Robby Baier's Melodrome releases great new CD

Melodrome © 2002 Mark Veltman

by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., February 13, 2002) – It’s as simple as this: Robby Baier’s new album, The Sidewalk Ends, credited to his new band, Melodrome, is more than just a winner. It’s a soulful, funky, catchy musical delight that will sit comfortably in collections alongside CDs like U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind and Beck’s Midnite Vultures and well-worn LPs like John Lennon’s Double Fantasy and Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On.

As a songwriter, singer, producer, arranger and bandleader, Baier displays the natural pop-soul instincts of Prince on The Sidewalk Ends, an album chock full of radio-ready hits, several of which, like “Love Replaces Love,” are as catchily moody as U2’s “Walk On” or “Beautiful Day.”

Baier is a white-soul god -- a hidden progeny of Mick Jagger (no offense to his real father). With the release of his new CD, the first credited to his band Melodrome, it is only a matter of time before some independent-minded radio programmer or record-company executive discovers the Berkshires’ single most-talented recording artist and takes him national.

Retro-soul is one of the brightest trends in contemporay pop, and the feel of Seventies soul infuses much of The Sidewalk Ends, much as it did on Baier’s previous solo CD, Soultube. The Beatles are also an obvious influence on rock songs like “Sex, Cash and Fuel” and on the British Invasion pop outro that ends the album, whereas “Crush” is propelled by a jaunty bass line right out of the Rolling Stones’s “Miss You.”

But The Sidewalk Ends is as fresh as the latest by Outkast or any hip-hop group of the moment. The disk kicks off with “Genepool,” a soulful, state-of-the-art rap tune drenched with funk but eschewing the genre’s less attractive aspects (like gratuitous violence and sexism). Instead the song preache self-respect and intelligence.

Baier utilizes the sonic tools and palette of contemporary hip-hop (industrial beats, samples, scratching, etc.) to make classic-style soul ballads like “Highest Ground” or “Coldfront” sound utterly contemporary, in the vein of Wyclef Jean. “Not to Love You” has a mildly psychedelic feel akin to some of Beck’s work, but Baier is a better melodicist and a more sincere vocalist than that arch ironist.

Overall, The Sidewalk Ends has the cozy, lazy, sprawling feel of a Sunday afternoon, sitting around with a close friend reading the papers, and occasionally perking up with some coffee, some animated conversation and some romantic interludes.

In addition to Baier, who lives in a converted train station in Housatonic, Melodrome includes bassist Jesko Stahl, guitarist Darren Todd and drummer Matt Sloan. Stahl was a bandmate of Baier’s in Pearls at Swine, a major-label German-American rock band Baier led a decade ago. Todd played with Berkshire jam-band Lord Hill, and Sloan, who is currently working on his debut solo CD, toured and recoded with former Virgin recording artist Mark Curry.

In an earlier incarnation, Melodrome went by the name of Genepool, but due to trademark conflicts the name was abandoned. In addition to his work with Pearls at Swine, Baier has warmed up audiences for Creedence Clearwater Revisited, Los Lobos and Suzanne Vega, and was nominated for two Boston Music Awards in 1999 and 2000. His songs have appeared in various movies and TV shows, including “Drowning Mona,” “The Brutal Truth,” “Judging Amy,” “Touched By an Angel” and “Robocop.” He is also the widely acknowledged “godfather” of the M.O.B., a Berkshire musicians collective.

Melodrome celebrates the release of its new CD tonight at 9 with a concert at Club Helsinki (528-3394).

Abandoned Pools is the nom de band of Tommy Walter, formerly of the Eels. Disillusioned with the quick rise to fame of his former band, Walter wrote and recorded the dozen tracks for Humanistic (Extasy) at his home studio in Los Angeles, and put the finishing touches on at Boston’s Q Division studio.

The result is one of the most highly-touted debuts of the year, a mix of modern rock, electronic and industrial music with pop smarts that will appeal to fans of Radiohead, with songs that take a jaded look at the star-maker machinery. “Everyone’s a genius, brushing up on irony,” sings Walter on “Monster,” only one of several songs that seemingly address the topic of the music industry. “This can’t be what you’re waiting for,” he sings on “Blood,” which updates Kurt Cobain ten years after “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

Abandoned Pools performs with Flickerstick at Northern Lights in Clifton Park, N.Y., next Thursday, February 21, and at Pearl Street in Northampton on Saturday, Feb. 23.

Backstage bits

What do Anne Murray and Linda Ronstadt have in common? I mean besides not having done anything musically or commercially relevant since the 1970s. Right – they’re both being presented this summer at Tanglewood, that bastion of the musically and commercially irrelevant, when it comes to popular music, at least.

Trumpeter Mark Morganelli – better known in this region as the promoter behind the Berkshire Jazz Festival at Butternut Basin – sits in with pianist Rob Keller and bassist Ram Miles on Sunday at the Egremont Inn in South Egremont. Morganelli is already making plans for next summer’s festival, which will take place on the weekend of August 24-25 and include performances by Chico Hamilton and Euphoria, among many others. Stay tuned.

In other late-breaking concert news, Voices on the Verge, the singer-songwriter collaborative featuring Jess Klein and Erin McKeown among others, returns to Club Helsinki on Wednesday, February 27. Neil Diamond is at the Hartford Civic Center on March 7. The Williamstown Jazz Festival is headlined by the The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra on April 6. The Dave Matthews Band is at Boston’s Fleet Center on April 7 and 8.


Various Artists

The Rough Guide to Bollywood (RGNET)

Just as Bollywood, the Bombay-based film industry, digests and feeds back a curry-spiced version of Hollywood movies, so does it ingest and spit back exotic versions of Western film music. Anglo-Indian club DJ Ritu compiled this well-annotated, 75-minute collection of 15 examples of 30 years of Bollywood theme songs, including the heavy breathing vamping of Asha Bhonsle on “Piya Tu Ab to Aaja,” the lacy, silk road stylings of Lata Mangeshkar on “Kabhi Kabhi,” and the faux Abba of Nazia Hassan’s “Aap Jaise Koi.” Heat up the vindaloo, spread some mango chutney and garlic pickle on the side, and surrender to the lure of the Bollywood blues.

Sex Mob

Sex Mob Does Bond (Ropeadope)

After having his way with Abba, Nirvana, the Stones, Elvis and Stephen Stills last time out, trumpeter/bandleader Steven Bernstein turns his attention to the mostly incidental music that John Barry composed for the James Bond movies on “Sex Mob Does Bond.” Leave it to downtown avant-garde players like Bernstein, saxophonist Briggan Krauss, bassist Tony Scherr, drummer Kenny Wollesen and keyboardist John Medeski to find pure gold in this material. In Sex Mob’s hands, music from “Goldfinger,” “From Russia with Love” and “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” turns into neo-noirish Ellington with a funk underpinning. And it’s a party to boot.

Sex Mob is at Club Helsinki in Great Barrington on Saturday, February 23.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on February 15, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

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