If the digital revolution has done nothing else for us, it has released the demons buried by the passage of time. Monstrous demons. Amazing demons. And there is no demon more monstrous and amazing than Green Pajamas' The Complete Book of Hours. There is no doubt in my mind that their recent and most excellent Poison In the Russian Room was one of the top albums released last year, but how could an album recorded over twenty years ago--- twenty years!--- bump up against that kind of quality? I have no idea, but it does.
Of course, it is a different Jeff Kelly, a much younger and less disillusioned Jeff Kelly. Age and cigarettes have not yet given a rougher texture to the youthful voice and there is a slightly more positive view. Slightly. There is that unmistakable Kelly aura to the songs he contributes, though, and the jump from then to now is not that huge of a jump. The shocking fact is that from then to now spans 22 GP albums, eight solo albums and the two Goblin Market albums. I have some catching up to do.
Book of Hours also shows another and completely unexpected side of the Pajamas--- that of Steve Lawrence and Bruce Haedt. Lawrence has a leaning toward sunshine pop and psych that's almost unnerving. You remember the song the guy sang in the movie Uptown Girls? Lawrence could have written it (when I heard My Red Balloon, it was so evident). And then there is the Strawberry Alarm Clock-like organ on the harder-edged Stand In the Light (along with the sustained-tone fuzz guitar). Falling Through the Hole is as good a look back at psych pop as you will ever hear, the whiny Farfisa organ sound offset by the plucking of the twelve-string, the electronically altered voice and the driving bass--- and how about that 'mind collage' in the middle? Outstanding. To my ears, Haedt heads in a whole 'nother direction than the others in the band. He leans toward the psych side, as does Kelly and Lawrence, but adds a certain early Talking Heads influence which is intriguing. The last half of Stand To Reason could easily have been a cover of something off of Talking Heads: 77 (after a very pop-py first segment). And the rhythm and sound of Big Surprise is straight out of the David Byrne soundbook as is Higher Than I've Been and don't think that's a negative. All are killer tracks and are definitely Bruce Haedt.
Jeff Kelly? The guy is from another planet. I could go through each Kelly-penned track on this album but it would turn into a novelette. When I heard The Pajamas' Fairy Queen off of the Poison album, I was overwhelmed. Two versions (that's right--- two versions) of a song which could run away with anyone's head and both wrapped in psychedelic clothing from a perfect world. I hear Kelly. I get Kelly. His music floors me. So when I heard the faux horns worthy of Len Barry's 1-2-3 in the leadoff track Paula and the embryo of Fairy Queen in Men In Your Life, I was beside myself. And track after track, he gives me more reason to follow him as a musician. The trombone on the bridge of The First Rains of September; the almost uncharacteristic country rock flavor of Walking In the Rain with its Brit guitar; the orchestration on the six-minute-plus Under the Observatory; the beautifully structured Time of Year, the chorus carrying the background and the bagpipe of Doug Maxwell a perfect touch--- and that ending--- just long enough, just short enough.
Tom Dyer, Green Monkey's prexy, makes mention that The Complete Book of Hours took a good two years to put together. They wanted to create the penultimate album, he says. You can hear it. There is not a track on the album that sounds like it was rushed, not a twist or turn that sounds out of place. This is one of only a few albums in my collection I go out of my way to hear front-to-back in one sitting. I love the songs, but I crave hearing them in sequence. They just make sense that way, you know?
Back to reality. Sadly, Steve Lawrence is no longer with us, but Lawrence recorded on his own as well. One track, Julia, crawled from the basement on last year's 2-disc Green Monkey compilation, It Crawled From the Basement. I'm hoping there is more. Bruce Haedt has more. My good friend Howie Wahlen mentioned that he had a cassette listed on the Green Monkey archive list--- Miss Lyons Looking Sideways (GM cassette 020)--- and thought that it might have been recorded previous to the release of Book of Hours. After hearing both of these guys on this album, I'm starting a search. They're worth searching for.
They're streaming Book of Hours on the Green Monkey website through the end of this month (April 2010). If you have an inkling of desire to listen to the album, or just have a curiosity about what psych pop is all about, I suggest a visit. While you're at it, check out the Basement compilation. It has an outstanding booklet which runs down the history of Dyer's involvement with the Green Pajamas and a host of other bands which should have ruled Seattle before the Grunge Age but which ended up serving instead. That was a golden age. Book of Hours is a golden album. There's lots of gold in them thar hills... in Seattle. And the greenest green you've ever seen.... wha? Okay. Sorry.
Frank O. Gutch Jr.
(Frank Gutch Jr. writes and has written for numerous magazines and websites, presently including this blog, his own website and the prestigious Don't Believe A Word I Say site put together by musician and music pundit Bob Segarini, out of Toronto. He specializes in the Indies, having fought hand-to-hand combat with major record labels for decades (talk about zombies). He believes music should be the core of the music business, though business it mostly be, and denies the accepted reality in the stead of the artistic one. Seldom does he receive pay for articles and/or reviews and believes that there is no place for negatives in a world in which one cannot keep up with the positives. He is, in a sense, a lost soul in a sea of music, drowning, but drowning gratefully.)