Desert Island Discs: “Above The Blue” by Vegas With Randolph (2011)Posted: May 9, 2013
Serendipity? Synchronicity? The gods of rock’n’roll smiling upon me? I’m not sure what caused this fortuitous sequence of events. All I know is I’m listening to one of the best CDs I’ve heard in a year: “Above The Blue” by Washington DC band Vegas With Randolph.
I may not know why it happened, but I do know how. I first heard Vegas With Randolph while rockin’ out to “Drink A Toast To Innocence.” Their take on “Cool Change” by Little River Band was one of the highlights on a CD packed full of highlights. This led to an Facebook chat with Eric Kern, and his generous offer of a promotional CD for radio airplay. Naturally I jumped at it, and I’m glad I did.
This, folks, is one hell of a fun CD. It includes a love song to Marisa Tomei that Fountains Of Wayne would give their eyeteeth for, a celebration of fine single-malt Scotch at Christmastime, lovers becoming trees and growing old and strong together, a suite of songs that will remind you of side two of “Abbey Road,” and the coolest little-kid-singalong this side of They Might Be Giants.
VWR’s awesome, inventive instrumentation, tight ensemble playing, and clever lyrics have gained comparisons to Fountains Of Wayne, Squeeze, Sloan, and Fastball (all favorites of mine). I’ll add Teenage Fanclub, Marshall Crenshaw, and Big Star to that list.
Reviewer Mike Lidskin from Twirl Radio put it this way:
These songs are written by regular guys, but they’re not regular songs. Incredibly articulate, poetic wordplay informs each line. Not one thought or sentiment is wasted. But these tunes weren’t meant to be dissected in your college literature class. They were designed to blast out of rolled down car windows, as you cruise around your town. Play them on your boombox at the beach. Make sure they’re the soundtrack to your backyard barbeque and swim party. Ladies and gentlemen, this is pure, fuel-injected American rock’n’roll, straight from our nation’s capital. Muscular, but sensitive. The songs celebrate, but never swagger. It’s thinking man’s party music.
And not just the lyrics are clever: there’s inventiveness to the music as well. Songs start and build and end in ways that keep you on your toes. Opening track “The Better Part” breaks in the middle to a guitar solo that would do Beatle George proud, driven by masterful drumming that echoes Keith Moon. The title track starts out with a baroque flourish reminiscent of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” then kicks into high gear with a vengeance. “She Does It For Me” builds in a way that makes you think it’ll resolve to another verse or chorus, then ends abruptly with an echoing guitar chord. VWR tweak the conventions of “pop craft” and make it sound fresh, yet familiar.
Sometimes you hear a song you need to hear at just the right time. The track that, ironically, jarred me out of my morning commute was “Some Time To Live,” an anthem to not letting life pass you by.
We spend our time on many things
We don’t care about
God help us with all these little things
And what gets left out
It might be making music
It might be climbing mountains
It might be dancing barefoot
In the palace water fountains
So go fishing in Alaska
Look for Incas in Peru
It doesn’t matter what it is
You’ve gotta find a way to do it
‘Cause you and I will blink
And we will all be dead or eighty
And nobody ever says
“I wish I’d only worked my whole life away”
“A Lesser Fool” features a letter-perfect vocal turn by fellow Facebook friend Maxi Dunn.
A lesser fool than I is loving you
And I hope you’re very happy too
With a lesser fool
A lesser fool is living my dream
And he isn’t as dumb as he seems
You’re the first thing he sees in the morning
And the last voice he hears at night
A lesser fool stays by your side
And he doesn’t over-analyze
A lesser fool would know a good thing
From the log that’s in his eye
A lesser fool than I was overdue
So I wish the very best for you
And a lesser fool
The later part of the disc features a “song suite” entitled “Double Play,” songs distinct from one another but that meld together like the extended sequences at the end of “Abbey Road.” Again from Mike Lidskin: “If you want to have the full Vegas With Randolph experience, but only have 11 minutes of spare time, this represents it well.” Indeed.
And the little-kid-singalong song? That’s “The Sippy Cup Song.” I defy you to not sing along.
You can turn it upside down
You can roll it on the floor
You can lose it in the couch
And you can throw it out the door
You’ve really got to love it
For its clever plastic top
And mom and dad are happy
‘Cause it never spills a drop
It’s a sippy sippy cup
You’re drinking up
Drink it all day long
It’s a sippy sippy cup
You’re drinking up
Drink until it’s gone
If you want to hear a CD with music that’s fun and inventive, that’ll remind you what you dig about rock’n’roll, and that’ll rekindle your life-threatening crush on Marisa Tomei (assuming it even needed rekindling), you would do well to pick up “Above The Blue.” A Desert Island Disc, for sure.