it grows on you

The Goings On Maxwell Street (Hit-A-Note Records)
Dr. Smith

By Mark Clark

I've got to admit, The Goings On Maxwell Street, the latest album from Dr. Smith, bugged me at first.

I was perturbed that the band left two of its best songs — "Your Life and How to Live It" and "Carpe Diem" — off this, its first full-length (49:36) release. Sure, they're two of the band's earliest compositions. So what? You never outgrow a good number.

And I was disgruntled by the band's more somber, intellectual approach to this record, compared to earlier, freewheeling efforts like its Fun Is Bowling EP. This is rock 'n' roll, not neurosurgery. It's okay to have fun. Lose sight of that and you wind up being U2.

But I couldn't stay mad long. The Goings On Maxwell Street simply has too many cool songs to resist.

The one that grabbed me first, perhaps significantly, is probably the album's silliest — and best — cut, a Victorian-sounding ballad titled "Lady Fair." The lyrics are a little corny, a little sappy, but they work. Plus, I'm a sucker for a good melody and this one's lovely.

Soon, the album's other tracks started working on me.

"Cry Myself to Sleep" and "Talk of the Town," a pair of power-pop numbers that flank "Lady Fair" on the disc, began popping into my head when I least expected them. I started to crave the band's new version of "Circles," a golden oldie from Dr. Smith's Fun Is Bowling days. I became fascinated with The Goings On Maxwell Street, a riff-driven rocker served up on fat slabs of guitar. (The track inexplicably and utterly erroneously reminds me of "Dressed to Kill"-era Kiss.) I noted that "Paradise," which also appears on the Rough Diamond Music Network's sampler tape, sounds much better here, in context, than on that compilation.

Before I knew it, in spite of myself, I liked the whole album. Give me another month and I'll probably love the whole album.

Like their album, Dr. Smith is getting better with age as well. The band recently added a fourth member, drummer Stephen Ridge, although most of the cuts on The Goings On Maxwell Street were recorded with Dave Hoback on drums, before Ridge's arrival. And, through playing a seemingly endless series of gigs at Dutch's Tavern, the band has grown tighter.

Guitarist Marvin Yates, in particular, has come into his own. The Goings On Maxwell Street is strewn with his inventive solos. Singer/songwriter Forest Ramsey's vocals sound more relaxed and confident now that he's no longer forced to double as the band's drummer. Bassist Auric Steele sounds like he could play every song on this album in his sleep. And Yates isn't fully integrated yet.

Dr. Smith is a band worth keeping an eye on. The Goings On Maxwell Street is ample evidence of that.