In our own back yard: An occasional roundup of music by local artists.
By GINA VIVINETTO
Published March 14, 2004
[Times photo: Thomas M. Goethe]
Tampa singer-songwriter Ronny Elliott, who hosts a weekly acoustic night at Music Spot, a record store and live music bistro in Tampa, has released Hep, his latest album.
This edition of In Our Own Back Yard features Ronnie Elliott and Anna O., who will represent the Tampa Bay area music scene this week at the South By Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas.
RONNY ELLIOTT, HEP (WWW.RONNYELLIOTT.COM) Tampa singer-songwriter Elliott is a local treasure, part artist, part musicologist, always with something sharp, witty or poignant to say.
Hep, Elliott's latest, finds the singer stringing us along with tales of Jack Kerouac, Marlon Brando, Slim Harpo and Elvis, strummed in simple country and blues chords, sung in Elliott's plaintive, gruff voice.
Not that Elliott isn't emotive. You can't pen tunes like Jack's St. Pete Blues (for Kerouac) and sing it without heartache: "I drink because I can't write/ and I can't write because I'm drinking."
The famously alcoholic American writer died in St. Petersburg, spending his last days, legend has it, obsessively watching The Beverly Hillbillies. Sings Elliott: "I'd turn off this television set/ but she'd know what I'm thinking."
Elliott goes on to chronicle the early demise of one of our country's brightest literary stars, who "climbed higher than they thought I could, and it left a long way to fall."
Elliott has the Southern gift of storytelling, tossing out nuanced sentences packed with anecdotes, history and cultural tidbits. He adopts the voice of his characters or tells the tale in the third person with equal grace, proof of Elliott's years of sharp observation.
With his fine backing band, the Nationals (the incomparable Walt Bucklin on bass, Harry Hayward on drums, Jim McNealon on pedal and lap steel guitars, and Natty Moss-Bond on backing vocals), Elliott pays homage to rock 'n' roll on tunes such as the mandolin-flecked Poets and Scientists.
It's the powerful All The Way to Louisville, however, that sums up Elliott's position on the music industry.
"There's something wrong with the radio waves today," Elliott sings, lamenting that corporate money gets even the lousiest tunes circulating. Elliott sings of his experience, reading reviews of his albums in magazines such as Mojo and No Depression, knowing the songs will never make it to radio.
Such is life. Elliott has a family to feed, he sings, and a living to earn. But he'll keep on playing his songs:
Maybe music and business
are terms that just don't jive All I've got is three chords
and a will to survive
ANNA O., PINK HEART BLUE TATTOO (WWW.ANNA-O.COM) Fans of Tampa chanteuse and multi-instrumentalist Anna O. may be expecting more provocative, kooky, meandering, weird tunes from the prolific songwriter on Pink Heart Blue Tattoo, her third album, but Miss Anna has gone a more subtle route.
Not that she has gone mainstream. Heavens, no. Nobody writes lyrics this good and expects to get onTRL. It's just that Pink Heart doesn't bang you over the head with its nuttiness. Anna's twisted muse is still there, wandering among the bright choruses and yummy harmonies of radio-ready tunes such as Dreamin' Yesterday and River of Tears. Either would haunt the head of an Aimee Mann fan. Sample lyric: "She's got combat boots and a blue tattoo/ and Dylan songs to get her through."
Anna sings of a woman on the run from her life, a bad relationship, hard times: "Ever since she was seventeen/ she's been living on nerves and nicotine." The funky organ and Andy Irvine's tastefully soulful bass on Where Is The Garden will trick you into a 1970s Bill Withers time warp, but you'll be so happy moving your fanny in a funk fest, you won't mind.
For all this more subtle approach, Anna has kept her range. No Logic would do Joni Mitchell proud, and Sweet Oblivion's brightness would dazzle fans of Sarah McLachlan. You and Rock n' Roll sums it up with its endearing, conflicted narrator, who celebrates the power of rock and the safety of love: "I guess ordinary living has its eloquence."
It's the "I guess" - that she's still unsold on the sentiment - that singles out an artist such as Anna O. from the rest of the pack.
ZANESVILLE, ZANESVILLE (WWW.ZANESVILLEROCKS.COM) Zanesville's self-titled debut kicks off with the peppy Never Sing in Memphis, setting the tone for the rest of the album. The sideburned, pompadoured trio would be at home playing in a punk or rockabilly bar, with its superquick, catchy tunes about girls, girls and, well, girls.
And cigarettes. Except that song's real long.
The rest of the songs clock in at under three minutes, with bouncy bass, singalong choruses and wry insights about love, broken hearts and surprisingly ah-shucks sentiments from singer-guitarist Jeff Godsell, who looks like a 1950s hood but is actually a real sweetie-pie Southern boy.
Ten Crazy Dancers, with its primal drums and sexy vibe, finds our narrator minding his p's and q's while in a strip bar. All he'd like to do is ask his lady dancer friend if he might hold her hand, but another fella is mucking up his plans.
Falling Out Of Love is an earnest song from a boy explaining to his girl why she's a mean little thing and he has had to fall out of love, darn it. (How can you not be charmed?) There's fun guitar shredding on Sidewalk Cracking; an irresistible tale of bathroom shenanigans - drinking coffee, "getting high" and playing with army men - on Army Man; and enough songs about french kissing and other simple joys to keep you pogoing merrily.
RICKY WILCOX, MONKEYSHINE (WWW.RICKYWILCOX.COM) Pinellas County's Ricky Wilcox has been a staple of the local scene for 20 years, playing drums in the revered alt-rock Deloris Telescope in the 1980s and now fronting the Moonsnakes and making a solo name for himself.
Monkeyshine, Wilcox's solo debut, is chock full of power pop confections such as the irresistible Shangrila with its sugary chorus and even sweeter meaning. The song is about two lovers who dream of a perfect home for themselves, a place in their heads that may not exist in the real world. (Pay attention to the pummeling drums on this tune; it's Wilcox.)
Wilcox is a talented writer, a terrific singer - dig those gritty vocals on Hollow Tree, a sad and punchy ode to what could have been, a tune that laments, "I wish you could have known me better," and punches along in the vein of the Gin Blossoms' Jealousy.
Wilcox's disc features guest spots by former DT members Kacy Ross and Stevie Grandmaison, and another special treat for fans of that beloved band: a live version of Desdemona, recorded in the 1980s.
If you would like your local act's CD considered for In Our Own Back Yard, send it to Gina Vivinetto, pop music critic, In Our Own Back Yard, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.