John Tabacco is a multi-talented performer known in some circles from New York to Los Angeles. He’s a composer, a graphic artist, a recording engineer, a multi instrumentalist, a producer and vocalist. He’s also the CEO of It Iz What It Iz Music Publishing and works mainly in the genres of alternative, experimental and pop music.
As briefly noted in a previous profile piece, his most recent disc, Audio Artifacts for the Dubious CLOUD is the final part of a trilogy. Tabacco elaborates: “(The music is) “based around a college radio show—“Clam Radio”—I do with the seriously gifted singer-songwriter, Susan DeVita.” Due to some marketing issues Tabacco was unable to “deliver a triple set to the digital retailers” adding” So I broke them up into separate discs.”
The music was recorded from 2010 through 2011. Specifically, Tabacco describes the material here as a mixture of the previous two parts that includes “some new songs, some old (stripped) and some instrumentals.” The album contains 23 tracks of Tabacco’s original although sometimes inspired material.
Tabacco handles all lead vocal, acoustic guitar, bass and programming responsibilities occasionally assisted by an assortment of other artists. Like the previous two discs in this trilogy, the lead-in here is another Clam Radio cut–“Clam Radio Samba”–originally designed for promotional purposes. It’s got a nice Tom Waits feel to it.
“Critic’s Choice” goes to “We Won’t Take Your Crap!”. It’s a heartfelt protest piece originally inspired by the 2010 BP Gulf Of Mexico oil spill. Ya gotta love stuff like this, ya know? Plus Tabacco had the foresight to generally write lyrics that could be applied to similar situations where the little guy is going up against a more powerful force.
“All Things We Need” stands out because it features Jim Dexter with some interesting acoustic guitar and drum programming work. Other highlights here include “Drum Sola en Oddifax.” Largely an instrumental, this takes JT slightly out of his comfort zone in that he himself acknowledges his limits as a drummer and yet still chose to record this piece. It earns a listen for that alone. It also includes a guitar solo by Chris Pati and a strange chat with Nick DiMauro.
“Gorgo Twain Comes Out Of The Closet” is a live track. Here Tabacco is backed by Pati on drums, Mike Nemirov on bass, Meryl Mathews on congas and Nick and Gian DiMauro, Donna Bach and Scotto “Breakfast anytime” Savitt on backing vocals. Marci Geller even makes an appearance here on what is essentially an entertaining, impromptu imperfectly recorded performance at a Backdoor Studios get together.
“Last Song” is next. This one—inspired by an idea and some assorted lyrics by Walt Sarget—is a tuneful tale about a man on death row who could care less about his “last meal’ but instead wants to sing a “last song”. It’s clever and as Tabacco once put it is reminiscent of “a low rent Billy Joel comedy song”.
The block of memorable music continues with “Holy Christ!”. It’s an anti-new age number that while ever so slightly sacrilegious is a catchy cut and undeniably entertaining. This is perfect for those moments when you just don’t give a f*ck.
“Feels So Good This Time (3 Solos)” follows here. This is another instrumental (with occasional backing vocals by Tabacco and Heather Rushforth). It adds something new to the mix with Stan Delman on the alto sax, Gerry Palisi on electric guitar and Mathews returning to play the piano.
“Sugar Is the Devil” is a track that Tabacco waves off as “just a personal observation”. Your crusty chronicler thinks Tabacco is missing a marketing opportunity here. This silly song could be sold to Jenny Craig, Overeaters Anonymous or included on a music mix for hipper doctors’ offices. There are plenty of folks lacking self-control who would love this one! It could be hymn number one at the Church of Blame It On Anyone Or Anything But Myself!
“Ballet For Inebriated Marionettes”earns a mention if only because Tabacco was even able to come up with the idea of this piece. While driving around listening to a portion of this piece—originally off another album—Tabacco says he “imagined a puppeteer trying his best to tell a story with seriously wasted puppets he found lying crushed under a box of Neumann microphones nobody cared about in an attic. ‘Puppets! Puppets! Where are my puppets?’ Marci Geller squeaked back in 1995. Well . . . here they are. Barely.”
“A Romance With Radiation” includes another guest appearance as Dave Seigel provides a keyboard sample and a bit of inspiration here. Tabacco has had this one hidden away “in solitary confinement since 1994”. It’s a little strange but that’s what makes it work.
“Sawtayin’ The Horse” was little more than a mic test. Still, wouldn’t you love to play this one for PETA (or just show them the title)? It managed to catch the attention of your crusty chronicler’s youngest son—13 year-old William Jared James Phoenix—even if he wasn’t sure exactly what to make of it.
It’s followed by “Xmas Evening”. Vaguely reminiscent of the kind of stuff The Beatles used to include on their Christmas messages to their fans, this was composed “on the spot” inspired by The Inkspots. It sure would make an interesting additional to any Christmas music mix.
“Goodbye Blue Monday” earns a mention for a few reasons. The title was inspired by/borrowed from a novel by Kurt Vonnegut, the lyrics lift a line from a Captain Beefheart cut and the piece also features an outtake from Susan Devita’s “To The End Of The World”. Tabacco is even backed by guitarist Steve Briody on this one.
“The End Of The Beginning” is interesting in that the lyrics were originally written to the tune of Jimmy Webb’s classic “Wichita Lineman”. Unfortunately, Webb did not grant clearance and Tabacco was stuck until he sat down with Peter Kearns who provided “some (new) chords and melodies” as well as drum, bass and keyboard work for this cut.
“Drain Pipe Card Connectors” is the closing cut. This is another spoken word piece that Tabacco put music under later. The dramatic reading was done by Patricia Amendolia. This is an artistic end to an assortment of interesting oddities and musical mash-ups that serve quite well as an aural pallet cleanser for those too consumed by corporate crap.
While Tabacco once joked with your rockin’ reviewer about his lack of major “commercial” success being due to his last name, his slightly strange surname may well have been a blessing in disguise. Indeed, his material remains all the more original and interesting free of any major label influence. It bears repeating: sometimes the world needs artists who think outside the box.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.