I’m a little late with this review due to a technological nervous breakdown.
When I’m tooling around town and not listening to the billion or so songs on my iPod, I tune into the Underground Garage on Sirius XM. Every now and then over the past few months, they’d slip in a tune by The Dahlmanns which would invariably cause me to go over the speed limit due to the kinetic energy flowing through a body exposed to kick-ass rock-and-roll.
Hey, if a girl has to keep both hands on the wheel and feels like jacking off to a particularly hot song, that energy has to go somewhere!
Not wanting to forget the name of the band, I grabbed my iPhone4 and tried thumbing a note to myself, a practice that is illegal while driving and resulted in unintelligible garbage.
Some time following those first lame attempts at memory jogging, I upgraded to the iPhone 4S and got Siri. The problem I ran into is that activating Siri also activates the Bluetooth hands-free system in the car, meaning I had to try communicate with Siri by shouting into the steering wheel over a background of road noise. On my first attempt, Siri heard “Dahlmanns” as “Communist” and started looking up online versions of the works Das Kapital. After several lame efforts and a near-miss with a semi, I pulled my ass over, parked and wrote out it all out using a technology called “pencil and paper.”
So, I want you to know that I went through a lot of hassle, stress and danger to secure a copy of All Dahled Up, and goddamn, was it ever worth it!
There are two essentials to great rock-and-roll: energy and rhythm. The singer may be off-key, the guitar riffs may be simple, the drummer may not do much beyond keeping the beat . . . but if the performer feels it and the rhythm section drives it, it’s going to sound like magic. You hear this most often in the early rock performers of the 50’s, like Little Richard and Buddy Holly: the excitement, the delight, the feeling of release that characterizes great rock music. The Beatles definitely had it, The Ramones had it, but lately, I haven’t heard much of it in the releases from Anglo-Saxon universe, except on some of the songs from the The Mind Spiders’ latest.
Silly me! I should have gone to Norway!
The Dahlmanns are a Norwegian band spearheaded by André Dahlmann (formerly of the Yum-Yums) primarily on guitar and his wife, Line Cecile Dahlmann (what a great name) serving as the primary lead singer. Apparently they gathered some other Dahlmanns and now there are five. I don’t know if they’re real Dahlmanns or rent-a-Dahlmanns, but there are five of them.
Even with all those Dahlmanns, this is a band with discipline and a focus: simple, no bullshit, melodic rock. What makes All Dahled Up such a great album is the band really feels it. The themes may be classic rock themes, the riffs may be classic rock riffs, but the songs are performed with such energy and sheer delight that it all sounds fresh and new, like a teenage crush or a mid-life crisis (“forty-eight, goin’ on sixteen”).
That little phrase is from the killer opener to the album, “Candy Pants.” Right from the get go you have to love Line’s voice: disciplined, understated and textured without all the dramatic crap that Americans have come to adore through American Idol and the Amateur Olympic Competition of Who Can Stretch Out a Crappy National Anthem with Vocal Pyrotechnics. The simplicity of her delivery makes you connect with her: she’s one of us, headed out to the bar in the big city on a Friday night in search of a good time and some freedom from the daily bullshit. Line’s voice is the expression of someone stripping off the veneer, getting real and becoming a living, breathing, fucking human being again. I should also add that Andre’s guitar solo on this song is pure energy, a no-pause-for-bullshit-let’s-fucking-rock kind of solo that knocks me out every time I hear it.
The band best expresses their naked energy on four of my other favorite songs on the album: “Shake Me Up Tonight,” “Bright City Lights,” “Get Up Get Down” and “Teenage City.” All are sublime expressions of the joys of love, nightlife and sexuality. When Line delivers lines like “Get up, get down and stop foolin’ around,” and “I know, you know, we’ll get there fast and then we’ll take it slow,” I feel a rush of “yeah, that’s exactly what it feels like.” “Get Up, Get Down” is all the more remarkable because it’s really only a slight variation of the “Louie, Louie/Hang On, Sloopy” chord structure but it sounds as fresh as a saucy little wench sneaking a cigarette from the parents.
I’ve singled out five songs, but there isn’t a stinker on this album. Song after song, you hear the energy, the sincerity and the sheer love of rock and roll. The key message is this: when you’re feeling low after dealing with the deadness that dominates much of modern existence and you need a pick me up to get back in touch with your mojo, you can find the cure in All Dahled Up. To paraphrase Vic Fontaine, if this doesn’t get you going, look in the obituary column, because you’re probably in it.
Very few Americans have ever heard of The Move unless they found themselves bored enough to dig deep into the liner notes for one of the Electric Light Orchestra’s commercial successes and learned that Jeff Lynne and drummer Bev Bevan were ex-members. Lynne was a johnny-come-lately, however, and did not appear on Shazam, a forgotten masterwork originally designed to properly introduce this long-popular-in-the-mother-country British band to the colonies, courtesy of A&M Records.
Things didn’t work out as planned. A&M was out of its league when it came to promoting rock bands (the “A” stands for Herb Alpert, for christsake), and arranged a comically disastrous tour that required the band the lug their stuff around the USA in a U-Haul trailer. Creative and personal tensions between band members didn’t make things any easier. When the rubble had cleared, however, what survived was Shazam, one of the most fascinating rock recordings ever made.
The album has been buried for years, and I only vaguely remember hearing parts of it while growing up. I re-discovered accidentally while browsing through iTunes and tracked down an extraordinarily expensive import CD version for my collection. I fell in love with it on the first listen, knocked out by Bevan’s drumming, the sheer diversity captured in a mere six songs, the intense riffs, the gorgeous harmonies and the great good fun captured in random street interviews and band chatter.
The album explodes with the no-bullshit guitar and pounding drums of “Hello, Suzie,” the story of a ditzy British teenybopper featuring an introduction that almost forces you out of your seat. Roy Wood growls out the lead vocal with good humor and strong support in the form of a thrilling backdrop of harmonies that come together with a huge exclamation point at the end of the bridge. I keep praying that somewhere out there a band will cover this sucker and use it as an opening number for a gig, as I’d love to see this done live with the same great energy as the original.
After a short interview with some native Brits, Carl Wayne steps to the microphone for the lovely and bouncy string piece, “Beautiful Daughter,” delivered in a perfect combination of romantic sincerity tempered by a touch of tongue-in-cheek and supported by the energetic strings that would later characterize early ELO recordings.
Then . . . a door creaks . . . footsteps . . . the door closes . . . and we hear a diffident voice narrating the story of how he would up going off his HEAD!!! The band explodes with heavy bass, drums, the works! This is “Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited,” a high-powe remake of one of their earlier songs, and a delightfully wacky remake it is. The heaviness fades into acoustic guitar playing Bach, no less, and ends with an over-the-edge falsetto picking up the tune and eventually blending into layers of perfectly executed harmonies.
Next comes the delightfully free-flowing “Fields of People,” spiced with chit chat with passers-by, plenty of laughter, more gorgeous harmonies and one of the great drum rolls in history. Bev Bevan knocks me out on every song, and whenever I hear ELO today, I generally tune out the band and ride out the song with Bev. The song is an unusual combination of great fun and well-executed shifts that makes for an entirely engaging listening experience.
The Move then go heavy-bluesy with their cover of “Don’t Make My Baby Blue,” which gives Carl Wayne a great opportunity to apply his naturally melodic voice to something with more oomph. The tone of the guitar anticipates the heavier sound common in 70’s rock, and the bass and drums provide an unusually strong bottom for a Move song (pre-Shazam Move tended towards baroque pop). Despite the variation from the norm, this is a strong performance that makes you wish The Move had gotten their shit together and explored the new possibilities suggested by this piece. Alas, they opted for a re-build, and their follow-up album, Looking On, is a godawful mess (though I have always been rather fond of the song “Brontosaurus.”
Shazam ends with a long and again heavy cover of Tom Paxton’s (!) classic, “The Last Thing on My Mind.” The Move’s version is nothing like the mildly pleasant folk original, with big guitars and pounding rhythms leading the way. Wayne does a superb job with the vocals and Roy Wood’s harmonies are dead-on, providing a beautifully sweet wrap to end this most unusual album.
There’s something about Shazam that makes you feel good from start to finish. Sometimes you’ll laugh, sometimes you’ll want to dance and sometimes you just want shout out with the release that great rock can provide. This is a superb album from a band whose incredible potential was sadly diverted into the promise and eventual disappointment of both ELO and Roy Wood’s Wizzard.
But we’ll always have Bev Bevan’s drumming, which is as good as it gets no matter who’s up front.