Earring Records, 1987
This is the first in a string of records from this Rochester-based band (hi Jason) that caused a minor sensation with their novelty hit (in Europe) of "Considering a Move to Memphis." Their instant notoriety fueled a tour in England and an appearance on the John Peel show.
Most of the songs here are written by Colorblind James (aka James Cuminale) and are little Dylanish stories set to Be Bop Deluxe style country swing or Tin Huey instrumentation. The first time I heard "Memphis", I thought of John Trubee and his "Blind Man's Penis" song but repeated listenings made it more than just a novelty in my mind even if the lyrics can be nonsensical. There's something a bit familiar of the notion of being able to just pull up stakes, move to a new town and try a new lifestyle:
I'm considering a move to Memphis
That's Memphis, Tennessee
It worked for Elvis Presley
Why can't it work for me?
A greatest hit album (2000) is all that remains of their available music. You can hear samples here.
"Great Northwest" is a good representative of his lyrical quirkiness:
When my burden gets too heavy
I'll simply disappear
I'll probably shave my eyebrows
And cut off all my hair
And paint myself to blend in
The Great Northwest somewhere
"Fledgling Circus", though, deserves a second look and is ripe for a Gary Jules or Johnny Cash/Rick Rubin style remake (cf. Donnie Darko's "Mad World" or Cash's version of Sting's "Hung my Head"). It would make a great lead-out for an episode of Carnivale even if its a bit literal. It appears on the greatest hit collection but didn't make it to the sample page.
Not everything here is a gem - it's the music that is a bit hokey at times but you can always just read the lyrics and smile at the cleverness.
Chuck Cuminale did make it to Memphis and it is said he tried to make it there in the early '90s but left because the songwriter community was too insular. He went back to Rochester where, when he wasn't playing with his band, organized Dylan and Elvis Birthday celebrations each year, played at weddings and worked as a counselor for troubled youth.
So, it was a shock to Rochester and the world when James Cuminale died of heart failure in summer of 2001. A tribute page is here where his many, many friends share often touching stories about him.