The songs on The C'est La Vie EP, the debut record by Rich Restaino & The Obits, tackle such topics as secular humanism, underappreciated musical icons, the indignities of work, the downside of the rock lifestyle, misunderstood genius, and urban gentrification.
But heady as all of this sounds, The C'est La Vie EP is, musically at least, an upbeat affair. Power-pop hooks, big drums, melodic bass, snarling guitars, and chiming girl backup singers make even the most polemical material like "Working," which name-checks early 20th century labor radicals Sacco & Vanzetti and the Haymarket massacre, seem like a good-time romp.
The band here will be familiar to anyone who heard Restaino’s last project, The Late Fees, which combined doo-wop and Phil Spector girl group sounds with classic punk. That’s because The Obits are essentially a reconfigured version of The Late Fees, with Restaino’s co-conspirator Neil "Zimmy 45" Kaiser backing away from the mic and trading his Les Paul Special for the bass. Fees bassist Hunt Wellborn strapped on his Telecaster, and Dave Wylie continues to lay down some truly Ringoish beats (in the best sense). As with The Late Fees, one of the greatest delights of The Obits is the vocal team of Sara Shansky, Elize Ivey (Mrs. Rich Restaino), and Roz Mandola. The ladies bring some real levity and fresh air to these songs. Added to this already large outfit is Lloyd Wright, a California/Tennessee transplant whose keyboard work adds nice texture to the overall sound of The Obits.
Included in this set are two songs formerly performed by The Late Fees—"Ronnie Got Free" and "Brooklyn"—and the band really sounds rough-and-ready on these tracks. Also included is a reprise of "Rock & Roll Casualty," originally released on Restaino’s last solo CD, Revisionary Man. However, the version here is much stronger, with the band adding real heft that was lacking on Restaino’s original home-recorded demo version.
"So It Goes," written to commemorate the passing of Kurt Vonnegut, opines that "the day you check out is just another day to 99.9% of the human race," while stressing that the point of life is that "someone left behind might say that you were kind."
Also included is garage-soul number, “Prometheus Baby,” credited to Kaiser and Restaino. The song stretches Restaino’s voice to its limits, and Kaiser’s bass groove really drives the band here.
"Take Off the Gloves," a song that Restaino playfully suggests is about "bare-knuckle boxing," is actually a quite tender and honest appeal to a lover to "tell me off, I got it coming." The set finishes with "Kristopher Brown," another in a series of tribute songs, where Rich pays homage to a hero. In this instance, however, the hero is not so much a household name or dead writer, but actually a friend and musical mentor. Restaino did time in Kris Brown’s Austin reggae outfit for a few years, and Brown also has served as Kaiser’s bass tutor. The song is a hoot—a space-punk anthem about a guy who is so intelligent and "out there," that the narrator cannot help but wonder if he is "just visiting."
Restaino, notoriously a do-it-yourselfer who never met an instrument he didn’t think he could play at least a bit, gives up some of the control here—not only to his band, but also to engineer, Randy Avenell. The EP was tracked in two studios—with drums and vocals recorded by Avenell at his Brain Machine studio in Austin, TX, with the rest of the instruments and some vocals recorded by Restaino in his home studio. The project was mixed and mastered by Avenell.
Rich & The Obits play regularly around their Austin, TX home base. Restaino also serves as a sideman in other local outfits, including The Lennings and Sara Shansky & The Titanic Dance Band. As a guitarist, bassist, & mandolinist, he has contributed to several local recordings and, along with Zimmy 45, continues to compose and record filthy, vile, blasphemous, and hilarious songs under The Late Fees moniker.