Gramercy Arms is a revolving New York based collective of musicians and artists, masterminded by main songwriter and producer Dave Derby. The line up features Rainy Orteca on bass, guitarist Sean Eden and drummer Kevin March, along with an impressive cast of guests. The group is set to release a second full-length record of ambitiously arranged, brightly melodic and subtly crafted power pop, The Seasons Of Love on UK label Reveal Records on July 21st.
The new album has been some five years in the making, with time taken to assemble the tracks and slot the guest appearances into place. It gloriously builds on the fine melodic sensibilities of the debut, which was praised at the time with the BBC claiming, “With its breezy, cloud-watching ambience, it’s the perfect album to take the edge of the summer’s heat.” This time around there’s just a hint of melancholy, although the end result is no less infectious in the tune department.
Another comparison suggesting their debut was a little like Teengae Fanclub, but with a New York accent certainly isn’t far wide of the mark, while Dave himself credits the city as the invisible member of the band and the name makes direct reference to the city. Although the music may be centred on the Big Apple, The Seasons Of Love also unites various strands of Dave Derby’s musical life reaching back to his earlier career with the Dambuilders who he formed out of Honolulu, Hawaii.
It was when the band relocated to Boston that the classic line up came together and in the early 90s Dave was joined by current band member Kevin March and also Joan Wasser. The latter is of course probably better known as Joan As Police Woman and is a significant guest here, having also contributed to the first Gramercy Arms release. She sings an excellent duet on Beautiful Disguise with Lloyd Cole, another significant figure in the Dave Derby story.
Lloyd had left the UK as the 80s became the 90s and despite hitting what many regard as an artistic peak, he found himself on the wrong end of his record company, Polydor, being swallowed by Universal. In an effort to rekindle his career Cole teamed up with a collection of younger musicians in New York, including Dave. Their relationship continues and it was during some downtime in the recording of Lloyd’s recent Standards, which involved Dave and also Joan that fortune allowed for the wonderfully soulful Beautiful Disguise to be recorded.
Perhaps that explains why this record has been so long in the making, but whilst that suggests a patchwork, this is a also a record of the highest quality. It’s that blissful combination of strong ideas and wonderful execution. David claims to have always heard Joan and Lloyd’s duet and his patience ultimately wins its just reward.
Just to be clear it’s far from being the only track to succeed in creating the magic. With the core quartet augmented by a substantial cast, the opener, Always In Love, features the voices of both Tanya Donelly (Throwing Muses, Breeders,etc) and the Boston based Hilken Mancini, along with organ and tambourine from the engineer for the sessions, Ray Ketchum, and lead guitar from Will Cole, Lloyd’s son. It’s also one of four tracks to feature horns with four of the arrangements by Paul Ahlstrand and one by Peter Hess. Two of the songs also feature strings arranged by Joe McGinty, although he adds piano here.
It makes for a big sound, but the tunes are big enough to stand up to the arrangements and the lyrical flow is clever and engaging. Every song bristles with hooks and the opener has the “Ooh- Aah” intro, some high flying trumpet and even flute and piccolo as the song surges along towards its closing refrain. Beautiful Disguise slows the pace and as well as the duet with Lloyd, Joan adds a piano, the closing section with its massed voices and strings gives the song the feel of a soul standard.
By contrast Winter Light, which features guitar from Doug Gillard of Guided By Voices fame is comparatively stripped back and breezes along with a strummed acoustic. It gives way to the tinkling piano of The Night Is Your Only Friend that brings Blinded By The Light to mind, although the song ends with a breakdown sounding more like late 80’s era Van Morrison, via some slashing power chords and driving horns and massed vocal harmonies. Dave has suggested that this is the closest to offering a template for future Gramercy Arms recordings, promising no lessening of ambition and a bright future.
Novemberlong is another pumped up pop classic featuring the voice of Erin Moran and another outstanding horn arrangement. Playing With Fire is darker, with some lovely guitar work and a shimmering string section, with a serious undertow from backing vocals and the cello adding to the more reflective tone. Yours Untruly then flies out of its fuzzed up blocks like a stray outtake from the White Album.
Somehow the album still manages to keep something up its sleeve and The Season Of Love sounds like something beamed straight from the 60s, with a slight hint of Francois Hardy or some such. It has another superb horn arrangement as does the following Say The Word, while the latter also has some nifty guitar. Thin then makes a real contrast, sounding more like Nick Cave, with a moody prowling verse, while the middle eight adds another little twist. It’s a dramatic clincher for a great album.
Packed full of great songs, memorable tunes with some stunning arrangements and with superb vocal and instrumental skills on offer, The Seasons Of Love is something of a power pop revelation. For anyone who has ever dabbled with The Children Of Nuggets, or indeed their venerable antecedents right back to the Brit invasion of the USA spearheaded by the Beatles, Who and Kinks, this is essential stuff, they really don’t come any better than this.
Review by: Simon Holland
Always In Love
THE NEW SINGLE JULY 7 2014
Always in Love/The Night Is Your Only Friend (Radio edit)
THE NEW ALBUM JULY 21 2014
The Seasons of Love