After She Left
Blessedly, in this age of instant global communication and overnight YouTube/American Idol/Susan Boyle superstars, there are still such things as regional favorites. In their home bases, their followings have enabled them to keep going for years, even decades, honing their skills without much national attention or sales. This writer lived in Los Angeles when Stew was a beloved rock figure – before launching Passing Strange on Broadway. And I now live in Cincinnati, where the rock composer/guitarist Rob Fetters keeps his Bears and Psychodots bands alive through local support.
In Boston, the equivalent is the idiosyncratically good-humored rocker Chandler Travis, who has lasted through Travis Shook and the Club Wow, the Incredible Casuals, and his current nine-piece Chandler Travis Philharmonic to become a perennial Beantown favorite. There, fans compare his music to NRBQ working with Sun Ra Arkestra – it’s goofy yet inventive, offbeat yet not overly intellectualized. After all, one of the Philharmonic’s albums is called Let’s Have a Pancake.
From time to time Travis has issued solo albums, and After She Left is his latest. The Philharmonic members are around to help him out, but this is basically a quiet singer-songwriter album, almost demo-like in its lack of production sheen. This results in a certain sonic thinness that limits the impact of his whispery, light voice. But Travis is gifted with both melody and especially wordplay on these ballads and mid-tempo numbers, and at his best recalls Mose Allison working with Burt Bacharach. Lines delight with their skewed observations: “Little Mrs. just got home from the Galleria/They call the wind Mariah, but I call her Maria” (from “Two Cents Tops”). But for all the playful humor, there’s a gentle romantic elegance, a true sweetness, at work in songs like “She Told Me To Try” and “Last Thing I Needed.” Because the arrangements and vocals can seem jaunty, the emotional resonance sneaks up on you – it’s reminiscent of Harry Nilsson. Travis is capable of a surprise or two – for example, a version of “My Bonnie” so sincere it shakes the dust off the oldie (helped immensely by Ken Field’s saxophone). And Travis’ harmonica gives “I Want My Heart Back” an elegiac folk-rock vibe, like “Heart of Gold.”
A new Philharmonic CD is due this year; hopefully some folks outside his hometown will discover his charms.
Standout Tracks: “Two Cents Tops,” “I Want My Heart Back” STEVEN ROSEN