Once again your rockin’ writer felt the need to resurrect his “Listen Again” series. For those of you just joining us, the “Listen Again” series is a series in which we revisit albums that for one reason or another didn’t receive the attention or acclaim they deserved when they were originally released. Whether it was the recording was ahead of its time, broke away from the artist’s usual style, was poorly publicized or initially misunderstood, the “Listen Again” series urges music fans to listen again. This time we revisit John Tabacco’s It’s Out There Feeding On Itself.
For those of you who still haven’t perused the previous pieces on the man, John Tabacco is a New York-based performer with an experimental L.A. attitude. He’s a composer, a recording engineer, a graphic artist, a multi instrumentalist, a producer and a singer. He’s also CEO of It Iz What It Iz Music Publishing and specializes in the genres of alternative, experimental and pop music. According to Tabacco it’s “the 20th anniversary” of It’s Out There Feeding On Itself which is his “homage to Frank Zappa”.
Of the 19-track release Tabacco states: “98% of the pieces in this collection were realized sometime between 1993 (and) 1994. It was a very productive time for me.” The CD features Tabacco (vocals, keys, drum programming, “occasional wimpy guitar; produce (and) all stages of veggineering”) and some folks regular readers have heard of including Jim Dexter, Marci Geller, Nick and Gian DiMauro and Anthony Pomes among others.
(Please view the list to learn more about Tabacco’s tunes.)
“ND & JT Preamble” and “I’ll Sell You A Lie”
The album appropriately opens on “ND & JT Preamble”. While this might give you a vague idea of Tabacco’s sense of humor it fails to reveal much about how well much of the remaining music here works as a tuneful tip of the hat to Frank Zappa. This one includes sound bites from a conversation between DiMauro and Tabacco.
It’s followed by “I’ll Sell You A Lie”. This was inspired by “The Montauk Project”. It’s clever and political enough to set the stage for a Zappa homage album and expresses Tabacco’s concern that the news media is not giving all the facts. (Funny how none of this material is dated later than 2007 and yet the message here is perhaps truer now than it ever was.)
“27 B Stroke 6” and “Fagan/Sanborn Observations”
The next number is “27 B Stroke 6”. This one includes sound bites from Nick DiMauro, and Laura Tabacco, Todd “open up your mind” Reynolds, Mr. “WE 12” 60s as well as Gerry Palisi on “Electric ‘Willy’ synchotic guitar”. This is noteworthy for the obvious inclusion of a bit of Zappa-like guitar. Tabacco elaborates: “The solo originated in another tune . . . and was resynchronized with the vamp that is actually made up of the chords from “Corny Muzak Train Of Doom”. This is a technique Zappa used . . .”
“Fagan/Sanborn Observations” follows here. This is simply another brief humorous music-related observation/sound bite from a 1986 road trip that precedes the next song. It serves as a humorous aural pallet cleanser.
”It Could Only Happen To Me”
”It Could Only Happen To Me” is more of a personal piece composed while Tabacco’s father was hospitalized. Still, while the thought is rather solitary the belief is actually nigh universal so it still works well enough here. It is quickly eclipsed, however, by the snazzy “Mama Used To Whisper In My Ear”. Tabacco borrows a bit from Marci Geller’s memorable piece “I Will Be There”. It’s good and adds something to the overall mix but the best is yet to come.
”A Page In Pog’s 5 Subject Notebook” and “It’s Him, It’s Him, it’s Him”
”A Page In Pog’s 5 Subject Notebook” is next and somehow has a very familiar sound to it. (Then again, since Tabacco has been known to recycle and borrow from even himself this might explain why it sounds listener friendly. It includes “groans and sophisticated laughter” by Jackie (op & sutter slips) Siebert.
“It’s Him, It’s Him, it’s Him” quickly follows. This one is a negative number with a show tune-like quality that evolved over the years to point the finger at a relative, a roommate, a politician and perhaps anyone else who annoyed Tabacco through the years.
”Oh Willy Oh Why?” and “Another Lonely Dancer”
Nick DiMauro takes over on lead vocals on”Oh Willy Oh Why?” This was originally a Brian Rivera song that didn’t make the cut due to tech troubles. The song focuses on “an elected official with a yen for blowjobs and cigar insertions”. It was co-composed with Nick DiMauro and features lyrics by Nick DiMauro and Kim O’Brien. Palisi effectively encores on electric guitar.
Another highlight is “Another Lonely Dancer”. This features the lovely lead vocals of smoky songstress Marci Geller. Tabacco reminds listeners that Geller “does not advocate or smoke cigarettes, cigars, etc.”
”An Act Of Violence?” and “Cilla-Sigh-Been-Root”
”An Act Of Violence?” is one of the best tracks on the album. It makes a statement and also includes some noteworthy “xeno-maniac guitar” by Anthony Pomes. It’s an excellent commentary on the human condition and fits perfectly on a tribute to Zappa.
“Cilla-Sigh-Been-Root” continues the commentary on a topic that while now more common was once generally taboo in terms of song subjects. Tabacco’s tunes of abuse are still sadly relevant although hope springs eternal in the artist’s mind.
”Sensitive Joan” and “A Little More Love Between Us”
”Sensitive Joan” is another of this group of songs that comment on how a certain portion of the populace is treated by others. This is a bit autobiographical but Tabacco readily admits the character has more troubles than he ever will. It is also another example of how he often builds a song out of other ideas and compositions.
The “Critic’s Choice” goes to “A Little More Love Between Us” which was co-composed with Donna Bach-Heitner. While the message here may not have been all that new even when the song was written the tune is catchy and (dare it be said?) has commercial possibilities. Tabacco wanted to bridge “the dirty sound of rap and its insistent rhythm with a highly melodic structure that pulled tensely against an unchanging harmonic landscape”. With Bach-Heitner’s help he certainly succeeded.
”Corny Muzak Train Of Doom” and “It’s Out There (-) Suite (Air)”
Track 17 contains Tabacco’s”Corny Muzak Train Of Doom” which is made up of elements from other cuts (“Mama Used To Whisper In My Ear” and “27 B Stroke 6”). It also includes “I Don’t Know What I’m Doin’ Babe” co-written with Dave Siegel and “Relax Breathe Deep And Hold” co-written with Gian DiMauro and features Patricia Amendolia on “New Age vox”.
The compilation moves on with the ambitious and apropos somewhat titular track “It’s Out There (-) Suite (Air)” and “Smokey Lee Webster Wrestles ‘Wid’ It” which is a collaborative effort Gian DiMauro and Jim Dexter who adds his “alien guitar contortions”. This is actually more reminiscent of The Residents or at moments Snakefinger than Zappa.
“All American Tortoise Burger Tango”
Also included here is “All American Tortoise Burger Tango” written with Gian DiMauro. Siebert encores on oral additives and DiMauro provides programming. This brief bit is focused on the artist Pen Parker who is “blowing away furiously in a serious attempt to conjure up the spirit of his dead uncle” the late Charlie Parker.
“I’m Gonna Wait!!!” and ”Everybody Wants To . . .”
“I’m Gonna Wait!!!” may very well be “uncommercial” but works well into the whole college radio concept. On a personal note, it does indeed serve to keep one’s “mind off that painful root canal sh*t”.
The album’s end-note,”Everybody Wants To . . .” which includes improvised lyrics and lead vocals by Nick DiMauro in an apt closing cut to the work. Overall, Tabacco’s signature sound and sense of humor may have grown but has still remained consisted at its core. In his own words: “I know it’s a while ago but I think the songs still stand on their own.” Quite simply, he’s still trying to “Share A Little More Love Between Us”.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.