Not Dead Yet
A Review, by Ed Newman
The Reader Weekly, October 19, 2006
John Heino has indeed followed through on a dream to produce an album of original music featuring the band he has performed with all these years. The CD they hammered out is more than a “Wow!” achievement. It’s a work of passion that has been almost miraculously conceived.
Produced at Sacred Heart Studio in Duluth, the recording is called Not Dead Yet, and the group is John Heino & Centerville. Heino was the force behind this effort, offering 13 songs from his catalog of more than 300 original cogitations.
From the opening salvo, the whole band jumping right into it, you know this is a serious album. By serious I mean serious rock and roll, which also means serious fun. I know that everyone listens to music differently, and for many if not most people it is all about the music. For me, maybe because I’m a writer, lyrics are central, too, though I fully understand the place for throwaway lyrics that just create an excuse to make music. This album has a little of both, but plenty to chew on for the cerebral listener.
It would be fairly effortless to write a page of impressions on every song from this album. In the interest of brevity, and to allow the Reader to print other articles in this edition besides this one, I will comment on just a few of the gems here. In terms of the music, production values, originality, talent assembled, this album can stand on its own next to anything you find on the national scene. On top of that, it’s a great story. The band that didn’t give up.
Not Dead Yet, the title song that opens this album, is big enough in scope and sound to become a Boomer anthem for an entire generation. The style is kickass, straight ahead rock, and Heino’s gravelly delivery unloads the message that we’re still waving our banners high.
I love the lyrics. Each verse paints a different image set. The first picture is of an old pickup that has cruised a thousand highways, held together with duct tape and rust. The second verse metaphor is a “grizzled old quarterback” who’s in the starting lineup. Like the old pickup with plenty of thrust, and the old quarterback who is in there with the game on the line, Heino declares, “I’m not dead yet I got risks to take, I’m not dead yet I got love to make, I’m not dead yet I’ve got rules to break, so if the undertaker comes tell him I’m not dead yet!” Whoa!
Julie Finkle’s harmonic rhythmic punches on backup vocal accentuate the message, reinforcing throughout. (Her versatility shines throughout the album.) George Zissos on guitar lays it into you with Kyle Inforzato on bass and John Zsissos striking the drums. This is music designed to get you up on your feet and moving, and it does just that. And as a first cut, it sets the tone so that you know what you are getting into.
Right to the very end the lyrics show an amusing cleverness that is delightful, unselfconscious and thoroughly Heino.As the song tails off, you’ll hear a series of sparkling throwaway lines beginning with,“I ain’t too much to look at but I got a fat wallet, but I’m not, not, not dead yet.” Pay attention. You won’t want to miss these generous sizzlers.
MY, MY, MY
When you get to the end of the first cut you’d better take a deep breath because – bang – you are slammed into the next song with such a joyous ferocity you just won’t get a break for another four minutes. My, My, My becomes another great excuse to move your feet. The band takes off like Olympic sprinters, full bore from the opening shot. If someone from Mars came to earth and asked you what Rock and Roll is, you could play this song and say, “Well, here ya go, Mr. Little Green Dude, this is what rock ‘n roll sounds like.”
The CD is not all shake, rattle and roll though because this band is more versatile than that. You’ve got blues (Misery Loves Me), cool jazz be-bop mix (Down Home), funk (Fine Thing), pop rock (Minnesota) and some grinding machinery that exerts a greater influence on you every time it bears down on you (Lifetime Jones).
The sound on Lifetime Jones puts you right against the wall. It’s like a big piece of equipment up on the Iron Range that has been turned on and starts cranking. You can’t even understand what you are hearing. It’s just powered up and rolling over you, leaving you shaking, like the message itself. Zissos and Inforzato deliver the merciless coup de grace that make this one a killer, especially the descending chord progression at the end of the first verse.
The closer, Don’t Wanna Kill Nobody, is more powerful than a Mariano Rivera fastball and it bullies you into sheer joy. Heino’s curmudgeonly growl and the driving rhythms on Don’t Wanna Kill Nobody will wake every lethargic hair on your head. The lyrics again are fabulous, and if the snappy sound here leaves you in less than high spirits, you’d best check your pulse to see if you need medical help.
A few years back while singing karaoke and listening to the Stones it hit me. The heart of rock and roll is passion. Blood, sweat and tears. Convulsive power. Energy, pure and straight. And The Centerville All Stars, to this day, understand that. Their performances, less frequent than fans would like, hold nothing back. This album successfully captures that energy.
Bottom line for most Boomers is that after a lifetime of scars we have two options. One path that has a measure of seductive allure leads to the well of cynicism. Dilbert captures this pervasive mood so perfectly, hence the immense appeal of Gary Adams’ comic satire. But for Boomers this creeping cynicism, like midriff bulge, is an enemy, not a friend. It takes an effort to shake oneself awake and not give in, to choose life instead, to keep stirring the dream, to embrace life’s fullness to the end. This is the kernel at the heart of cut number six, Passion.
Passion kicks off by building a wall of sound with a dancing bass riff, adding a stimulating guitar grind, followed by another layer of rolling keyboard offering the vocals a paramount entry point. Heino dispatches another Boomer anthem.
“Eight o-clock and another dull meeting, you got time for that; every second life’s ticking away, your brainwaves gone flat.” “Someday” isn’t soon enough, Heino implores. “Your passion is calling you… take your dream and make it come true.”
This song rips with Zissos on guitar slashing home the message in a great guitar break which leaves you panting for more.
Heino wrote this one in the nineties, a heartfelt, almost personal wake-up call. I remember Centerville playing it at Charlie’s when it was first introduced into the band’s repertoire. One thing about playing live is that you get to try things and fine tune them. With the song “Passion” getting the tempo right was critical. The previous couple times it was just a tad too fast. People watched from their seats and got into it but they just listened and enjoyed. Third time was a charm. The dance floor became a vacuum that sucked in every person who wasn’t tied down. No doubt it’s a centerpiece on this CD for a reason.
A friend once said to me that when he listens to an album it’s great to have a few songs that really grab you right off so that you want to listen again. But the songs that don’t grab you initially, he said, can often become your favorites. I think the depth and across-the-board quality of Not Dead Yet will surprise a lot of people. Yes, it has those really great sounds that hitch you in immediately, but it also has a lot of numbers that have a far more subtle depth to them requiring several listens to appreciate what is really happening with the group. After all is said and done, anyone who hears this album will be left wanting more, and anyone who buys this album will hope Centerville will produce more.
For now, one thing is certain. This group is not dead yet.
Ed Newman is Director of Advertising for AMSOIL INC., a Boomer writer who is likewise not dead yet.