My editor, Martin Cizmar, has a theory: If Jerry Lee Lewis had not nailed his 13-year-old cousin in 1958 (which, of course, pretty much destroyed his burgeoning career in the United States), rock music today would be primarily a piano-driven discipline rather than a guitar-driven one.
I view the notion as merely food for thought rather than a viable theory. But I'm biased, because I'm a "guitar guy" and Martin's more a "piano guy." In rock 'n' roll, when push comes to shove, I value riffs over melody.
I acknowledge that the piano is the more versatile instrument, both in terms of performance and composing, but I'll take -- specifically in popular music idioms -- the energy and diverse sounds created by amplified electric guitars (and not just an overdriven ones, either. The clean tones of guitar in pop, country, and early rock 'n' roll are just great as the distorted ones) over that of a piano anyday. In other words, AC/DC beats Billy Joel in my personal battle of the bands.
So, Martin asked me to take a listen to the new record by Shapiro, a D.C.-based act that he admired when he was a reporter in Virginia. You've probably never heard of them because they're a regional act (a fairly popular one, it seems) at this point, but they're hitting the road this summer for several nationwide dates.
Shapiro is sort of a light-rock version of Foxy Shazam
. Both bands worship at the altar of Queen, so their piano-driven music is melodramatic and theatrical. But where Shapiro tries
to go over the top, they usually get stuck right before they peak. Queen and Foxy Shazam know how to punch a listener in the gut. And it usually involved, you guessed it, an electric guitar. Clearly, Shapiro is still learning the ropes.
The singer's high voice and breathless delivery (in some places, you can actually hear him inhale before every phrase) reminds me of something you'd hear in a high school musical. In fact, the whole record sounds as though the singer/songwriter/pianist spent his whole childhood listening to Andrew Lloyd Webber soundtracks and his dad's Queen records until someone in his band turned him onto this thing called "indie rock" two weeks ago.
These guys are young and talented and off to a solid start. I can see why people would like them -- they're inoffensive, non-aggressive, and safe. This is the kind of "rock" music that you can play at home without driving your mom crazy.
If I were producing this band, I'd ask them, "You guys want to know how it's done? Listen to more AC/DC and Billy Joel."
Best song: "You Had It Coming."
Deja vu: Godspell
I'd rather listen to: Jerry Lee Lewis: The Ultimate (Sun Years), an 11-disc box set from 1994.
"Nothing Not New" is a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 40-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here.
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