|by Joe Viglione
1987's Will You Still Love Me When I've Lost My Mind? features future Rage TV host Eric Hafner as the main songwriter and vocalist backed up by three musicians, replacing the four other Lines who appeared on the 1984 release Dirty Water. They, in turn, had replaced the original four musicians from the 1982 release Live at the Metro, which included Jamie Walker and Pat Dreier, who split off to become the Drive and, eventually, the Swinging Steaks. That Jamie Walker was the main songwriter of the original band put a lot on the shoulders of Eric Hafner, giving extra meaning to the name of the record company he co-owned with longtime manager/attorney Paul Carchidi, Sideman Records. But the sidemen actually sound pretty good here, and it is the singer/songwriter who disappoints. Maybe Hafner had run out of creative juice after so many disappointments; he just can't take the solid accompaniment here and hit a home run. "Snowbound" goes nowhere, and Hafner's voice sounds pretentious and contrived. Also, there are no cover songs, something that spiced up other releases by the Lines. Including their rendition of Olivia Newton-John's "Physical" would have been a treat, as it was a regional hit for this band that doubled as a suburban cover act. Listening to the song "Some Day" is nothing but painful. There are certainly worse recordings, it's that this band had the potential and so badly misses the mark here, which is almost worse than having done nothing at all. There's more life than on Bob Pfeifer's 1987 LP After Words, but the bottom line is there is so much better music out in the world that to try to like something that sounds so forced is a chore. That isn't what entertainment is all about. "Rain on Me" abandons the simple sincerity of Split Enz, who the original Lines emulated, and replaces it with mechanical Billy Idol/Simple Minds style mid-'80s rock. Side two doesn't fare much better; "Indian Summer" is one of the better titles and performances, but it's still no great shakes. Jamie Walker and the Swinging Steaks broke away from this ensemble and made quite a name for themselves, while the Lines kept beating their original concept into the ground. After a decade, it became too familiar, too old, and lost any charm or enthusiasm which made the band a fun night on the town. This album asks the question Will You Still Love Me When I've Lost My Mind?, and in doing so risks hearing the answer, the word "no" from longtime fans. A very tough listen.
Swinging Steaks Suicide At The Wishing Well 1992
|by Joe Viglione
Members of Boston's the Drive reinvented themselves with this very strong 1992 release on their own Thrust label, and the departure from the slick pop the Drive was known for is immediate. Imagine if you will a band that sounds like the Rolling Stones when they transform themselves into their "Country Honk," "Moonlight Mile," and "Dead Flowers" persona to have a good idea of what the Swinging Steaks are all about. Some of these tracks appear on the band's Capricorn debut, but this powerful collection of 15 tunes and two hidden tracks is classic and it landed them the deal after garnering airplay on Boston's WBOS. "Bone Bag" features Rich Gilbert on pedal steel, but the song has more crunch than you'd expect for a country/pop disc. "Beg, Steal or Borrow" has a Byrds kind of vibe with intensity that shows the maturity and development the guys garnered on the Boston scene. That artistry culminates in track 15; the late Jimmy Miller steps in with a rare re-creation of one of his classic Rolling Stones productions as "Live With Me" is covered -- allegedly with Keith Richards guitar lines played by the Steaks, riffs that Miller pulled from the original version. It is exquisite and a tribute to Jimmy's genius, recorded just a few years before his passing. Highlights on this CD are the sublime "Circlin'," written by vocalist/guitarist Tim Giovanniello, its tentative riff and eerie ambience are just perfect for the melancholy vocal. Jamie Walker's title track is the exact opposite, but equally as strong. And that is the secret of the Steaks' success. Rather than hit you with Lennon/McCartney or Jagger/Richards co-writing, the two identities give this group its identity.
Southside Of The Sky 1993
|by Joe Viglione
When the Swinging Steaks were signed to Capricorn Records, the label produced seven tracks and lifted five more from their 1992 debut Suicide at the Wishing Well. "Do Me a Favor" and "Circlin'" were taken as is, while the songs "Beg, Steal or Borrow," "Right Through You," and the title track "Suicide at the Wishing Well" were remixed by producer Gary Katz and engineer Wayne Yergellun. For their major label debut, the failure to include Jimmy Miller's superior production of the Mick Jagger/Keith Richards composition "Live With Me" was a definite oversight, but maybe Phil Walden's label was interested more in the country-pop side of this group. "Do Me a Favor" still sounds like a distant cousin to Jackson Browne's "Redneck Friend," while "Circlin'" is the best overall track -- a masterpiece by Tim Giovanniello. Jamie Walker's new title track, "Southside of the Sky," opens the album for 45 seconds, and then is reprised with the nearly three-minute full version at the album's close. It's a good song one expects from these highly consistent journeymen. Their debut contained 17 songs, and this now out of print album featured seven new tracks; compiling both as a single unit of their music from 1992-1993 would be advisable.
SUNDAY BEST 2003
|by Joe Viglione
Sunday Best is a sophisticated progression for the Swinging Steaks as they capture and carry the flag the Flying Burrito Brothers once held and waved so high. Released on their own Thrust Records in America and on Blue Rose in Europe, Tim Giovanniello and Jamie Walker split up the writing chores again along with a couple of tunes from the pen of keyboardist Jim Gambino. One of those tunes, "Stupid," is simply fantastic -- great pop hooks with effective playing to embellish the solid refrain. It and Giovanniello's "Bad Day" are among the standouts -- the very special compositions that always seem to work their way onto the Steaks' projects. "Pictures" is right up there with those two, another song of holding on -- guitarist/vocalist Giovanniello just "waiting for the rain" so he can pull out the pictures he's saved for that kind of day. It's an inspired vocal performance to match the lyrics with the band to maintain the energy. Walker's contributions are to this project what Lindsey Buckingham's work was to Fleetwood Mac's Tusk album: good, consistent, and the glue that keeps it all together. His "Light of the Moon" is a nice conclusion to the effort, effective in its melancholy. Sunday Best is not the knockout punch this band is capable of, but there's not a bad track on it, and a few sail over the fence. At close to an hour playing time, it's an ambitious and realized effort from the veteran New England act.
- Artist: Raindogs
As the Swinging Steaks abandoned their slick 1980s pop for country-rock when the 1990s came around, Mark Cutler's Raindogs did the same, but got it out of the starting gate a bit earlier on this Atco debut, Lost Souls. The album leans more to the rock than country side, with standout tunes like "Cry for Mercy" and "This Is the Place" among the dozen offered here. "I'm Not Scared" owes much to Gregg Allman and is decent, while "Phantom Flame" is extraordinary, up there with the best of the Swinging Steaks, Johnny Cunningham's fiddle and Cheryl Hodges' backing vocals bringing it that nice Rolling Stones feel when the greatest rock & roll band in the world gave its style a Flying Burrito Brothers flavor. "The Higher Road" and "Too Many Stars" are competent rockers though they don't burst out like some of the other tracks, and that's the downside here. Cutler's voice isn't distinctive enough to elevate some of the more pedestrian numbers and like another "critic's darling" band, the Tragically Hip, the lesser songs in the repertoire -- say "Nobody's Getting Out" -- weigh the other selections down like an anchor. Lost Souls is perfectly played material and an interesting debut, but there's not enough personality to send this over the top. "Cry for Mercy" sounds slightly like a harbinger of what Gregg Alexander and his New Radicals would bring to the world in 1998. Problem is, there's no "You Get What You Give" here, and that's what this singer/songwriter and his band were in dire need of. Nice to see Myanna Pontoppidan of Girls Night Out as part of the Hubcap Horns employed on this outing. ~ Joe Viglione, All Music Guide