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2/14/2005

TSR #1 - Lorenzo's Music

Lorenzo's MusicI’m finding it difficult to locate someone who doesn’t find something enjoyable about Lorenzo’s Music.

Believe me, I've tried. So far, I have played various tracks of theirs for fans of classic rock, hardcore, emo, ska, jazz, swing, blues, funk, and avant garde music. The responses have had a few common threads. “Why haven’t I heard of these guys before?” “You never hear stuff like this on the radio.” "Who the hell is Lorenzo?"

And the most common response, “Hey…let me borrow that CD.”

Why does this band out of Madison, Wisconsin, hold such universal appeal? Listening to their album Schematic (2000, Crustacean Records) should provide the answer. If you happen to be the type of person who decides whether or not to buy an album based on one track, I'd pick All I Want as the one which best showcases the band's talents. Like the driving beat? The brilliant use of the horns in the arrangement? The alternatingly smooth and raw vocals? I thought you would.

But don't be fooled into thinking that the rest of the album sounds the same or even similar. Rather than defining themselves as performers of one style of music or another, Lorenzo's Music moves between styles effortlessly. They are not a punk band experimenting with 30's-style swing, an indie rock band trying their hands at Chicago-style blues, or a hardcore band exploring their love of latin rhythms. They are simply a group of talented guys who obviously see no reason why they can't just do all of the above. As Holly Day of musicdish.com wrote of them in 2000, "instead of seeming like they're stretching themselves out too far, trying to do everything at once and trying to cover all their musical bases, they ease into each new song and genre as easy as breathing."

Lorenzo's Music is Tom Ray (vocals), Mark Whitcomb (guitar), Scott Beardsley (drums), and Chris Boeger (bass). The band first came together in 1997. Ray was working for a nightclub but had aspirations to form a band to perform his own music. He demoed the songs he had written for Whitcomb and Beardsley, who were both playing with bands that frequently appeared in the club, and the three were rehearsing together soon after. The original band also included a guitarist (Whitcomb was playing bass at the time) and a small horn section (their roles figure prominently on Schematic).

The inspiration for the band's name came one night as Ray was watching The Bob Newhart Show on Nick at Night, when he caught the name of the show's creator and executive producer in the credits...Mr. Lorenzo Music, better known to most people as the voices of Carlton the Doorman on the sitcom Rhoda (which he also produced) and Garfield the Cat in his self-titled cartoon. "I added the apostrophe to avoid confusion," Ray explains.

Despite local success and the release of Schematic in mid-2000, changes in career and geography took their toll. The guitarist and one horn player left to pursue careers in law and medicine, respectively. Whitcomb and Beardsley left to tour as the rhythm section for a solo artist. Lorenzo's Music was no more.

In a bit of irony still too bizarre for me to fully wrap my head around, the day in 2001 that the band Lorenzo's Music officially broke up, Mr. Lorenzo Music (actor, producer, voice of Garfield) died of cancer at the age of 64. Really.

A couple of years passed. Ray was still in Madison and had continued to write music. Whitcomb had returned to Madison and opened his own recording studio. Ray recalls, "And one night [in the fall of 2003] out of the blue Mark called me to invite me to an open jam he was hosting at a club in downtown Madison. I showed up and Mark asked what I had been doing and if I was still writing songs. He asked me if I would want to work with him. I said, 'Of course!'"

Soon, Beardsley was also back drumming for his bandmates and brought with him bassist Boeger (their original guitarist was now off practicing law and Whitcomb had taken over guitar duties). These four now make up the core of Lorenzo's Music, and the diversity of their musical experience and influences, which includes punk, metal, blues-rock, jazz, and (of course) high school band, explains their apparently seamless comfort with different styles of music.

Their reunion is our good luck. The band has recorded a collection of tracks, no less eclectic than those on Schematic, which are scheduled to be released as their second album, Solamente Tres Polabras. For those of you who took French instead of Spanish in high school, that translates to "just three words". And in case you're wondering if that title has some deep or romantic meaning, don't. The group decided on the name when they realized that all of the songs on the album had three-word titles.

The plans for release of the new album are not yet certain, but if you just can't wait to hear their music, I can't blame you. Apparently, the band can't blame you either. Although their website is still under construction, they have made tracks from Solamente Tres Polabras available for download or streaming at lorenzosmusic.iuma.com. Eventually, they plan to be back online at www.lorenzosmusic.com.

It is a shame that the link for the album's final track, Hot Water Avalanche, doesn't work, since I consider it the best of the bunch. (The good news is that you can still hear it on episode 18 of Insomnia Radio.) As often happens, it was tough for me to pick a best track, but not for the usual reason. With most bands, it's tough to choose a best song because so many of their songs sound the same. With Lorenzo's Music, the problem arises because all the tracks are so unique. Each holds a different appeal for me at different times and when I am in different moods. An album that anticipates my needs...what more can I ask for?
The Slipper Club
Happen to be in Madison next week? You're in luck. You can hear Lorenzo's Music live at The Slipper Club on February 23. If you're going, don't tell me. I'll be too jealous.

And if you have any lingering doubts about how good this group is, or whether or not you should buy their CDs, consider that you just witnessed someone who lives in Florida (and complains he's freezing to death when it's 55 degrees out) wish that he could be in Wisconsin in February.

Afterword (2/14/05, 11:00 PM): I have been notified by Tom Ray that www.lorenzosmusic.com now has a teaser page up. The page includes several mp3 downloads (including Hot Water Avalanche) and a place for fans to sign up for the band's email newsletter.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Deniz said...

Holy Shit Detailed

That's wonderful. There's something phenomenal about a great review...

Is it a bad sign that that write-up got me more interested in Lorenzo's Music than the track on Insomnia Radio did?
-Deniz
http://tnppodcast.libsyn.org

2/14/2005 8:21 PM

 
Blogger Sam said...

Thanks for the kind words, Deniz.

I don't think it's a bad sign at all. It is sometimes hard to work up enthusiasm for a band after hearing just one track, and I think that's especially true for a band like Lorenzo's Music whose tracks are extraordinarily varied in style. If this review gets them a second hearing, then I've done my job.

Oh by the way, in response to a comment (not from Deniz) which I received over Skype this evening...I do not work for Lorenzo's Music, Crustacean Records, DNA Studios (Mark Whitcomb's recording studio in Madison referred to in the article),Apple, iTunes Music Store, Nick at Night, or any of the networks that produced and/or syndicated the Bob Newhart Show, Rhoda, or the Garfield cartoon. Jeez.

2/14/2005 9:04 PM

 
Blogger Jason said...

What Deniz? You want SAM to host Insomnia Radio??? Don't make me track you down and force feed you a dozen listenings of ABBA :-)

All in good fun, my friend...

Sam, your article is a feast on the eyes. Dude, you have my utmost appreciation for adding such an important element to Insomnia Radio. After one post, I can imagine the not so distant future, when bands start contacting YOU to review their albums....it's not a long shot :-)

Write Hard;
jason

2/14/2005 10:43 PM

 
Anonymous deniz said...

This probably isn't worth commenting about, but...

Every time I see the abbreviation "TSR" I immediately think of the song "T.S.R. (This Shit Rules)" by Against Me!

Coincidences are fun. Quite like Against Me!
-Deniz
http://tnppodcast.libsyn.org

2/15/2005 8:07 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I truly appreciate this article. Well written!

I agree that the lorenzo tune in question "hot water avalanche" is a doozy, and not everyone's cup o tea, but as sam said, taken in context with the other songs, it reinforces the band's diverse songwriting nature as well as it gets a booty movin'.

As the guitarist in the band Lorenzo's Music, i am undoubtedly biased, but I was excited (like deniz} from reading the article. Thank you...

2/15/2005 9:13 PM

 
Blogger Sam said...

And who among us doesn't occasionally need some help gettin' a booty movin'?

Thanks very much for your comments, Mark. You guys totally need a gig in Tampa/St. Pete. It's warm here. With beaches and stuff. : )

2/16/2005 12:45 AM

 

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