The Jigsaw Seen | Songs Mama Used To Sing

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Songs Mama Used To Sing

by The Jigsaw Seen

Psychedelic, folk-based rock with elements of quirky Brit pop and the classic 60s qualities.
Genre: Pop: British Pop
Release Date: 

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1. Little Know Ye Who's Coming
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2. Tattoo
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3. Baby Elephant Walk
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4. Still I'm Sad
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5. Melody Fair
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6. On A Carousel
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7. Desiree
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8. Luci Baines
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9. 30 Century Man
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10. This Is Where I Belong
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ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
Co-founders Dennis Davison (ex-United States of Existence) and Jonathan Lea (ex-Revolver) originally met in 1986 after Lea answered an ad Davison had placed in a local paper. Davison had been looking for a lead guitarist to join his then-current band Playground, whose members had moved to L.A. from Maryland. The duo's friendship flourished into a longtime partnership thereafter. In 1989, Davison and Lea disbanded Playground and formed Jigsaw Seen. Drummer Teddy Freese (ex-Yipes!, who had a Top 100 hit with their cover of the Beach Boys' "Darlin'," ex-Spanic Boys) joined in 1993, followed by bassist David Nolte(ex-the Last) in 1996. They gigged around L.A., attracting the attention of the New Jersey-based Skyclad Records, which issued their debut album, Shortcut Through Clown Alley, in 1990. This was followed by a five-song EP, My Name Is Tom, in 1991. The band then toured the U.S. (the Smashing Pumpkins even opened for them once). In 1993, Skyclad folded. At the time, Davison and Lea had been compiling Melody Fair: Bee Gees Tribute, a tribute to the early Bee Gees, which featured their cover of the title track. Davison and Lea then brought the project to the L.A.-based Eggbert Records and its successful release in 1994 led to future tribute projects. In the mid- to late '90s, in fact, Jigsaw Seen contributed to several various-artist tribute albums. In 1995, Eggbert released a Hollies tribute album, Sing Hollies in Reverse, which featured their splendid cover of "On a Carousel." They also recorded covers for two Del-Fi tributes: their CMJ-charting cover of "Baby Elephant Walk" was a highlight on Del-Fi's 1996 Henry Mancini tribute Shots in the Dark; and in 1998, their version of "Luci Baines" (originally recorded by Arthur Lee's pre-Love band, American Four) appeared on Delphonic Sounds Today!, a compilation of contemporary artists paying tribute to vintage Del-Fi artists. Their version of the Left Banke's "Desiree" was the lead-off track on 1999's A Tribute to the Left Banke: Shadows Breaking Over Our Heads. Meanwhile, Jigsaw Seen had continued recording tracks for its second full-length album; unfortunately, it would be five years before critically acclaimed Zenith would be released on the band's own Vibro-Phonic label (a year earlier, a various-artists compilation, Listen and Learn With Vibro-Phonic, had been issued to rave reviews). Zenith was nominated for a Best Packaging Grammy and was picked up for distribution in the U.K. and Japan. In April 2001, Davison and Lea's acoustic tour of Great Britain resulted in a limited-edition six-song live CD, Perfformiad I Mewn Cymru (Performance in Wales), released by Vibro-Phonic in August 2001. In addition to his role in Jigsaw Seen, Lea has also played with L.A. pop maven Kristian Hoffman and ex-Bongwater vocalist/actress Ann Magnuson. He also contributed guitar to unfinished Pete Ham studio demos for the posthumous release of 1997's 7 Park Avenue and 1999's Golders Green. Bassist David Nolte has produced and/or co-written albums by David Gray and Maria McKee. Lea and Nolte have also played in Rufus Wainwright's and Dave Davies' (of the Kinks) touring bands. Songs Mama Used to Sing was released in 2002.


Reviews


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The Big Takeover


While The Jigsaw Seen clearly has sent a valentine to it’s musical inspirations with Songs Mama Used To Sing, the band has also made numerous tribute LP appearances. Songs is the resulting combination, part Odds and Sods, part Pin Ups. The covers are pretty straightforward, but delivered with the great verve and gusto of an obsessive pop classicist who sees to details like the paper sleeve in the CD-sized re-creation of a traditional LP release. THE BEE GEES’ “Melody Fair” and THE HOLLIES’ “On A Carousel” crackle with energy, THE LEFT BANKE’s “Desiree” soars and ARTHUR LEE’s “Luci Baines” (a nugget from Lee’s pre-LOVE group THE AMERICAN FOUR) smartly interpolates a
glockenspiel-tinged reference to the classic descending riff found in “Something In The Air” and “Dear Prudence.” Other reasons to visit Mama include loving versions of THE WHO’s “Tattoo”, RAY DAVIES’ “This Is Where I Belong” and the harmonium gloom of THE YARDBIRDS’ “Still I’m Sad”. Mick Lewis

Q Magazine (UK), April 2003


When not playing sessions, former Grammy nominees The Jigsaw Seen relive their youth by contributing to any vaguely-respectable tribute album. These psychedelic pop homages have now been assembled into a cool and eclectic
set, including a carbon-copy Who on Tattoo and a bizarre grunge stab at Henry Mancini's Baby Elephant Walk. Dave Henderson

Pop Matters, June 2003


It must be interesting to be a part of the Jigsaw Seen. You're a long-time favorite of L.A.'s indie pop scene, but your full-length product has been limited to two albums despite having been an act since 1989. In spite of that relative paucity, your second album (2000's Zenith) was nominated for a Grammy. Unfortunately, your name recognition was barely aided by this honor because you were nominated in the widely overlooked category of Best Packaging, an award that most definitely does not follow a live performance by Eminem on TV. What's more, members of your band can list credits ranging from David Gray and Rufus Wainwright to Dave Davies in various performance capacities, but your own band is still lurking at the back of even your own independent musician's circles.

The Jigsaw Seen came to life following the demise of Dennis Davison's earlier band, Playground. Having recently recruited Jonathan Lea to fill a spot in Playground, the two decided to strike out with a new name and a year later had an album out, the Jigsaw Seen's 1990 debut, Shortcut Through Clown Alley. A year later the band followed up with an EP, and a national tour, but the collapse of their label, Skyclad Records, brought things to a halt. For the next several years, even as the Jigsaw Seen expanded its ranks to include bassist David Nolte and drummer Teddy Freese, output from the band was limited to a few covers for compilation discs. In 1995 Davison and Lea began working on a second full-length album, but it was a slow process. In the meantime, the positive reception of their covers spawned even more covers. Finally, as the album that became Zenith neared completion, the pair formed their own label, Vibro-Phonic, which released the disc and had critics placing the Jigsaw Seen among the ranks of Jason Falkner, The Posies, Velvet Crush, and Material Issue.

After a long labor of love pays off with critical praise and a Grammy nomination (Lea actually had a hand in the packaging design), where do you go next? Davison and Lea took their show on the road as a short acoustic tour of Europe, which ultimately produced the six-song live disc, Perfformiad I Mewn Cymru, but what about another album? Despite the payoff, it was probably too much to hope that they could take another five years without losing something of their momentum.

Someone must have realized that they already had five songs recorded, mixed and ready to go in the already well-received covers that the Jigsaw Seen had already produced for various compilation discs, because instead of following up Zenith with an album of new material, they decided to shoot for an all-covers release, adding five new cover tracks to the five they'd already filed. It's a risky move. All-covers albums have failed for much more famous artists in the past, and it certainly doesn't do much to highlight your own creative output when you're a small, DIY band. But, then again, the Jigsaw Seen's whole existence has been fairly atypical, and those same covers probably helped to keep the band alive in the past.

If anyone in the JS camp had any reservations, they needn't have worried. Songs Mama Used to Sing is a covers album that is as skewed to the unique as the Jigsaw Seen itself. If there's a consistent theme to the disc, it might be "lost treasures", as each song is a lesser-known gem from some generally very famous acts. And, of course, there's the title of the collection, kept wholly appropriate as there's not a song on the album originally released before 1970. Given the relative low profile of the Jigsaw Seen, as well as the forgotten nature of the originals, Songs Mama Used to Sing could pass as a new release of originals and it would still be a good album.

The collection kicks off with the strange, heavy "Little Know Ye Who's Coming". A traditional 19th century dirge, the song is given a rhythmic, marching treatment with acoustic and electric guitars, and some bagpipe-sounding instrument. "Tattoo", an early track from the Who, immediately follows and changes up the mood to something so pop-tastic that the chorus will stick in your head for days. Relying on the original strength of the song's melodies and lyrics, the Jigsaw Seen add their own flourishes with a warbling, twangy Leslie guitar and pennywhistle. Shift again to the Jigsaw Seen's take on Henry Mancini's "Baby Elephant Walk", where the booming kettle drums are the only things reminiscent of the original and the orchestra parts are taken up by a shredding electric guitar and synths. When it first wound up on the Shots in the Dark Mancini tribute disc, the song actually made the CMJ charts. Truly, "Tattoo" and "Baby Elephant Walk" are worth the price of admission alone.

They take things back down again with the next track, yet preserve the original spirit of the Yardbirds' "Now I'm Sad". However, the low tones of the track's mellotron and e-bow guitars gives the song such a weight that it almost feels as if Gregorian monks are chanting it, emphasized even further by the persistent chime. Discovering the conjoined twins nature of the Bee Gees' "Melody Fair" and the Hollies' "On a Carousel" is another instance of the Jigsaw Seen's genius. Recorded separately for two different compilation discs, the two songs hook together on "Melody Fair"'s line, "Melody, life isn't like the rain / It's just like a merry-go-round". This theme unites the two songs, but the Jigsaw Seen also see fit to actually mix the outro for "Melody Fair" straight into "On a Carousel", giving it the feel of continuation.

The album winds down from there slowly, the dizzying pop thrills of the carousel giving way to a fuzzy rendition of the Left Banke's "Desiree" that sounds like an XTC album track. This is followed by a warped, oscillating trip through a pre-Love Arthur Lee's "Luci Baines", stretched long and wavering to a breaking point behind a chiming glockenspiel. Lastly there's a humming but straightforward take on Scott Walker's "30 Century Man" (the same song that Catherine Wheel dug up and transformed on the same-titled EP, and which would probably be unrecognizable as the same track here), and a melancholy harmonium/mandolin version of the Kinks' "This Is Where I Belong", closing the disc on a sweetly sad note.

Fans of Zenith who were moved by the band's incorporation of instruments beyond the drums, guitars and keyboards arrangements of most pop won't be disappointed. Between the tracks on this album, you'll hear harmonium, analog synths, glockenspiel, e-bow guitar, mandolin, mellotron and optigan loops. And yet, these songs are never over-produced, messy affairs. The tracks aren't thick with layer upon layer of sound for its own sake, and it saves the entire album from ever sounding pretentious.

If anyone says that one band can't make do with an entire cover album, play the Jigsaw Seen's Songs Mama Used to Sing and prove them wrong. It's not going to earn them a much broader audience, and it'll probably only whet the appetites of the band's existing fans, but it's a great collection of very well done covers. You can appreciate it as a Jigsaw Seen release, and praise the band for it, or you can appreciate it as a return to some long-lost gems, and enjoy the album for bringing these songs back into the light of day. Either way, Songs Mama Used to Sing will make a quirky but worthy addition to your collection. Patrick Schabe

The Music Korner, May 2003


Following 2000’s Zenith and last year’s live disc, The Jigsaw Seen is back with a new disc of covers (5 newly recorded cuts and 5 that have previously appeared on various compilation discs). While the influence of many of the artists covered can be hear in the lush, psychedelic sounds of The Jigsaw Seen (The Bee Gees, The Hollies, The Left Banke, Arthur Lee, The Kinks), others are less obvious. These include their haunting take on The Yardbirds “Still I’m Sad”, an awesome version of The Who’s “Tattoo” (actually sounding like early Kinks here) and their heavy, feedback-drenched cover of Henry Mancini’s “Baby Elephant Walk”. Songs Mama Used To Sing finds The Jigsaw Seen at their finest once again as they take these influential tunes and make them their own in their own unique way. - Geoff Melton

Newspaper Taxi, April 2003


Climb on board the carousel and hold on tight as an influential melodic pop band pays heartfelt tribute to their musical icons.

I love it when bands pay homage to their musical influences; what better way to say 'thanks' to those artists who have inspired us to try writing our own songs? LA pop stalwarts The Jigsaw Seen have crafted a revealing, heartfelt tribute to their musical influences with their latest offering 'Songs Mama Used To Sing' (Vibro-phonic Records), released in November, 2002.

The Jigsaw Seen are no strangers to artist tributes, having masterminded the critically lauded "Melody Fair: Bee Gees Tribute" (Eggbert Records) in 1994, and having contributed their own unique cover versions for various tributes throughout the 1990's and beyond (The Hollies, Love and The Left Banke, among others). "Songs Mama Used To Sing" gathers five of these previously-released tracks -- along with five covers recorded in early 2002 -- into one wonderful, vibrant and wide-ranging album.

The strange, downbeat opener "Little Know Ye Who's Coming" (a somber rendering of a 19th century dirge) is the perfect setting for vocalist/multi-instrumentalist and Jigsaw Seen co-founder Dennis Davison's foreboding lead vocal. A vibrant rendition of the Who classic "Tattoo" follows, featuring the amazingly appropriate guitar work of Jigsaw Seen co-founder/producer/journeyman Jonathan Lea. In fact, all of the guitar playing on "Songs Mama Used To Sing" is far above average for the pop genre; Lea creates an appealing palette of textures, moods, effects and sounds; it's no wonder his musical prowess is highly sought after by such luminaries as Dave Davies, Kristian Hoffman and Kristi Callan (formerly of Wednesday Week).

One of the many highlights on "Songs Mama Used To Sing" is an inspired version of the Hollies' "On A Carousel", featuring a laid-back acoustic groove that quickly explodes into full-blown jangle-pop glory. Again, Davison delivers a heartfelt vocal that almost certainly reveals the influence the Hollies have had on his own musical output. Another highlight is an awesome, near-grunge version of the Henry Mancini classic "Baby Elephant Walk", featuring standout bass playing by David Nolte (currently on tour with David Gray, current member of The Wondermints, and producer/sideman for too many bands to mention here), along with some highly precise drum playing by Teddy Freese (Slojack, Spanic Boys).

The production of "Songs Mama Used To Sing" is flawless and quite sparkling. Most (if not all) of the arrangements feature unorthodox instrumentation, which I find both delightful and refreshing (how often does one hear pennywhistle, mandolin and harmonium in this day and age?). The song sequence is perfect, with each song flowing effortlessly into the next, creating a consistent, completely pleasurable listening experience. For fans of artist tributes, it just doesn't get any better than "Songs Mama Used To Sing". - Kerry Chicoine

Logo Magazine (UK), March 2003


Songs Mama Used To Sing’ sees leftfield stalwarts The Jigsaw Seen following up their 2000 Grammy nominated ‘Zenith’ with a rather different and altogether more challenging proposition. Choosing to interpret songs by some of the bands favourite artists, this Los Angeles quartet continue with their revelatory way of unifying a swooning, off-kilter melody with a rash of unconventional arrangements. Whether it’s turning Henry Mancini’s ‘Baby Elephant Walk’ into a grotesque blend of stomping riffage and rip-roaring feedback or taking The Who’s ‘Tattoo’ and spinning it inside out with the toot of a penny whistle, The Jigsaw Seen repeatedly blend each songs imprinted soul with their own inimitable pop fulcrum. With this surprisingly effervescent release The Jigsaw Seen have revealed yet another string to their rather illustrious bow.

Josh Timber

Miami Herald


Perhaps it says something about the sludge that takes up space on pop radio these days, but the number of bands turning to rock's archives to fill their repertoires seems to be on an increase in recent years. Either they've extinguished all the possibilities for rearranging the same basic chord structures, or mom and dad's record collection is getting some respect. Granted, the Strawberry Alarm Clock may never gain the accolades needed to justify a reunion, but there are plenty of other '60s stalwarts to turn to in the search for marketable material.

Judging by their newest offering, the aptly-titled Songs Mama Used To Sing, the Jigsaw Seen are not only able to make some wise cover choices but to pull them off with the skill and aplomb needed to withstand comparisons to the original renditions. While a seemingly innocuous instrumental like Henry Mancini's ''Baby Elephant Walk'' may seem like a frivolous throwaway, tackling psychedelic standards like the Who's ''Tattoo'' or the Yardbirds' ''Still I'm Sad'' is bound to invite closer scrutiny.

Granted, the lesser-known material on the 10-song work provides a certain amount of leeway -- most of today's pop fans aren't old enough to quibble with a new take on ''Luci Baines,'' Arthur Lee's ode to the daughter of former president Lyndon Johnson, or a cover of a 19th Century dirge, ''Little Know Ye Who's Coming'' -- it still takes a certain amount of savvy to bring these vintage tunes into a new millennium. Even those who have managed to go their entire lives avoiding oldies radio will find there's an irresistible charm in the reverential readings given such dusty fare as the Hollies hit ''On A Carousel'' or the Bee Gees' sweetly serene, long-forgotten ballad ``Melody Fair.''

All in all, Mama should be proud of how the Jigsaw Seen have put these pieces together.
LEE ZIMMERMAN

Mish Mash


The Jigsaw Seen is back again with more of their unique blend of 60s-styled madness which is impossible to pigeonhole. The band has never decided if they are psychedelic or garage pop, so they intertwine the two and switch back and forth without missing a beat. It can be a bit jarring at first, but they do it with such mastery, that you are taken back to a time when such sonic experimentation would be seen as innovation and not resurrection. This album culls together a motley mix of obscure covers---from the Bee Gees’ Melody Fair to Henry Mancini’s Elephant Walk, they put their unique stamp of shagadelic weirdness and make the songs their very own. All of this is packed smartly into a miniature LP cover and inner sleeve, which makes the package complete for the nostalgic set.