True West CD reviewed by Nick Blakey
Nov 7, 2007, 05:46
TRUE WEST Hollywood Holiday Revisited CD
I always held it against True West that they weren't Thin White Rope's equal and resembled a kinder, gentler, more accessible but boring version of that band. Despite similar origins and some shared members (Kevin Staydohar, Jozef Becker, Frank French), Russ Tolman's vocals are always user friendly to the point of being rosy, even when he is screaming, but just never as spooky and hard to crack as Guy Kyser's. While this CD reissue still doesn't make me think I was too quick to judge the band back then, as the TWR-ish psych of their Hollywood Holiday mini-LP is joined by the more country-western folk of the Drifters LP, only reproves the point how True West were nowhere near as compelling as they should have been.
Despite the lysergic drenched “Steps To The Door,” the manic “I'm Not Here,” and a cover of Pink Floyd's '67-vintage “Lucifer Sam” all included on Hollywood Holiday, the energy never gets beyond a seemingly forced level. The opening riff for “It's About Time” and Richard McGrath's perpetual soloing throughout the tune pay a heavy acknowledgement to Television's “Venus De Milo.” (This was not lost on Tom Verlaine, as he made an attempt to produce the band, resulting in the three demos included as bonus tracks.) Some of the material from this era is fun to listen to, and I'm sure it was exciting live, but it doesn't quite translate in the studio releases.
Leaving the pop-psych of Hollywood Holiday behind in favor of the folky cowpoke vistas of Drifters, True West seem to let any remaining air they might have had out of the balloon. An apropo title, Drifters just sort ofâ€¦drifts along. A remake of Hollywood Holiday's “And Then The Rain” is an improvement with a slower tempo and much improved delivery, but it's one of the few memorable highlights. It's not that the material hasn't aged well; I just question how great it was to begin with. Even more upbeat songs such as “Backroad Bridge Song” and “Morning Light” just don't raise the bar.
This makes it all more of a shame that Tom Verlaine couldn't have produced an album for the band as they had originally wanted him to (Russ Tolman's excellent liner notes go further into to just why) because the three Verlaine-produced demos presented here as bonus addendums are a vast improvement over anything contained on Drifters. The three tracks (“Burn The Roses,” “Look Around,” and “Throw Away The Key,” the latter two re-made for Drifters) all have good drive and Tolman's vocals actually sound sincere. Granted having the more ingrained Jozef Becker behind the drum kit instead of a fresh Steve Packenham might played a hand in the improvement, but all the same it's a bittersweet suggestion of what could have been. [Atavistic]
Buy it now at AMAZON