good, but in a variety of styles, and whatever they attempted, they excelled at."
The music that VDO makes reflects their love both of experimental music and for collecting the often obscure records that other like-minded bands put out. The organization is primarily Eric Lumbleau, Matt Castille, Christopher Moock, and Brian Artwick, working both on their own and with artists who catch their fancy. Their work more often than not pushes the boundaries of music past mere psychedelia and into the realm of full-blown weird-o-rama kosmiche. Segal--whose "pretty positive" AP review of Transcontinental earlier this year was absolutely glowing--has taken advantage of AP's end-of-the-year round-up to shine a light on VDO, mentioning the group as his choice for Artists of the Year for 1997, and mentioning them prominently in his piece on the brightest hopes for 1998.
"They're just one of the best bands out there right now," he explains. "They're record collectors, sure, but their music is influenced, not derivative, and those influences are incorporated with great subtlety. They have a strong sonic stamp."
Alternative Press' year-end wrap-up will appear in their February 1998 issue, due to hit the stands in January.
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Investigate Out to Lunch, the record store that will serve as a partial adjunct to Jason Cohen's Forbidden Books and Forbidden Music. Located close by Fair Park laundromat/nightspot Bar of Soap and operated by Ed Stafford--noted local authority on weird and esoteric music--Out to Lunch opened for business last Saturday and is a must for any aficionado of atypical music...The band formerly known as Mess is now Darlington, named after one of the band's favorite NASCAR venues...
Mary Cutrufello will play a show to benefit the Little Folks School, a full-service, citywide, non-profit child-care center. The show will be on Sunday, November 16, at the old Lakewood Theater. If you haven't been to see a show at this distinguished-but-casual art deco venue, Cutrufello is a better reason than most...Austin cross-cultural stylists Ta Mere will be at Club Dada November 15...Fans of the singer/songwriter will want to make note of Tim O'Brien and Kevin Welch's appearance November 15 at the Sons of Hermann...
Regrettably, the optimistic note of recovery sounded in a recent music section story on Buddy Miles may have been premature: Fort Worth singer John Nitzinger has reportedly broken up his creative association with the legendary drummer, who has worked with figures such as Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana. Miles, who has been dogged by drug problems throughout his career, had promised to clean up and get healthy while Nitzinger, a recovering addict himself, vowed that he would never work with a user...
Street Beat welcomes all and sundry tips, informational tidbits, and figments at Matt_Weitz@dallasobserver.com.