For When You Were Young

Young Innocent Days
Eugene Chadbourne (Independent)

By Tim Roberts

Call it the K-Tel-ization of music marketing: collect a bunch of hits around a common theme (Greatest Romantic Songs, Hottest Funk Songs, Chart-Topping Dreck You'll Never Get Out of Your Head), package `em cheap (i.e., use band promo photos and clip art on the covers), and ship `em out. The concept was inherited by Rhino Records, who has done a better job of selecting the music and packaging the product (and don't forget Virgin's multi-platinum mail-order institution from three years ago - Pure Romance, the soundtrack for lots of second-date seductions). It was taken a step farther out in the last decade by the tribute album: a collection of cover versions of songs written by a certain performer.

One new release combines the sentiment of a tribute album with the selection consistency of a K-Tel quickie, and puts a sly twist on the whole thing. Dr. Eugene Chadbourne, a banjo player with a cult following that equals Alastair Crowley, is backed by members of Louisville's Ut Gret (q.v., this month's cover story), Java Men, and Splatch for Young Innocent Days, fourteen songs from the 1960s worked over by a banjo, a half-dozen other non-traditional instruments, and a seven-year-old boy. If 60s music was iconized for baby boomers in The Big Chill, it gets pre-, de-, and reconstructed in Young Innocent Days. Think of it as The Big Chill-Out. You won't hear these versions of classic rock chestnuts selling insurance or deodorant.

Rapid plucks from Chadbourne's Banjo and Joee Conroy's sitar open the first track, Donovan's "Epistle to Dippy," which, halfway through, slips into a swinging be-bop with Greg Acker taking lead on soprano saxophone. When it becomes clear that the band doesn't know where to go with it, they smash into their version of Jefferson Airplane's "Martha," which opens with gentle harmonics from Andy Rademaker's bass. The song then switches from a blend of instruments and odd melodies during the verses to a walking oom-pah rhythm during the chorus.

Each of the other selections gets its own spin. Love's "Immoragen" gets treated as an electric polka overtoned with swatches of Led Zeppelin. The Rolling Stones standard "Get Off My Cloud" has support from a horn section and the strong vocals of seven-year-old Tristan Conroy. Tom T. Hall's "I Can't Dance" is done as a straight-up boogie-woogie, and the traditional Yiddish song "Der Heyser Bulgar" (featuring clarinetist Steve Good) gets a short visit from "I Walk the Line." And there's true world-weary heartbreak behind Chadbourne's vocals on his version of Phil Ochs's "Rehearsals for Retirement." Todd Hildreth's liturgical organ behind the vocals provides the feeling of a benediction. Young and Innocent days are long gone. The future's squeezing in.

Young and Innocent Days will be available only in Europe as a double 10-inch LP set, good for those who appreciate avant-garde music and still have turntables, bad news for the ones who threw theirs out. For more information on how to obtain a copy, contact Joee Conroy at 894-9702.