Chandler Travis Philharmonic Stretches Their Bizarro Potential On New CD

by Tim Wood, Cape Cod Chronicle

Anyone who’s ever seen the Chandler Travis Philharmonic live knows that there’s more to the band than its sound. Band members’ penchant for wearing pajamas and boxer shorts, often accessorized with festive headgear, is an attention-grabber, for sure. Those who can get beyond the scruffy visuals are rewarded by the band’s eclectic, all-over-the-map musical style.

“I hope we’re going in all kinds of different directions at all times,” said singer, guitarist, songwriter and bandleader Chandler Travis. “That’s sort of been the design from the start.” The CTP, which Travis, who is also a founding member of the Incredible Casuals, started up about six years ago. Whereas the Casuals are “semi-coherent,” Travis, an Eastham resident, said the CTP was “an opportunity just to sprawl, see how many different things we can do.”

“With this many guys,” he said of the band, which includes eight musicians, most from the Boston area, “we have no hope of making any money, so we blow that off and just see what’s the most fun we can have with eight musicians.”

It’s not easy to translate the random nonsense of the band’s live shows to disc, but the CTP’s last CD, “Llama Rhymes,” does an admirable job. It arguably captures the band’s eclecticism better than its first CD, “Let’s Have A Pancake,” which concentrated more on straight-ahead pop tunes and less on the sheer depth of musical variations the band is capable of.

The CTP will introduce the new CD Saturday, Feb. 15, at the Jailhouse Tavern in Orleans.

The 15 tracks on “Llama Rhymes” cut a wide swath through pop music, from the straightforward melodic jaunt of “Village of the Darned” to the stomping guitar grunge of “Mothra.” In between, there’s a rather caustic tribute to overbearing fathers, done in the band’s trademark “alternative Dixieland” manner, the sweet lilting “Llama Rhymes with Mama,” the ballad “Don’t Come Near Me,” and the silly cacophony of “Fluffy,” about the scintillating subject of feline hygiene.

Along the way there are some great horn riffs, a few cool guitar solos, nifty backing vocals by Boston singers Ramona Silver and Bleu, and even a guest turn by comedian George Carlin.

“We’ve been friends for about 30 years now,” Travis said of Carlin, whom Travis and then-partner Steve Shook used to open for on tour. Carlin does a “bizarro” monologue during the instrumental break in “Fluffy” during which he spouts a string of nonsense words. Because of Carlin’s busy schedule, the recording was done over the telephone (he’s credited as playing “phone” on the track). “I had a good time picturing him alone in his room doing that,” Travis said. “He dug the idea of getting to be his own version a free jazz guy, which is what that is in a way.”

The CD was actually finished a year or so ago. Because the band had a budget of zero, it took time to complete the mastering and do final touch-ups.

“I wish I could tell you that it was well thought-out, but it wasn’t,” Travis said. “We just booked some studio time. We had way too many songs, and went in with absolutely no plan.” The band recorded as many songs as they could during their allotted time. There are about a half dozen songs that didn’t make the final cut, as well as “odd little segments” Travis talks about putting out as a “bizarro” version of the album with the left-over material and other tidbits (you can tell he likes the term “bizarro,” probably because it is sometimes applied to him and his bands).

The sorta title track was written by Travis for his mother’s 80th birthday, which, to continue the bizarro trend, was celebrated in the south of France, because his mother wanted to be there for her 80th birthday. Since the celebration took place in France, it includes a line about the artist Matisse. “And the family was having a pony drawing contest, so there’s a line about that. It was meant to be abstract and real at the same time,” Travis explained, kind of.

The CD contains several instrumental tracks that represent various aspects of the “Llama” song. “When we were doing the mix, we dropped out the rhythm section of “Llama” and found that it was fun. That’s part of the whole process with this band, figuring out you’ve got to have people not play. When you have eight guys, with three in the rhythm section, it’s really important we not all be playing the same parts.”

Travis hasn’t played much recently due to an injured finger. The opportunity allowed him to act out the fantasy of being a lead singer. “It was a little excruciating, but I learned a lot. I found out there were songs I was completely not needed on. But you can’t kill this band. One night, our bass player never showed up, and we were still good. If three of us get killed, there are still five great musicians,” said Travis, who modestly calls himself the worst musician in the band.

Opening for the CTP Saturday at the Jailhouse will be Maybe Baby, featuring Jennifer Kimball of The Story and Ry Cavanaugh of the Vinal Avenue String Band. The folk-pop duo, who will be joined by drummer Billy Beard, have just released a CD, “What Matters.”

Saturday’s show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door.

©2003, Cape Cod Chronicle

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