A Bio by Jim Wylie
Goodbye Cruel World, Palisades Park, Death Of A Clown, Tears of A Clown, Gypsies, Tramps And Thieves, The Twilight Zone intro. Circus Town has elements of all of them. It is a freakish netherworld that parodies the real one but is not bound by real world rules. It can throw you a twisted pitch or a straight one. That is what makes the songs so intriguing.
The Deadbeat Poets are four veterans of the Youngstown/Cleveland Ohio rock scene: Bass player Frank Secich was a key member of the seminal seventies powerpop band Blue Ash who later worked with Stiv Bators and The Dead Boys. Guitarist Terry Hartman comes from 80s Cleveland bands The Backdoor Men and Terry and The Tornados. Lead guitarist Pete Drivere and drummer John Koury have both been playing since the mid 80s as one half of local rock/pop legends, the Infidels. Songwriting on the album is shared by Terry and Frank who usually sing lead vocals on their own songs.
Circus Town is the follow-up to The Deadbeat Poets? 2007 Notes From The Underground debut album. The songs are all new originals and the album takes its title from Terry’s song of the same name. Picture in your mind an abandoned rusting fairground where the zombie-like crew have long since abandoned hope. All that keeps these lost souls going is whiskey and the knowledge that the show must go on. That mood is carried by the slow, grinding pace of the song and by Terry’s world-weary vocals. There is no shortage of dark humor here though with witty double-entendres popping up at every turn. Circustown, describes the real world in allegory, and although it is the last track on the CD it actually sets the scene, if not the mood, for the whole album in which the songs, like the acts in a circus, have been carefully arranged so as to entertain and provide variety.
There are many cheerful moments on this record too, like Frank’s Elvin Dabney, Professional Thief, a bouncy pop number about the cleverest of thieves, a man so confident in his ability to outsmart the law, that he even had “Professional Thief” boldly printed on his business card. Then we have what is really the album’s only straight out pop song, I Thought I Knew You, sung by John Koury and co-written by Frank and Bill “Cupid” Bartolin, Frank’s former partner in Blue Ash, who sadly passed away in October 2009. In complete contrast we have Terry’s So This Is Indiana, a cheery little ditty complete with pedal steel guitar, about a fondly-remembered childhood trip to the Hoosier state. Both songwriters use a variety of styles and each has his own trademark characteristics. While Terry’s songs tend mostly to be reflections on the human condition Frank focuses more on the surreal and on interesting individuals. My favorite among these is Staircase Stomp, a song about the stranger-than-fiction life of eccentric English record producer Joe Meek, a very gifted young sound engineer who found no scope for his creative talents in the hidebound English recording studios where he worked. In the early 1960s he set up a studio in his tiny London flat where he recorded and produced a string of No.1 hit records including the Tornados “Telstar and the Honeycombs” Have I The Right. All was not well with Joe however. It has often been said that genius and madness go hand in hand and in Meek’s case that seems to have been true. A man of many strange obsessions he believed his own hand to be guided by the spirit of the late Buddy Holly. Although his achievements raised him high his fortunes began to fade as popular trends moved on. He got into debt and then became deeply depressed after his homosexuality was exposed by the press. After shooting his landlady dead with a shotgun he then shot himself on the staircase of his flat on the 3rd of February 1967, the anniversary of Buddy Holly’s death. The song “Staircase Stomp” tells Joe’s bizarre and tragic story in the form of a rocking 1960s-style pop number complete with rinky-dink Telstar-style organ solos and strong vocal harmonies. For me, this song is the biggest highlight of the album.
My favorite among Frank’s more surreal compositions is Madras Man, a song about a strange, contorted dream sung in a slower folky style. No matter how bizarre his adventures or how far-flung the places the narrator’s story may take him the chameleon-like Madras Man unfailingly turns up to surprise and shock him in some totally off-the-wall re-incarnation. Frank takes the surreal approach again with The Postmodern Razor Wire Showdown, a humorous abstract song about modern survival on which Pete takes the lead vocal. In a world of uncertain outcomes and high stakes it’s every man for himself and only the fool who thinks he can win. In a similar but more down-to-earth vein is his “Sunglass City” the amusing, boppy tale of a dreamed of pilgrimage to the hallowed rock & roll shrines of New York City. Other high points on the album include Terry’s Just Like In The Real World, a song about how reality slowly but surely erodes away our childhood dreams, and At Least It Worked Out For You, about how those who just can’t play the sucking up game always seem to end up the losers.
Circus Town gives you as much variety, as many highs, as many lows, as much laughter and as many tears as a real circus. The only thing missing is the false facade. While the rest of the world may have run out of ideas this is one band that has not lost its sense of direction or its sense of humor. The Deadbeat Poets are 2 guitars, bass and drums with bits of keyboard, some occasional pedal steel, a bit of mandolin or accordion and some trombone thrown in. Styles range from rock back to folk and pop and there’s even a touch of country on a couple of tracks. It must be said that this band’s strongest feature is their original approach to songwriting. How original? Well for starters there is not one single love song on this CD. How many albums can you say that about? Add to that the talents of 4 very seasoned musicians from the best of Youngstown rock bands and you have a band with the ability to play those tunes with as much creative flair as they write them. Circus Town is one of the freshest-sounding albums I’ve heard in ages. If you’re tired of the same old thing and looking for something a little different, it will not disappoint.