Randy Newman commented: “Most songwriters want to be taken seriously and they’re terrified of being humorous because they think they’ll get dismissed as a novelty.” Maybe that’s why the recording artists discussed in this series are not household names. Still, someone out there must appreciate a good sense of humor or there’d be no comedy clubs in L.A. (or anywhere else)!
John Tabacco is a multi-talented artist. He’s a composer, a graphic artist, a multi instrumentalist, a producer, a recording engineer and vocalist. He is also the CEO of It Iz What It Iz Music Publishing and works in multiple music genres. This edition of “Comedic Cuts” will focus on but one of the previously-profiled performer’s discs: Hits Duh Bah Tomb Lion. He said that this album “is from a foursome of discs I finished around 1999-2002 at Sonic Underground (a studio I co-owned with Paul Michael Barkan, Marci Geller and her husband Gian).” It includes 13 tracks and has a running time of just less than 57 minutes.
The lead-in here is titled “All Ermerican Bumble Bat”. This one is reminiscent of both material from the old Dr. Demento radio show and material off The Residents’ Commercial Album. The next two tracks, “The Bottom Line (movement 1)” and “The Bottom Line (movement 2)” lay out the main theme of this album.
The first movement features Bradley Thunderbird Phoenix and Nick DiMauro in an interview piece with Tabacco that even without voice distortion is interesting. The second movement is a piece born of improvisation. It features additional guest artists including: Susan Battley on “The Bottom Line”, Meryl Mathews on keyboards, Teddy Kumple on expansion guitar, Letty Fores doing “Please Fence Me In”, the talents of Nigey Lennon as well as Marci Geller reading a piece that asks the most important question here: “Oh man, what’s going on in that guy’s brain?”
Tabacco explains that one of the main themes to this CD “deals with the obsession and presumed value of money.” “There They Were/Everybody Suffers The Bottom Line/Memphis Pie Hat” follows. It is a block of spoken word, singing and instrumental work. Tabacco notes: “there are also musings on whether or not I am wasting my time recording organized sound when there may be more important things to do and learn in this dimension. So far, I have not come to any solid conclusions.” Witness work such as “If You Leave To Go Outside/Balloon Farting Contest/I Can Hardly Hold My Food Down #1” and “JTTK’s Bottom Line/How Much Does Evil Cost?/She’s A Big Dreaming Kabloona” which features encore contributions from guitarist Kumpel and vivacious vocalist Geller and also includes Jim Dexter’s “Big Talk”.
“Critic’s Choice” goes to “Everyone’s An Animal/BTP Under The Tyranny Of The Clock”. It’s got a fun opening number with “Master Grunster” Scotto Savitt and rockin’ guitar by Paul Kayen and Dave Soloman. Also included here are more vocals by Geller, Gian and Nick DiMauro as well as co-composer Meryl Matthews and Donna Bach. It also features a closing monologue by Phoenix that begins with a personal explanation and inexplicably moves into an all too typical modern day “history lesson” on Columbus. Again though, the whole “mixed bag” of unexpected tricks is what makes Tabacco’s material unique.
“Vista Allocation/Rudolf’s Annoying Bottom Line” follows. It was co-written with Gian DiMauro. It contains an outtake from “Rudolph Don’t Burn Out Your Red Nose” and mouth farts and drum loop work by DiMauro. (Your crusty chronicler may have finally found a piece too odd to include on even one of his Christmas playlists.) Still, kudos to this crew for quoting the Oxford English Dictionary!
Marci Geller groupies will consider “Same Now More Or Less” a must have hit. Indeed, Tabacco says “Marci Geller is on a few tracks so if you like her voice, it’s here.” The indie songstress is backed by Guitarist Jim Dexter and Tabacco too joins in on guitar and keyboards.
“The Bottom Line Is King/Mitch On Top Of Mitch” is the next number and is a mash-up of improvisation, music and dramatic readings. The opening includes the talents of Gian DiMauro and Anthony Pomes on vocals while the second part, co-written by bassist Mitch Cohn, contains contributions by Cohn, drummer Kevin Dunne and a noteworthy musical montage by Tabacco himself.
“Keeps On Turning Once Again/Time Will Come/Unconsenting Cereal Kittens & Godhetaw” is drawn from a live recording by the Gear Head Freaks. It includes more of Gian DiMauro (keyboards and vocals), Tabacco (rhythm and vocal), Pomes (lead guitar), Cohn (bass) and Dunne (drums). Also appearing here as The Gearettes are Deborah Jones, Nicole McKenna and last but not least Geller. This leads into a cover of a Ben Turner tune and ends on the interesting albeit peculiar piece featuring an artist who prefers to be known only as JS due to contractual obligations.
Pat Adkins puts in a performance in the familiar story titled “Quit Your Job-Move To Las Vegas”. The CD closes with “Depressing Bottom Line Waltz” in which Tabacco cannot help but sing out his definition of the depressing bottom line: “This stupid f*cking life leaves me cold”.
Tabacco is in some ways similar to Captain Beefheart in that his material may require multiple listening to fully grasp everything. Listening to his material is sometimes like listening to an underground version of Dennis Miller. Tabacco himself admitted: “There are a lot of references in it that refer to CDs gone past and that makes it difficult to digest if you’ve never heard any of them.”
In truth, even if you don’t get it all the first time, you’ll probably get enough of it to be entertained and a college education and a wee bit of musical knowledge doesn’t hurt either. Tabacco refers to this work as a “piece of self indulgence”. He also asks an important question: “Is it entertaining self-indulgence?” and concludes: “I’ll leave that up to you”.
Let’s be honest; many of us have gotten stoned at a party and sat around a tape recorder singing, making jokes and going on rants. Imagine how good those tapes would be if you and your friends had good recording equipment, exceptional musical knowledge, actual talent AND you rerecorded everything totally sober. Got the picture now? John Tabacco’s Hits Duh Bah Tomb Lionis a wee bit of political satire, a thematic statement about the priorities of the music industry and just an interesting, unusual slice of life on CD.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.