Bewitched, Beguiled, and Besmirched: A Bunch of Blah, Blah, Blah About the New Upholsterer's Release, Part 1
By Qualye Smithers
I'm holding up the release of "Bewitched" the new Upholsterer's cassette. No, it's not in my greasy hand. It's not out yet because I'm writing the liner notes. Everybody is waiting. This is the last thing that needs to be done. I want everyone to hear the music so I'm typing as fast as I can. Curses on the hunt and peck method! There's pressure in working this furiously. Every "t" has to be dotted just right. All this for a cassette release? Epstein and Eagleburger would be rolling in their graves demanding more ambition. Both men would likely have thrown a tantrum. "What! No CD, no vinyl, no single, how is this thing supposed to chart?!?!" But as the Torch Marauder used to say, "It's about the music, man" (not the format).
I went through a sad, lonely phase. I was missing the Hope-Harveys. You better know...or at least now know this is one of Will's old bands. The CDs were unearthed and I found myself reliving past liner notes. Then out of the blue, I heeded the call from Will Simmons for new liner notes. I jumped up, straightened my tie and sharpened my pencil; it's my only real job. Initially, I imagined this recording to be what the present day Hope-Harveys would sound like, well at least Will's contributions. Fuzzy Harvey and Dick Hope would have added their own personalities and ideas. Who could have imagined those two in a family way? It's hard to imagine Dick putting down his drumsticks and skateboard to do anything else. Here's hoping these future generations with Hope-Harvey lineage stick with their music lessons.
The pressures of the real world have lifted my nostalgia fog. It didn't hurt that I received an email with the subject line: WHERE ARE THE LINER NOTES? Will Simmons is a consistent creative force that keeps churning it out and he's back at it with more music. He's integrated himself within the confines of the Upholsterers so now it's not about one guy and his backup group--it's a band!
Out of the gate, on the title track "Bewitched," there's ranting about 60's Cold War paranormal paranoia that seems to be a recurring theme at least in the aspects of the supernatural, although Jane Mansfield is not being channeled in "Mansfield Tragedy" as I originally thought. The first song highlights the musicality of the players. There's a guitar solo followed by a keyboard solo and a trombone solo. These folks are playing for keeps and that's the excitement being brought to this recording. There's a wider palate flecked with colors we've never seen and the trombone is better than ever. The Upholsterers deserve more recognition. I know Bill from his days sitting In with the Hope-Harveys. Otherwise they're the dedicated guys at the shop who put down their staplers, pliers and butter knives and jump on their instruments whenever they're needed for rehearsals or gigs. At the store they let Bill run the register.
The recording had me kicking my legs out while going down the stairs like The Beatles singing about "your mother" who happens to get name-dropped in "On a Page of the Hymnal." I also thought about Ska music. There's no Ska here really, it's a stretch, (far from Reel Big Fish) but the trombone is a tool of the Ska trade so hearing it mixed into most of these songs makes it a tribute to the instrument's versatility and refreshing sound in a rock music context.
I hear all things in this music. The Upholsterer's broke out the blender but nobody bothered to make frozen drinks. In one trance-induced state brought on by this recording, I heard fragments of a game show theme, shimmering guitar riffage, songs that stop and start while weaving in appropriate trombone, spooky songs, strangling goose organ, classic minimal guitar solos, at least one nod to doo-wop that didn't have me nodding off along with the makings of a number one alternate universe hit in the song "Messed-Up." There's an added bonus in the homage to "96 Tears" found on "Dinner at the Den of Deception." Can you guess the favorite song of this band when they took a group poll?
Lyrically the songs tend to work two ways. There's the abstract lyrical phraseology that sounds great but can get too Van Dyke Parks when a little Tony Asher would do. I prefer the songs like "Instructions for Necromancy" that take me deep into a setting that feels like autumn coursing through the gray and foggy atmosphere of a college town where leaves are falling and I'm quivering over college girls, living college girls mind you! Why does love have to be blind when it should be double vision?
Later in the album, this collective gets out there, offering a psychedelic tale wrapped in a slab of heavy soul. On Dick Kent’s "Octopus Woman Please Let Me Go" there's ranting and raving about this Octopus Woman that amplifies the emotive vocal delivery. This novelty song merits repeated listens. The music envelops you in a seafaring, visionary fever dream. It makes me want to hire the Long Island Medium to get Jimi Hendrix and his Merman together with the Upholsterers and their Octopus Woman for a spectacular all-star jam. While the band is mostly throwing knuckleballs here comes a screwball and it's out of sight.
I'm the type who has to hear the mix of "God Only Knows" with a sax solo that makes the Upholsterer's version of "First Rays of a New Dawn" necessary for the completist in me. It's a challenge because I can't not compare it to the more minimal arrangement of its past release. So I leave it up to each listener to decide whether this update works. The bonus material is nice and it's interesting to hear the old arrangement fleshed out. I'm fan enough to appreciate, admire and respect anything the Upholsterer's offer up even when it's German polka/pub rock like "The Cider Inside Her Insides." Then again I never spent much time in Busch Garden's Old Country and I know I couldn't handle giant mugs of beer without ending up in a puddle of my own making. This recording is a free flowing river rippling in currents of spirited ideas and rapid rhythms drifting through a misty haze. Sit back and let it flow.
released August 11, 2016
All songs by Will Simmons and arranged by The Upholsterers, except "The Cider Inside Her Insides" [lyrics from a limerick (trad./unknown), music by The Upholsterers] and "Octopus Woman Please Let Me Go" (unknown songwriter from a performance by Dick Kent).
Ben Blanchard: keyboards
Bill Fulmer: trombone, guitar on “Octopus Woman”
Bob Jungkunz: drums, percussion, lead vocals on “Jockey Song”, “Cider”
Greg Lagrosa: bass, second trombone on “Mansfield Trajedy”
Will Simmons: vocals, guitar, keyboards on “Hymnal”, “Jockey Song”, “Dinner”, “Mansfield Trajedy”
Recorded and mixed 2014-2015 on digital 16-track, Main Street, Pittsburgh.
Mastering by John “Double-J” Johnston, Silvertone Studio, Erie.
Cover image by Kirsten Ervin
Cassette layout by Chris Fischer
all rights reserved