Takin’ Orders From Record Company Clowns

Some years ago, some friends and I were returning from an satisfying meal of ribs, lemonade, cornbread, and endless piles of pulled pork at Red Bones, where all dinners are epic. Down in the Davis T stop, there was a musician on the platform, playing guitar and singing in a hoarse voice with a very faint touch of some sort of unidentifiable British Isles accent. The music didn't really jump out at me at first, but one of the songs he played caught my attention with a lyric about the "staying up all night studying modern physics." Intrigued, I decided, right as the train pulled in, to buy one of his tapes. I wound up missing the train as a result and watched my friends gliding away, laughing at me. The musician, who went by the stage name, as it were, of Winterboy, was a bit impressed at the (unintentional) sacrifice I'd made for his sake, and played another "sciencey" song for me, this one called "Work and Homicide" which featured a whole raftload of really bad computer metaphors mixed in with one really good (if incoherent) image: the "cursor of Damocles."

I took the next train back, popped the tape in my player, and discovered that it was horribly distorded, warbling oddly and varying in speed from low synthetic rumble to chipmunk twittering. I pulled his business card out of the liner, called the number thereon, and left him a message explainng the situation. The next day, he returned my call and left me a message giving his T-stop itinerary for the next few days. So I hopped the T, went down to Park Street, found him working the crowd on the Red Line platform, and made an exchange, my bum tape for a good one. And I had my Winterboy tape.

His music? Well, I'd best describe it as "earnest." It has a strong streak of psychological self-actualization (he was a social worker before he got into the whole music thing) -- realizing one's true identity is pretty much the point of most of his songs, expressed through a variety of strained metaphors. But for all that, there are occasional flashes of genuine coolness here and there: "Work and Homicide" is actually a pretty catchy song, even if the lyrics are groanworthy, and a few others on the tape have stuck in my head over the years. At some point in the interim, he linked up with a drummer and bassist and got himself a blurb from the executive producer of the L.A. Music Awards. So Winterboy is definitely moving upwards in the musical world, at a pace that should put him on top of the charts by sometime early in 2378.

He did, however, through his web presence, point me at the Becky Chace Band, and I'm in perfect agreement with Winterboy's taste in recommending them. Their CD isn't out yet, but I've been listening to a few cuts from it at mp3.com, and their sound makes for pretty good toe-tapping programming music. Not necessarily groundbreaking, but catchy music, well-written and tightly performed, with heartening syncopation, solid harmonic structure, and genuine energy. The downside, of course, is that they're still a regional band, which means I'm going to be waiting quite a while before they play Seattle.

In that same category, we also have Grey Eye Glances , who have a serious record contract and can be found at your local industry-tool distribution outlet. A bit less of the straight-ahead rock, a bit more of the gift of melodic grace and winning inventiveness. I heard them playing at a free outdoor concert I happened to wander by, and I wound up ultimately buying both their major-label albums in order to track down the ballad they played at their concert that had me standing there in rapt attention. (for reference sake, it's "Angel" from off of Eventide, but the clips on their web site don't include the really great parts of the song, which builds as it goes). They're from out of Philly (somehow, I don't see them playing the Republican convention), and I'm sort of hoping that their forthcoming album will send them on a national tour, but I'm also not holding my breath for them to show up any time soon.

Which, I suppose, is why the good lord made Mah Jong,