Lazlo’s Ninth Anniversary Show, Nov.7 @ Buddies Tavern, Parlin, NJ
Buddies Tavern is a cozy neighborhood bar that has an Elks Hall vibe and a super friendly staff. It’s been around since the Bailey family started it in 1952 and probably hasn’t changed much since then. The one major change came in the form modern musical focus courtesy of booking guru Mike Grau, long time guitarist for The Marbles, The Munchee Bunkers and several others.
The laid back atmosphere combined with Grau’s philosophy of putting more focus on real talent instead of ticket sales had my old school chums murmuring in awe at the bold lack of cover charge—sipping their Stella Artois they wondered, “Can this be the real deal?” Yes, it can be. In this dead age of “the more heads through the door, the better you must be” business Grau steadfastly holds faith in the groups and the people that come out to see them and for the last several years that way of thinking has been working well with everything from locals to touring bands.
And if that doesn’t grab you, wander into Buddies some Thursday or Friday night and jump into their “World Series Of Poker,” an event that takes place every week at the old school bar. Ah yes, gambling, Jackie the bar maid and alcohol, my favorite combination and a perfect set of reasons for Lazlo of Lazlo’s Den to call this port home.
Lazlo has been hosting shows at Buddies probably since The Broadway Central Café shut down, matter of fact, on any given night you can find the much of the Broadway Central crew here, along with the various players like John Gray, Joe Canzano, Keith Beck, Zigman Bird, Tony the kid (who also does great sound) and even Wayne (they must stash a bottle of Chartreuse) showing up to mingle and play.
Joshua Van Ness hit the stage first showcasing his blues-influenced rock and soul thing and then jumping into a fully functional jazz-influenced direction. His youth is deceitful, as he’s shared bills with headliners such as Richie Havens, Dug Pinnik & Jerry Gaskill. Playing tunes from his last CD, DNA, Van Ness went through a dozen or so tunes like “Skyline Dreams” and “Get Together” before handing it off to the Christian Beach duo.
Featuring guitar, piano, and mandolin, Beach and his eight-string sidekick (who only goes by the name of “Gorgo”) showcased a set steeped in Smoky Mountain folkie bluegrass. Pulling tunes off his latest self-titled disc, their harmonies were tight and performed as if they were on the front porch of their mountain shack. Songs such as “Open Spaces” and the Bonnie and Clyde-ish story “Poet Of The Great Plains” had everyone paying close attention to this dynamic duo.
Local fave John Caspi was up next, giving the room his Jersey blue collar rock and roll mojo. Strats, teles and bass fueled fun ala John Cafferty and an old Huey Lewis vibe with tunes like “Drive” and “Riverbed.” Also on the bill was a band called The Tea And Whiskey, which hails from the influential grounds of Tom Waits, Elvis Costello and The Future Kings Of Nowhere.
Lazlo has been a steadfast live music mainstay for over nine years now as well as providing radio refuge for people tired of mainstream radio’s exclusion of original New Jersey bands. As Lazlo himself states, “Some NJ stations claim to be ‘Jersey’s Rock Radio,’ but their idea of ‘Jersey rock’ is playing a Bruce Springsteen or Bon Jovi song. We all know New Jersey’s rock scene is more than two good bands.” Check out his site for more great shows at lazlosden.com and bands, go get a show or find out who’s playing Buddies Tavern at myspace.com/buddiestavernbookings.
Lauren Pennington / Spun
When I was a young guitar player I accomplished some pretty good things, but to get them I spent much time running into wall after wall due to my lack of guidance and know-how. I pretty much had to learn everything the hard way and that ain’t a lot of fun. But in the year 2009 there are plenty of great musicians and industry people out there waiting to help budding talent if you decide to let them in, and in Lauren Pennington’s case she’s opened the door wide. Her new CD is titled Spun and features old school guidance from several well-known industry cats.
Pennington is a quiet presence on the Shoreworld turf, full of lyrical insight and passion, and like most bonafide talents on the scene, largely underground. When I opened the CD jacket I immediately recognized Jon Leidersdorf, owner, operator and producer at Lakehouse Music, and co-writer on Pennington’s latest project. Also on board is big gun Gary Lucas, a guy best known for his work with Captain Beefheart and Jeff Buckley (Gary co-wrote two of Jeff Buckley’s most famous hits, “Grace” and “Mojo Pin,” which later became the title track and the opening track on Jeff’s double platinum Sony album Grace), the above mentioned Freddie Fry who’s been around so many famous gunslingers it makes me want to cry, long-time lap steel troubadour Joe Harvard, Peter Meyers, and the ignitable Tommy Fuller, a guitarist who’s co-written with Dave Mason and Frankie Previte, had Fleetwood Mac cover one of his tunes, played with U2, Bruce Springsteen and Pine Top Perkins, done movie soundtracks and, good Lord, the list is stupid crazy.
All of this awesome experience plays out on Pennington’s Spun, a 10-song journey into life’s exploration of highs, lows and in-betweens put side by side with killer musicianship, passion and heartfelt exploration of sound. Lauren’s voice is reminiscent of a young Carol King with its dusky jeweled resonance, harmony and smooth tone. The production of Leidersdorf here is reserved and simple, not loaded with distractions or effects and allowing content to shine through quite well.
Best songs on the disc are “Life,” a Liedersdorrf/Pennington “penned” number that shines bright and airy with rhythmic acoustics, cool back beats, catchy pop choruses and chimey electrics ala the Traveling Wilburys meets Brenda Carlisle charm. The Frye composition “With Love In Her Heart” features Fuller and Frye with their “Youngblood’s” vibe, pairing Fuller’s lucid acoustics with Frye’s ukulele skills and Lauren’s trippy, hippy vox.
“Love Like This” is a bouncy, funky romp that features the intricate fretwork of Gary Lucas. Utilizing echo-drenched bends, trills and melodic note snow sprinkled over organs, tight bass, drums and the sexy cool vocals actually allows you to hear the fun he’s having here. This isn’t for the grumpy at heart, its all fun, baby.
“Ghosts” has a distinct Joni Mitchell vibe, which I love. Unusual chords and lots of nuance make this a stand out song that will take you back to click clacks, platform shoes and days and days of Aquarius sunshine. B3’s, Wurlitzer’s and finger-picked acoustics push this tune into Pennington’s dreamy tripped vocal as Peter Myers backs her up well.
The end of the disc picks up into more boisterous alt rock territory with “Had To Leave” and “Too Curious To Quit” and both show me that Lauren can step up with the rest of the rockers and hold her own when she’s plugged in. Good stuff from someone who I really don’t see enough of on the Jersey scene. Spun displays Pennington’s ability to pass between genres, moods, feelings and worlds and arrive at a sound that she can truly call her own. Go visit Lauren over at her site and demand to see her live. myspace.com/laurenpennington.