Shoreworld: Scott Liss & the Sixty Six and the Seaside Music Festival

Scott Liss & the Sixty-Six, The Blackpool Letters

Scott Liss and crew are poster boys of risk here, mixing many expansive musical influences and scoring big on The Blackpool Letters. I admire the skill and patience spent culling sounds and sculpting flytrap arrangements on this cd. As Scott says, “Watching it take shape as the songs and through the production is the best part. I love the creative process the most. I could spend days, weeks, in the studio doing nothing but writing and recording, experimenting with sounds and techniques.”

Produced by Liss in conjunction with Paul Ritchie (Parlor Mob), the disc owes its edgy dark sound in part to Scott’s penchant for alternate tunings, especially the use of an open D (primarily for tone color) as it allows him to focus on the movement of internal melody and gives him a better grip on chord development. The CD was recorded at John Noll’s Retromedia Studios in Red Bank as well as Joey DeMaio’s Shore Fire in Long Branch. Kick in help from friends like Nicole Atkins and Dave Rosen and you really can’t go wrong.

The Blackpool Letters jumps right out of the gate with “Shotgun.” Deeply reverbed piano (slightly de-tuned) and understated synths roll quietly before waking you up with heavy double time drum hits and big coarsely chopped guitar downstrokes. Alternative by nature, this is my favorite rocker on the disk. Performance highlight is when Scott’s last vocal note of the chorus lingers to melt brilliantly into the first two measures of the bridge before fading. And even though Liss has nothing to do with Ozzy, the lead work of Dave Rosen jumps in out of left field with tonal qualities of Randy Rhoades. Frenetic synthetic and expressively manic, its Hungarian (harmonic) minor mode blasts this standout into its ending chorus like buckshot thru a stop sign.

Another standout on the disc is the hypnotic cotton gin blues vibe of “Miles,” mixing the big guitar riffs and rhythm style of Billy Squire and the infective melodic soul of Robert Johnson and Willie Dixon. Frugal and crafty, “Miles” shows some of the productive smarts of Paul Ritchie and his use give and take arrangement. Building in dynamic layers, Ritchie clears the road for each distinct sector of this unique song. Percussion, background vocals and kill switch blasts of Zeppelin-esque psychedelia bursts out on the tag end of the choruses and put this in the top five for me.

“The Body Breaks” shows the melancholy pop side of SL & the Sixty Six. Pensive melody sets this dark star up with simple guitar, tambourine and drums before the Sixty Six comes in; surreal background vocals wrap up behind Liss, ghostly smooth and splashed bright with tambourine hits in this “Beach Boys of the underworld” composition. Ratcheted maracas surge at the bridge along downtuned bass drum and loosely chopped acoustics, re-directing the listener back on the catchy chorus. This is a great contender for airplay.

As a fan of the instrumental, I can’t help but appreciate the CD’s title track. Dark and analog warm, it gives off the magic vibe of Italian composer Ennio Morricone. It’s stark, simple and understated composing, and you’ll love it.

One of the two tracks on the disk that features horn arrangements, “At First Light” is a full undertaking here. A sparse intro consisting of vocal and guitar showcase the versatility of Liss’ voice and ease of range. When the band finally does kick in (2:30 into the song), it’s a great big celebration of sound. Horns glide over the top as the band waltzes with pianos and electric guitars throughout the section.

Phenomenal background assists from friends are here as well. Just when you think this wave of Phil Spector sound will ride out the song, it’s gone, replaced by Liss and guitar before hitting you one more time, leaving you to push the replay button more than once.

There is so much more on here that I don’t have room to cover; however, I will say that The Blackpool Letters is a scary calling card of monstrous production, talent and performance. It may be hard for pop aficionados to buy into but who cares? Scott Liss and the Sixty-Six are the area’s rising secret weapon and there is no way in hell this band won’t go on to bigger and better things. My advice would be to immediately buy this disc and see these guys locally before they wind up in New York or LA.

The Seaside Music Festival—May 21-22

In the early 1900s, it was a challenge to come up with a scheme to build on oceanfront property and attract people to come there. Now, generations later, the little town of Seaside Heights has received so much attention that it’s a wonder they haven’t transplanted The Brooklyn Bridge to Tom’s River just so tourists would be more comfortable crossing into the land of sun and sea. The lure of Seaside Heights is legendary for attracting every type of person to this family-oriented town.

The clubs may pack in the rowdy twenty-something group, but the boardwalk still commands the real tourism dollars with the booths, games and rides that have been staples here since the turn of the century. Casino Pier boasts one of only two surviving American-made classic carousels in the state of New Jersey and it’s been in the same place since 1932.

The Seaside Music Festival is only in its third year, but they have made great strides as far as getting the boardwalk community behind them. Continuity between businesses and city teamwork were clear this weekend thanks to festival co-producer Mike Schwartz. Fellow co-promoters Ryan Sharkey and Jose Anteo were also ready with street teams out in force to keep things moving. This year’s event also had many loyal return participants such as The Aztec Ocean Resort and Sandbar, The Beach Bar, El Camino and Jack and Bills down the boardwalk as well as several others. Without these stalwarts there would be no festival; it’s a combination of geographic locations, logistics and a community that remains open to new things.

The entertainment was everything from daytime surfing lessons to national acts like Glenn Tilbrook from Squeeze. Highlights were of course the action at The Aztec’s brand new Sandbar with Bands such as Midnight Electric (formerly Outside The Box) and Jo Wymer, Blondesense and Scott Rednor band that put May 21 on the festival map.

Klees and Jack and Bills reported smooth sailing with Captain James and the Pain, Joe Harvard, Colie Brice and others. Saturday featured artists on the big beach stage. New Jersey artists such as Bob Polding with Gary Oleyar (Loggins and Messina) did a set of their own unique blend of American rock and roll, and Sean Cox had a set before making way for the ever-popular River City Extension.

Seaside Music Festival 2010 was better than the last two years combined but they still have a large demographic to romance up on the boardwalk. Don’t write them off just yet because as this festival weekend proved, with steadfast vendor participation, built to scale events and great music, new people are coming around and joining in on this alternative Seaside fun. And that’s the ticket that could change this little festival into a major New Jersey event.