Tommy Keene: Behind The Parade

Written by September 12th, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Tommy Keene
Behind The Parade
(Second Motion)
{Rating: 4 stars]

We have a tendency in this country to ignore our best pop songwriters while they’re in their prime and recording one shimmeringly-perfect album after another. Then, to make amends, when they die, we give them a eulogy fit for a war hero. This certainly was the scenario for the late, great Alex Chilton. You can, however, expiate your portion of this rock and roll sin, if you pick up Tommy Keene’s Behind The Parade. Since 1984, this Washington D.C. native has been combining the winsome melodies of Paul McCartney, the savage lyrical bite of John Lennon and the ringing guitar work of Roger McGuinn. Old-fashioned rock and roll verities, recombined in surprisingly new ways, so that they, somehow, never sound retro. This record, Keene’s 8th, might just be his best.

Take the kickass opener, “Deep Six Saturday.” It appropriates the chords of McGuinn’s “So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star,” adds Costello’s late-70s snarl and yet it sounds completely Keene. No 60s’ slave, Keene’s approach is more like Squeeze or the Gin Blossoms. The song structures and well-appointed pop hooks are classic; the revved up guitars and widescreen production, very much of the moment.

The title tune illustrates Keene’s cagey approach. It has echoes of raga and folk-rock and Keene’s snaky solo sounds inspired by the sitar. Yet, the all-too-knowing lyrics, the big drums, the massed guitars would sound great on some Zoo Radio Station in the here-and-now. If only they’d stop fixating on the marble-mouthed Vedder clones and histrionic Cobain clowns.

Keene adds a new color to his palette with the moody instrumental “La Castana,” a swirling mix of synths and vocoders, that shows this artist is unafraid of taking chances with his proven pop formula. Then there’s “Nowhere Drag,” which is anything but, and mixes 6 and 12 string guitars to create the Power Pop of your dreams.

Folks bemoaning the lack of song craft on the airwaves should cry no more. Tommy Keene is putting this stuff out right under your nose. Okay, so you dropped the ball with Big Star, The Raspberries and Shoes. Still, soaringly tuneful rock is back on this brilliant, cohesive CD. Whatever else you do? Don’t let this Parade pass you by.

 

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