Salads and Ballads
Tom Hedrick is a curious figure in underground American pop music. He is one of the few contemporary talents that, while obviously rooted in ‘60s Ameri-pop, he exhibits no overt derivation from any particular artist – a difficult task indeed given his employment of familiar 4/4 backbeats, electric guitars, and other combo accruements commonplace since 1964. Perhaps that’s precisely the charm: that Hedrick’s take on pop is essentially his own amalgam. This curious concoction – with one foot firmly planted anywhere between 1965 and 1971 – includes addictive sing-songy melodies, and singular (at times peculiar) lyric content.
Hedrick released his first solo endeavour, As If!, in late 2002. Although there was rumour of a follow-up as recently as 2006 (tentatively titled either Let’s All Sing In Esperanto, Uncle Timbo’s Black Magic Farm, or I Got 5 Bucks and its Saturday Night – depending on how much Colt 45 your local blogger has been consuming), the sessions apparently never saw the light of day. It’s unknown if these new selections were salvaged from that project. In any event, nearly 6½ years later, Tom’s sophomore solo release is finally ours for the taking. Using As If! as a musical guide, Salads And Ballads will take most listeners by surprise on first listen. (Probably the same experience Kinks fans recalled when they whipped out Face to Face hot on the feels of The Kink Kontroversey; or what Ray Conniff fans endured when Ray Conniff Plays Vanilla Fudge followed “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” with “Old Black Joe” and 12 Other Songs.)
Salads And Ballads appears as a more personal work; indeed, it is very much a one-man show – notwithstanding the significant contributions from female vocalist, Lori Shepard. During the past 6+ years, Tom has become a father and moved his family about the country a tad – such events no doubt will have their considerable say when it comes time to pull out the easel, canvas, and whatnots.
The set opens with A Picture of the World. I\'m still not altogether sure what this is about – a code of living with forward promise, perhaps. I like the I II IV V chords; and that deep, robust electric bass. Nice use of synth horns to build the arrangement. Taste, Touch and Smell is well programmed as the second selection. Wonderful lyrics and a cool hook mark this piece. Nice use of the female voice (Ms. Shepard sings very well – excellent sense of pitch and a pleasant feminine voice). The line, \"To tell you that it\'s ugly, better yet I\'d call it fug-ly!\" is a hoot. This one\'s got that great Beach Boys/Love You sound (growling bass and guitar wash). More cool synth horns are present and, daddy, dig that crazy “vocalese” (for lack of a better term) fade.
Happy Isn\'t Satisfied. The simple lullaby quality is an attractive solo feature for Ms. Shepard. The uncomplicated, plaintive ending is memorable. Big Silver Ball is a beautiful ballroom 3/4. Presuming this is autobiographical, the happy/sad quality and content seem to suggest a childhood event of somber proportions. The imagery is fascinating and unlike anything known from Hedrick’s writing to date. The tension [I III-minor II V] and release [IV I V I] is sweet and classic in its traditional feel. (I particularly like the string voicing [II minor 9th].)
Oh Dear, Pluto! Takes us into the realm of As If! This likable song is notable for a funny backbeat sound [wHACKKa wHACKKa] and a strong B-Section [I-minor IV II-minor V] – very \'60s-esque. Similar, too, is Jefferson Davis – an excursion into 1800s Americana expectedly featuring another set of very clever lyrics. \"Sitting under a tree... Sherman\'s after me...\" and other assorted pleasantries. (Of course, calling the old fig, “Jeffery”, is a whole ‘nother matter. Makes me wonder if those Tom Leher EPs and LPs got a workout in the Hedrick household. Hallelujah, Mother Dixie! indeed.)
Sunday Dinner. Like Happy Isn’t Satisfied, this abstruse piano feature is immediately noted for its curious, unfamiliar style – within the context of previous Hedrick compositions. To my ears, it seems more akin to a “tone poem + accompanying essay” – than a song per se. Probably because I’ve been throwing pennies away for 20 years now, Save The Penny is handicapped from being a fond listen for this pair of ears. (To that end, I throw out nickels and dimes as well.)
Shoot Me Into Space essentially wraps up this release on a strange-o note. The best part is the last section with all that \"wanna see the planets passing by… gonna be a lifeless astronaut…\" business. One can’t help but put his/her best smile on – knowing full well that Hedrick must’ve nearly smothered himself in mirth during this recording. This is one of the rare times where Ms. Shepard’s contributions don\'t really add much...perhaps it’s because she’s not a lifeless astronaut. Hard to say when dealing with space songs, you know?
Tom Hedrick makes unique and memorable music. At this time, he is distinguished for creating his own imaginative jumble of ‘60s pop hook-laden melodies and uncommon lyric content. Candidly, I\'m not a fan of sampled drums, though Tom’s more-than competent bass and guitar help to make up for the absent drum chair. As for the vocalist chair – it goes without saying that he is a first-chair…or at least first chaise lounge. Let\'s hope we don\'t hafta wait another 6 years for Son of Salads and Ballads. I mean if that’s the case, then maybe he’ll finally issue Let’s All Sing In Esperanto. It’ll be worth the wait…well maybe – depends on what the price gas will be in 6 years…as well as whether there’ll even be any records stores anymore. As if!
Shoot me into space, daddy.
As if it hasn’t been six years since Tom Hedrick’s last release. As if his fans weren’t eagerly awaiting new material from this gifted singer/songwriter. Thankfully, Hedrick has returned with a brilliant follow up to his 2002 release, “As If”. The new cd, “Salads and Ballads”, features vocals by Lori Shepard, the only additional musician helping out on the cd.
Opening with “A Picture of the World”, Hedrick paints an idyllic picture of how things could be. From the punchy metal of the opening guitar and drums, to the seamless harmonies on the chorus, to the Tower of Power horns, this song just makes you smile. This track is a perfect segue to “Taste, Touch, and Smell”—similar in its use of stripped down chords, driving beat, horns, and again, beautiful harmonies, yet completely different in melody and meaning from track 1.
Hedrick uncharacteristically opens up his softer side on this cd. Songs like “Happy Isn’t Satisfied”, “Sunday Dinner”, and “Sweet Angels” showcase the depth of his songwriting skills. “Happy Isn’t Satisfied” features Ms. Shepard’s lovely voice backed only by Hedrick’s guitar. “Sunday Dinner” is a melancholic reflection, with the surprise accompaniment of a piano. “Sweet Angels” features the most ethereal vocals in a touching tribute to Hedrick’s young daughter. He poignantly voices every parent’s wishes for the health and happiness of their own children.
And then, there are the tracks in the style that we are most accustomed to: quirky, witty lyrics, set to catchy riffs and melodies. “The Big Silver Ball” is my personal favorite. Think of it as “Penny Lane” meets “Lola”. He has captured the musicality of McCartney and the unexpected lyrics of Ray Davies. What may not be as entirely clear as Lola’s gender by the end of the Kinks song is that “The Big Silver Ball” is a reference to a young child having his temperature taken back in the days before digital thermometers.
“Shoot Me Into Space” is another favorite of mine. I feel like I’m watching The Jetsons every time the chorus comes on. This song is about Hedrick’s wishes for his remains. You got it: burial and cremation are not what he has in mind!
Continuing Hedrick’s bid to reinvigorate the old “Schoolhouse Rock” anthems (think back to “As If”’s “James K. Polk”), Hedrick’s “Oh, Dear Pluto!”, “the twangy “Jefferson Davis”, and “Save the Penny” are, like the best Schoolhouse Rock anthems, easy to sing along with yet educational at the same time. “Save the Penny” features Billy Preston keyboards and lyrics for today’s kids: “And if you think a penniless country made a humdinger, that old Consumer Price Index would be more like a middle finger”. Wow—economics! There is a theme to these three songs—Hedrick is clearly rooting for the underdog. Pluto’s demotion as a planet, Davis’ Civil War defeat, and the plight of the controversial penny.
I know the trend nowadays is to download individual tracks, and each and every one of Hedrick’s songs can certainly stand on its own, but there is something to be said for a well thought-out and well laid-out cd. Hedrick clearly gave a lot of thought to how the songs would flow together, and if you are able to give the entire cd a listen, I don’t think you will be the least bit disappointed.