Your First, Your Last, Your Everything
It was almost a decade ago when Dave Slutes sang the fateful lines, "Consistency's a virtue/Except when it's abused." Back then, of course, he was one-fourth of Tucson's much-loved Sidewinders (later Sand Rubies). For several years the group's signature "desert-rock sound" -- a memorable, romantic collision of classic pop melodicism and aggressively anthemic big guitar crunch -- made time stand still under the mystic Sonoran moon for the group's devotees. Nothing lasts forever, of course; label and managerial travails eventually cracked the hourglass. Despite several valiant efforts on the part of Slutes and guitarist Rich Hopkins to keep the group together with a variety of rhythm sections, the sands were destined to run out. Earlier this year, the songwriting partners realized it was time to take the advice of Slutes' lyrics, and they laid the beast to rest for good.
Yet two divided by one still equals two. And so it is that fans get both
Hopkins' Luminarios outfit, which tours regularly, has just issued a new record, and Slutes' Maryanne, which doesn't tour, for reasons you'll read shortly, also has a new album out.
Maryanne began life as Ginger a few years ago during a Rubies hiatus, Slutes hooking up with Tucson/Phoenix guitar whiz Robin Johnson (Pills, Gentlemen After Dark, Brilliant Fools), who was also at loose ends following an ill-fated go at a band with the late Doug Hopkins. Another Ginger claimed previous squatting rights to the moniker, hence the name switch (they wisely ignored "Skipper," "Gilligan" or "The Howells"). Enlisting a number of Tucson musicians, the pair played out regionally for a spell, additionally finding time during '95 to record an album's worth of material prior to the Rubies re-forming and Maryanne being put on the shelf.
It was always Slutes' intention to see the Maryanne album completed, however. And despite odds weighing heavily against Maryanne's performing prospects -- Johnson, a heroin addict, is currently in prison, convicted on charges relating to the tragic accidental death of his and his girlfriend's infant -- Your First, Your Last, Your Everything definitely deserves its airing. A sparkling collection of jangly nuggets, it aims to pay homage to classic pop outfits like the Beatles, Jellyfish, Raspberries and Plimsouls. It'll also easily convert all those never-say-die Sand Rubies fans still mourning the band's demise.
Right at the outset, Maryanne delivers a three-shot knockout: "See You in September" chugs along on an irresistible wave of sunny chord progressions and incandescent vocal harmonies; "Horoscope" has a handshake-friendly vibe and a wholly memorable melody line; and the spectral arrangement of "Under the Weather," equal parts Tom Petty and George Harrison, is as reassuringly compassionate as a late-night visit from a long-lost buddy. Elsewhere, Slutes and Johnson provide the listener with a varied ride -- a moody, atmospheric "Alaska," a rave-up cover of 20/20's power-pop anthem "Yellow Pills," even a radical, almost garagey reworking of Leonard Cohen's "Chelsea Hotel" -- but, by maintaining a singular pop focus, they ensure the album's internal consistency as well.
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Part of this comes from adhering to the simplest of arranging conceits: solid opening guitar riffs and hooky leads; textural flourishes such as gently humming acoustic guitars or flecks of restless feedback (Johnson brings a painterly guitar style to the music, carefully coloring in the gaps and around the edges while never courting overkill); an intuitive approach to dynamics and how they underscore the tunes' emotional heft. All that and a liberal employment of chorus vocal hooks that stick in your head.
The other element, of course, is Slutes. Without his burnished, supple tenor, the Sand Rubies might arguably have never won so many hearts, and the same holds true here: It's a signature every bit as recognizable as, say, a young (pre-schlock) Neil Diamond, the kind of voice that, when you hear it on the radio, needs no name-guessing. And as with the tunes' arrangements, Slutes arms his lyrics with the simplest of lyrical conceits: Great pop songs ring truest when they're either about falling in love or offering the listener commiseration in the face of heartbreak.
In "Long, Long Time," for example, when Slutes sings in his dusky croon, "You let me in and then you let me down/You pulled down the shades and spread the night around/You said you had to let me go/Well thank you, I didn't want to go," all the combined desire, hurt, longing and indignation of memory spills forth like large images on a cinema screen. Or in "Wretched Song," even though Slutes quietly admits, "Nostalgia can rip you up/Knock you to your knees/Drag out old love letters then/Undress your memories," he still finds himself helplessly twisting up and down the radio dial seeking just the sort of "wretched" tune that'll bring on the nostalgia. In each instance, it's a good kind of misery, impossible not to identify with.
Like Slutes' old band and the Doug Hopkins-era Gin Blossoms, Maryanne is an unapologetic courtesan for romantic, elegantly disheveled guitar pop. After all, not having to say you're sorry is why pop aficionados snicker at the term "guilty pleasure." And in that sense, Maryanne's approach is the very model of virtuous consistency. Not a hint of abuse in sight. -- Fred Mills