In the way that Ian Astbury of The Cult reminded everyone of Jim Morrison, so does Jeff Martin, singer of The Tea Party. He looks a bit like him and he sings in a baritone voice that, while all his own, sounds like perhaps a 1990s Jim Morrison.
This, their third album, is full of what I think of as their trademark sound: all manner of exotic instrumentation laid over heavy Zeppelinesque riffs. Opener “Fire in the Head’ is not unlike “Kashmir” in its riff, and what’s funny is that the exotic instrumentation makes it sound even more like “Kashmir” than “Kashmir” does. Zep didn’t use instruments like the sitar and sarod to make their sound more authentic. Indeed, authenticity seems to be what the band is going for, as later albums describe them spending time in the middle east where they learned to play these instruments more proficiently.
“The Grand Bazaar” takes that concept further with some really Eastern sounding music within a very heavy rocking track. And “Ianna,” although not my favorite track, really showcases the Middle Eastern instrumentation in this cool, twisty track. There’s also a more traditional rock number, “Drawing Down the Moon” which features lengthy blues-guitar solos over a fairly conventional track.
It’s not all heaviness though, as “Correspondences” is a seven minute piano based ballad in which Martin’s voice is right in your ears. It’s on this track that you decide whether you love his voice or think he’s preposterous. If the latter, well, then there’s the beautiful instrumental “The Badger.” And “Shadows on the Mountainside” is a quieter acoustic number in which Martin sings in his much more delicate range.
But perhaps the most over-the-top, and consequently, best track on the disc is “Sister Awake” which features 12-string guitar, sitar, sarod, harmonium and goblet drums. It starts slowly and quietly and builds into multiple climaxes (complete with loudly whispered “Sister!”).
Whether or not this confers any kind of approval on The Tea Party or not, Roy Harper (as in “Hats Off to Roy”) does a spoken word bonus track at the end of the disc. I don’t know much about Roy Harper or what he was up to in 1995 (perhaps he’d do anything for a buck?) but it give an air of legitimacy, no?
The Tea Party is a band that splits people into love it or hate it groups. They have sold millions of copies and yet there are those who despise them. Their next album Transmission found some success in the U.S. because it was a bit more industrial sounding (with samples and loops), but they never really broke through down here.
[READ: February 4, 2011] Stories from the Vinyl Cafe
I’m not sure how I found out about this book. I know I bought it in a Chapters in Toronto. I wonder if it was on a display and I was intrigued by the title. Or, more likely, I had heard a bit about him in my preparations for my trip and decided to buy his book. Whatever the case, I didn’t read it until now.
McLean is described in one of the (practically a dozen) pages of praise and advertisements for his other books as a Canadian Garrison Keillor. And, as lazy as that seems, it’s fairly accurate. Especially because although McLean is a humorist (he won the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humor), like Keillor, who is mostly funny, McLean also deals a lot with serious matters. Indeed, some of the stories in this collection are utterly unfunny: ending with a dead dog or a dead grandmother.
And here’s the thing. These stories are slices of people’s lives. They are incidents that impact them and are worth recollecting, but that don’t cause anyone to change. They’re like perfect little anecdotes, and I imagine they are excellent to hear aloud.
I admit that I have never heard any of the Vinyl Cafe shows (he has had a CBC radio show called The Vinyl Cafe for decades), and as far as I can tell these stories come from the radio shows (or some variation thereof). Essentially, the show is built around a small area of Toronto where The Vinyl Cafe exists down the street from Woodworth’s Book Store and several other shoppes.
The stories cover a large cast of characters, although the most frequently mentioned are Dave (owner of the Vinyl Cafe) and his wife Morley (I cannot get past this name. The only other Morley in the history of anything is the guy from 60 Minutes, so I have a really hard time–even after reading the whole book–imaging Morley as a woman.
There are some other locals as well (see this site for a list of all the characters), and the stories that aren’t about Dave and Morley are about the others. In this book, no connection is given between most of the characters, they just exist. I’m not sure if earlier books (or the radio show) established any kind of connection with the townsfolk.
So, this collection covers topics that parents may be familiar with like: Should you pay $500 to a vet to fix an ailing guinea pig? How do you get a skunk out from under your house? How do you convince your daughter not to pierce her nose and yet make her think it was her idea? And other fun family matters. In these stories, Dave is usually foolish in his behavior and causes some kind of accident that escalates (in the best tradition of humor) until Morley has to bail him out. There’s even a fairly simple sitcom-y premise that Dave has forgotten that they have a dinner engagement and he tries to think of some underhanded way to not have to apologize.
But Morley also has some misadventures. Like trying to but a jock strap for her son (very funny) or throwing out one of Dave’s favorite shirts (maybe).
But it’s not all silly family problems. In one story Morley must deal with her aging mother’s increasingly poor driving (especially after she hits a pedestrian(!!)), in another, a bedraggled mother of three gets a serious rush when she inadvertently shoplifts a pacifier. But when she tries it again, she gets caught. There’s also a longer story about an older woman and her attachment to her dog. The dog cost her at least one boyfriend. We stay with that story long enough to see the inevitable when the dog gets too old to walk (talk about not funny!).
One of the last stories in the book,”Polaroids” is a fairly complicated one. We meet a college student who brings home a call girl to meet his parents (!). As the story unfolds we learn about her (horrific) back story and his (very sad) recent past. By the end of the story, the realizations are very moving. It was hard to believe that a book from a humorist could have a story this moving and sad. This was a really great story.
The final story nicely ties back to the first story (the guinea pig) when the family accidentally kills off a family of Sea Monkeys (the whole story centers around the Archie McPhee catalog!). It was obvious that the stories were connected (same characters and all) but to have Dave call back to the first one of the book was a nice touch and a great way to end the book.
When I first starting reading these, I thought they were amusing anecdotes, nothing too deep or powerful. But by the end, I was really hooked. I wanted to read more. I felt connected to the people and the town. And the more I read, the more I saw my life reflected in their own. True, Dave is over the top in his foibles and the ludicrous ways that he makes problems escalate, but we can feel that his heart is in the right place. And the more we read, the more three-dimensional he becomes.
I would definitely read more of these, and I’d really like to hear the show sometime. I know Podcasts are available, but evidently they don’t include the music he plays on the show. I guess beggars can’t be chooses though, eh? And, honestly, from the people he writes about and their tastes, I probably wouldn’t like the music all that much anyway. So what am I waiting for?
Essentially what we get here is stories for grown ups, especially parents, who can nod sagely at the stories or smile to themselves at things they recognize (I guess it’s good I read this now and not fifteen years ago).