Monday, May 6, 2013

Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra: “For The Baby Doll” (2013) CD Review

The first thing you’ll notice about For The Baby Doll, the new album by the Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra, is the packaging. It’s presented as a book, with the CD slipping into a sleeve at the end. The cover sports a photo of Simone de Beauvoir, nude, taken by Art Shay. The book begins with a portion of a T.S. Eliot poem and a piece by Michael Thomas. But the main piece here is a sort of memoir by Nicholas Tremulis. Titled For The Baby Doll, it tells of his early experiences in both Chicago and New York – the music, the drugs, the music, the people, the places, the music. Music runs through everything in my life, and I quickly became captivated by this short story, by its perspective, by the knowledge and experience. All of this is cool, but wouldn’t matter if the CD didn’t have great music to back it up. Fortunately, this album has a lot of great songs. All of the tracks are originals, written or co-written by Nicholas Tremulis.

The album opens with “Pitiful,” a good, loose rock tune. And yes, it uses the familiar line “I been down so long it seems like up to me,” but saves it with the next line, “Oh, but baby, it’s up to you too.” It’s when the horns come in that I really begin to dig this song. That’s Roger Reupert on trumpet and Paul Mertens on saxophone. Later some backing vocals echo his “Pitiful.” (He seems, of course, to mean “pitiable” rather than “pitiful,” but maybe I should let that slide. Should I expect the correct use of language from rock music?) This song mentions the Baby Doll directly; the Baby Doll Lounge was a strip joint.

I love how “You’re Gonna Lose (Everything You Got)” comes on strong. It’s a rock song with that great timeless groove and a lot of energy in the vocal performance. There is some awesome stuff on guitar, and some good lyrics to match. Check out these lines: “Some day baby when you’re looking back/In the final hour when you fade to black/You will reach out, honey, for a sweet caress/But it’ll only be the devil tearing at your dress.” (In the liner notes, there is a mistake in the lyrics. The line is printed as “You’re gonna loose everything you got.”)

“Without You With Me” has a much sweeter pop feel.  It’s a song about writing songs and keeping a relationship going, so the relationship comes out in the songs (like how a relationship is affected by the music, and how the music is affected by the relationship). He starts by saying this one is about her, about the way her hair hangs. “My head was in a funky place/I don’t wanna run this race/Without you with me.”  And then, “We’re driving down another album/One more little lonely bridge of midnight rambling.” He even tosses in a “Sugar, sugar” toward the end.

After a brief mellow introduction, “Lost Without You” kicks in with a fantastic energy. This song has an urgency, a definite drive, plus some cool backing vocals by Renee Robinson and Shawn Christopher. At the end it breaks down to just vocals and acoustic guitar, for a moment, before a final explosion, and a soft, gorgeous send-off by the backing vocalists.

“You’re Too Much (But Never Enough)” has a kind of kick-ass southern rock vibe with a pace to exhaust you. Yeah, I fucking love it. And that classic, tough, wise-ass delivery of the title line, “You’re too much, baby, but never enough,” is great. This is just an honest rock tune, with references to early rock and roll songs like “Long Tall Sally” and “Reelin’ And Rockin.’"

“If God Were The Devil” has a fantastic 1960s pop feel right from the start, particularly in its rhythm. Then the backing vocals come in, greatly adding to that feel. And then the strings (Susan Voelz of Poi Dog Pondering on violins) add more to that. After that sound is established, Nicholas Tremulis’ vocals come in with lyrics that maybe wouldn’t quite have happened back at that time: “If God were the devil/If God were the devil/Well, he would know just what to say to make you mine.”  There is something in his vocal delivery on this one that reminds me just a bit of some of John Lennon’s work on Rock 'N' Roll, his 1975 record of rock and roll covers. The song builds into a big Phil Spector-like production sound. And it ends with beautiful backing vocals by Renee Robinson. This is one of my personal favorites.

For The Baby Doll concludes with “Walk In The Sun Again,” an unabashed love song. That early 1960s drum beat immediately calls to mind an innocence and also an excitement, basically everything you associate with youth. But the lyrics are coming from a place of experience: “I have loved you, girl, for more than I remember/We’ve seen bitter days, but never apart/I know it’s getting dark/You’re worried and I know it/I feel it in my heart, but I’m trying not to show it.” And it has a hopeful tone, with the line, “Oh baby, we will walk in the sun again.” Adding to the innocence of the song is Nicholas Tremulis’ daughter Electra providing backing vocals.

CD Track List
  1. Pitiful
  2. You’re Gonna Lose (Everything You Got)
  3. Without You With Me
  4. Lost Without You
  5. Everybody Here
  6. You’re Too Much (But Never Enough)
  7. If God Were The Devil
  8. Push It
  9. Super Human Love
  10. For The Baby Doll
  11. Walk In The Sun Again

The Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra is Nicholas Tremulis on lead vocals, guitar and keyboards; John Pirruccello on guitar and vocals; Rick Barnes on guitar, vocals and percussion; Derek Brand on bass; and Larry Beers on drums and percussion.

Joining them for this release are Roger Reupert on trumpet, Paul Mertens on saxophone, Susan Voelz on violins, Ivan Julian on guitar, Blondie Chaplin on guitar and backing vocals, Renee Robinson on backing vocals, Shawn Christopher on backing vocals, and Electa Tremulis on backing vocals.

For The Baby Doll is scheduled to be released on June 18, 2013.

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