Friday, February 11, 2011

Banana Convention - Dirty Negatives

Banana Convention’s been happening for awhile now and they have weathered more poundings than a catholic girl’s camel toe at high school band camp – it’s more than music being laid down in them woods, mother…

“No one will see us, c’mon over here…under the tree
But…ah…do you have any protection?
Umm…ah …no - but I’ll be careful
You sure?
I promise –I just need to be with you…I…ah…I loooove you
You do?
Ouch, put down yer flute, will ya
Ohh, I’m sorry…ok
Move your elbow
Ouch, that hurts!
How do you unbuckle that damn razzamfraszzzam
Here let me…
Ohh baby…
ohh baby…yes, oh YES
Oh baby…babybabybaby…OH YES…OOOOHHH - oops, sorry.

But the natural state of reality is change and BC has evolved with a series of events that unfolded and brought a welcome new energy into the band. Sometimes things get stale and this quality of stasis becomes a signal to another crossroad - an opportunity to let go and open up to the moment. It’s a state of mind that doesn’t disparage the past or idealize the future. Dirty Negatives is part of a dialectic of creativity and change. The music is edgier and rocks hard and heavy at points yet still retains elements of that early 60’s girl group sound that enamored so many of Banana Convention’s early fans. The addition of one of Ray Torres, one Saginaw’s most innovative guitarists, no doubt boosted their musical capital and between Shar Molina’s husky soulful vocals, Monte Nothelfer’s excellent songwriting, the multiple talents of drummer Chris Howard and the surprisingly fluid and powerful basslines of Sean Drysdale the Banana Convention has a tight stripped down lineup that is ready to rock. The musical focus is no longer bubblegum – though that is always a worthy goal – it is an updated amalgam of styles and approaches that range from Motown to classic rock and experimental sounds. This is a time of possibilities…

The disc opens with Creed, a piece of ambient sound and fury that developed from a cool Sean Drysdale bass line and some heavy metal guitar slinging from inimitable Ray Torres. It recalls the tonal landscape of 7 O’Clock News/Silent Night, a mid-sixties effort by Simon & Garfunkel - though it seems closer aligned to Revolution #9, a Beatles’ experimental montage engineered by John Lennon. In the final analysis Creed is unlike either of its famous cousins, in that it speaks to BC’s self-doubting musical humility and its courage to observe itself as a good set-up band that can get the crowd moist and ready for the next act. Cool Bus is a punked-up road trip song with a strangled lost-key vocal by Mont - and it’s just sloppy enough to make it real…Perfect! This is BC fulfilling the prophecy of the late/great B-52’s with just a touch of inspiration from the mods and rockers of the early-to-mid-sixties.
Friday is one of my favorites ‘cos it takes me back to the early days of rock n’ roll when I was listening to my mother’s Ronettes records. It hearkens back to a more innocent time that wasn’t innocent at all…it was just hidden - and every once in awhile when I heard Ronnie Spector moan ooh, oh, oh…I wanted to know more. Fridays’ updated girl group sound is sure to get people on the dance floor doin’ the bend it and shakin their groove thing. Shar Molina’s earthy singing takes the soda shop and varsity sweater to a more emotionally vulnerable hue and cry due to a lyrical theme of unrequited love. She sounds like a funkier Madonna circa Say a Little Prayer and has the pluck and pipes to make it real and break your heart.. Sugar Buzz combines a soulful Motown musical backdrop with red hot bubblegum leeeric that holds the lovin’ promise of Yummy Yummy. The buzz is more than just sexual release….it’s about love. And it’s irresistible.
The Telephone Song is a phenomenal 50’s style romp that recalls the theme of Billy J. Kramer’s modest hit, Little Children, that bemoans the presence of your best girl’s siblings ‘cos sometimes they’re in the way but if you play it smart and treat ‘em nice you just might win her heart and fulfill your wildest and sickest dreams. Every bubblegum song has a Sheila in it, right? But this one has a Danny too. There is a fine line between bubblegum and the West Side Story lovelorn juvenile delinquents. I love the verse - short and to the point- nothing else needs to be said:
“Danny let me talk to Sheila
Put your sister on the Line”
For Your Love is pure pop confection crafted by Graham Gouldman (of 10CC fame) back when he was just a wisp of a lad and it caught the ear of famed producer Giorgio Gomelsky who was working with the Yardbirds at the time. He took them kicking and screaming into the studio to record their first and most lackluster hit of their career. The Yardbirds hit version of the tune gave it legendary status as the reason Eric Clapton quit the band and created the musical impetus for him to form Cream. The rest is history…though Clapton would resurface years later with a version of I Shot the Sheriff so bereft of the energy and conviction of the original that it makes For Your Love sound like screamin’ EMO. The BC version gives it a new lease on life and a renewed sense of purpose. Shar and the boys take For Your Love from a place of shame to a rock n’ roll redemption. Molina’s soulful vocal anchors a sensual charm and gives it a warmed up groove that far surpasses the original.
She Makes it Easy is a rockin’ still-the-one love song that speaks to the everyday life of coffee and small conflicts that can rip at the seams of a long term relationship. You may get on each other’s nerves but you still hang on – there’s so many shared memories and deep affection and you still give it to each other. Licorice Whip begins with a pulsating bass riff, grinds up to breakneck speed-of-light rocker. This is raw and raucous bubblegum at its best like Alex Chilton doing a heavy metal take on Sugar Sugar - gives it a whole new meaning!
Prognosis is musically complex and has a minor chord vibe that is quite ominous. This is a difficult pill to swallow. The doctor lyric is somewhat of a cliché that serves to ease the raw pain and bitterness that’s underneath. The lyric may have been more authentic with a dose of misogyny and a whole lot of bad words.
Replan is a Ray Torres original. It’s a mid-tempo dance friendly arrangement belies the dark message in the song though Torres’ blistering guitar work underscores the cry of confusion and despair in the lyrics. The protagonist is in deep trouble, a downward spiral from which he feels no escape. He is immersed in misery and doesn’t know that the only way out of hell is acceptance. The chorus “Maybe I’ll pull up a chair and spin it through my replan” is a pre-contemplative stage that could prove hopeful or fatal depending on the level of denial - a heavy theme for BC and a signal of its deeper musical convictions.
Rust Belt Blues is a straight ahead up-tempo rocker with a marvelous bassline. The slowed-up 12 bar blues coda seems a fitting musical accompaniment to the metaphorical jab at the sad state of our community.
Anyway is a stone masterpiece that is both emotionally layered and lyrically complex. It’s an acoustic folk tune that tells a story about making peace with those things that you cannot change and finding meaning in suffering. Is it possible to let go? Shar’s mature vocal colors the lyrics in nuanced sepia tones reminiscent of Christine (Perfect) McVie prior to her soiree with Fleetwood Mac. This could be a college radio hit – that’s where the best music is heard.

On their first full elpee of tunes the Banana Convention reached deep and creates a body of music with emotional depth and maturity. It’s like 1910 Fruitgum Company in a 1969 concert at Mt. Holly promoting their final LP Hard Ride…heavy guitar, horn section, long jams…and then 1,2 3 Red Light . I loved every minute of it then and I love it now. Hats off to BC!

Bo White

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