This week’s Record of the Week is the 11-year-old Successful Failure’s sixth LP, “Ichor of Nettle,” a 16-song outing that blends power pop with roots rock, drops Oct. 20, and can be heard live that day at The Record Collector in Bordentown.
If you miss Tom Petty as much is I do, you will enjoy a good chunk of The Successful Failures’ sixth LP, “Ichor of Nettle,” the best of which also channels Gram Parsons, the Stones, and Cheap Trick, as well as Robert Frost and John Steinbeck, just for good measure. Together 11 years, the great power-poppin’, roots-rockin’ Trenton-based band take the title of its forthcoming collection, which drops Oct. 20, from a line in the Frost poem “Departmental” about funeral rites within the ant world. At 16 songs, the record is a bit overlong, as are some of its otherwise pop-friendly tunes, but nearly half of the tracks are magnificent and boast some of the most dynamic, lyrical, eclectic, yet focused songwriting to grow from the Garden State.
The outing opens with the Mexican-flavored “The Ballad of Julio Cuellar,” a real-life tale about a diabetic El Salvadoran state policeman whose smuggler abandoned him in the U.S. and left him nearly for dead in the Arizona desert. The heartbreaking details of how and why Cuellar illegally immigrated to better support his pregnant, cancer-ridden daughter are told to a Salvadoran customs agent, much like a down-trodden character in a Townes Van Zandt or Tom Rush classic.
Another fantastic track is the delicious country-rock of “Tennessee Boy” inspired by Steve Earle’s traditionally Irish-sounding “Galway Girl” from his 2000 LP “Transcendental Blues.” One of the things that I love most about roots music is that it’s like a big, happy family, handing down lyrics and melodies, like parents pass on a worn Bible and older siblings hand down clothing. This is the case with “Tennessee Boy,” which also was inspired by Steinbeck, according to founding Successful Failures singer-songwriter Mick Chorba. In addition to his stellar lyrics about the futility of ignoring physical attraction, the song is strengthened by the fine mandolin playing of Ron Bechamps, also the band’s tasteful bassist.
I also really love the power pop of “Misguiding Light,” especially the Beach Boys-like vocal harmonies and fuzz guitar of Pete Smith layered by Chorba’s sweet organ playing, which help to make a nearly perfect song if not for a drawn-out outro. Thankfully, there’s a radio edit that should land the veteran band scads of regional play and is available on promotional 10-inch vinyl.
“When Did Everybody Grow Up” recalls the Canadian power-pop band The Pursuit of Happiness’ “I’m an Adult Now” and sports more of The Successful Failures’ winning vocal harmonies. “Baby Home Tonight” harkens back to the early country-rock days of The Byrds and The Band with the kind of lyricism of their favorite songwriter, Bob Dylan. Two other stand outs channel The Rolling Stones: the fun, “Exile on Main Street”-like scorcher “The Shit That Weighs You Down” and the closing “The Devil Took a Liking to Me,” which can stand alongside “Sympathy for the Devil,” almost like a sequel. I love the beautiful piano intro before all hell breaks loose.
As a songwriter, I can relate to how difficult it is to exclude and edit songs. It feels like holding back a child. But as is the case with many self-produced albums released by local bands, more self-editing would have made the impressive “Ichor of Nettle” an even better album. It’s no surprise that the Tom Petty-like radio edit of “Into the Battle” is getting airplay on “Underground Garage,” given what a big fan host Steve Van Zandt is of the late TP. But the album track is another example of Chorba’s self-indulgence, heightened by the aforementioned promotional record that features a three-part version of a song that most effectively clocks in at 3:05.
The roots-rockin’ salute to heroic Texan “Sam Houston,” generational tug of “Dear Old Dad,” tongue-in-cheek travel song “No Good Way” about the perils of driving in Jersey, “PA Fight Song,” a Flying Burrito Brotherseque ode to the Keystone State, and Todd Rundgren-meets-Cheap Trick-like title track that carries the dying American dream on the backs of Frost’s ants add greatly to “Ichor of Nettle.” But that leaves three tracks – the bass-driven, reggae-rooted, surf-tinged “All Rise (The Ballad of Sonny Liston),” the poppy love song “All Wrapped Up,” and the boring, awkward ballad “Low Resting Heart Beat” – that could have been left off and utilized as promotional fodder. Of those three, the 15th track (whew!), “Low Resting Heart Beat,” doesn’t deserve to be among the other great and good songs at all. Ironically, on the closer, the band is redeemed by the devil.
Via Chorba’s FDR Label, “Ichor of Nettle” and four-song companion EP, “Red Bank,” featuring live in-studio versions of “Sam Houston,” “Misguiding Light,” “Shit that Weighs You Down,” and “PA Fight Song,” coincide with a celebratory show on Oct. 20 at The Record Collector in Bordentown with former label mates The Paper Jets. The Successful Failures also will perform on Oct. 13 and Nov. 17 at Tir Na Nog, Trenton; Nov. 3 at the International Pop Overthrow at The Vault at Victor Records, Berlin, N.J., and Nov. 25 at Boot & Saddle, Philadelphia.
State Theatre Presents Diana Krall: Turn Up the Quiet Tour (NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ) -- State Theatre New Jersey presents Diana Krall live in concert as part of her Turn Up The Quiet World Tour on Friday, October 12 at 8:00pm. Tickets range from $43-$153.50. This concert will feature songs from Diana Krall’s stunning new album, Turn Up The Quiet, out now on Verve Records as well as a mix of some fan favorites. Kean Stage Presents The Manhattan Transfer (UNION, NJ) -- Going strong after more than 45 years, Grammy Award winner The Manhattan Transfer, with tenor vocals from Kean University alumnus Alan Paul '71, will captivate Kean Stage audiences with their distinctive four-part harmonies at Enlow Recital Hall on Sunday, September 30 at 3:00pm.3rd Annual North Jersey Indie Rock Festival (JERSEY CITY, NJ) -- The North Jersey Indie Rock Festival returns to Jersey City on October 6. Presented by Mint 400 Records and Sniffling Indie Kids, the festival includes acts from those labels and Little Dickman Records, Rhyme and Reason Records, and State Champion Records. The festival takes place at White Eagle Hall. Doors are at 4:00pm and the music starts at 4:30pm. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.Bobby McFerrin To Kick Off the 125th Season Of Princeton University Concerts (PRINCETON, NJ) -- On Friday, September 21, 2018 at 7:30pm, 10-time GRAMMY award-winning artist Bobby McFerrin launches Princeton University Concerts’ (“PUC”) 125th Anniversary Season in a special event performance at Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall. The concert will feature McFerrin alongside members of his a cappella group Gimme5 in a program titled “ Circlesongs ” -- an evening of spontaneous music-making through shared improvised sound, in a language growing out of tribal chant and sacred music. The Dryden Ensemble Presents Bach Cantata Fest (PRINCETON, NJ) -- The Dryden Ensemble will present a Bach Cantata Fest on Saturday, October 20 at 7:30pm at Trinity Episcopal Church, 6587 Upper York Road, Solebury, Pennsylvania, and on Sunday, October 21 at 3:00pm at Miller Chapel, located on the campus of Princeton Theological Seminary, 64 Mercer Street, Princeton, New Jersey. Tickets are $25 for general admission and free to students with an ID. They may be purchased at the door or online at www.drydenensemble.org.
“Here’s Lucie!” Lucie Arnaz LIVE! at the PNC Bank Arts Center Even though the weather outside Holmdel, NJ’s PNC Bank Arts Center is cloudy with some light intermittent drizzle this Wednesday, September 12, 2018 afternoon, the venue’s stage is still shining brightly with talent thanks to a live performance by television, film, and stage actress/singer Lucie Arnaz!Mike Aiken Talks About Aiken & Friends Fest, North Branch At RVCC (BRANCHBURG, NJ) -- Raritan Valley Community College presents Aiken & Friends Fest, North Branch on Friday, September 21 and Saturday, September 22. The three-day event will feature a number of different musical shows by Mike Aiken, as well as other solo artists and groups. Virtuoso Jazz Violinist Jean-Luc Ponty LIVE! at the Newton Theatre It’s a warm but lovely Aug. 23, 2018 evening here in Newton, NJ. After enjoying some hand-dipped Cliff’s ice cream from the window at Hayek Market, we march up Spring Street looking forward to hearing some world-class jazz at one of the Garden State’s favorite concert venues, The Newton Theatre.An Interview with Bernie Williams Four-time World Series Champion and Latin Grammy-Nominated guitarist and composer Bernie Williams will perform with his All-Star Band at the Jersey Shore this Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018 at The Grunin Center of the Arts in Toms River, NJ!“Unleash the Love” The Beach Boys LIVE! at The Great Auditorium So what were you doing at 8:18 pm on 8/18/18?
Well, we’re not sure what you were up to, but we know that on that hot August night, we were listening to “America’s Band” — The Beach Boys — and watching them “Unleash the Love” while performing their incredible catalog of hits at Ocean Grove NJ’s Great Auditorium!