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Ear Candy #3

-by Tom Grozan

Ear Candy #3

‘All Things Venice’

-by Tom Grozan

“Venice is the best vocal group in the country and one of the best groups of any kind that I’ve ever heard” - David Crosby.

Remember the So-Cal rock of the mid-seventies? (How can you really forget it, I think there’s a space in everyone’s brain programmed with Hotel California)  The tight vocals, breezy melodies and laid back sensibilities of groups such as the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Jackson Browne, and Crosby, Stills, & Nash dominated the airwaves and sales charts of the time. Flash forward twenty odd years and while those So-Cal rock standard bearers have been going through numerous reunion tours and rehab stints four brothers/cousins with deep musical roots have used this classic sound as the foundation to lay upon some of the most magnificent vocal harmonies ever recorded.

Venice was formed in the early eighties by two sets of brothers, Kipp and Pat Lennon and Michael and Mark Lennon who are cousins to one another. Music runs in the family, as Kipp and Pat are the younger brothers of the Lennon Sisters who performed on the Lawrence Welk show. What sets apart Venice is their amazing vocal harmonies. Everyone in the group sings with Kipp and Mark sharing lead vocals and Michael and Pat singing backgrounds. It’s a sound so tight and seamless that at its best it’s almost breathtaking.

Venice’s self-titled debut was released in 1990 on Modern/Atlantic. The group’s singular talent is evident on a few outstanding tracks but it’s clear that the record company was pushing them in a harder arena rock direction along the lines of Foreigner or Journey. Still even on the more generic rockers the groups soulfulness and vocal arrangements lend the songs a unique identity. The developing Venice sound can be heard on the soaring ballad “Change in the Season” and more reserved acoustic numbers “Pushed Her Too Far” and “People Laugh”. It’s in full bloom on “Hideaway Hill” with the sweeping angelic dual leads, harmonies and tunefully minimalist backing track. Unfortunately for them the publics tastes were starting to change from mainstream to more alternative sounds and despite being their only major label release this is the groups worst selling album.

After being dropped by Atlantic the group refined their sound down to it’s bare essence and put out “Born And Raised” on the small Vanguard label in 1997. This time the group did things their way producing a more striped down acoustic sound in which their trademark vocals are pushed to the forefront. Extremely laid back and easy, “Born And Raised” is what I like to call a creeper. It grabs you a little more and you hear something new with each listen.  The songs range from beautifully heartfelt and emotional “When I Get Over You, Starting Here Again” to humorous “For A Kiss” to bittersweet “ Never Coming Back, Bad Timing Song”. “Born And Raised” is the album that defined Venice as band and as artists.

The group’s third and most recent album “Spin Art” came out in 1999 and on it the group successfully interjects some of the energy from their live show into the songs. “The Man You Think I Am”, “Mary On My Mind”, and “Poor You, Poor Me, Poor Love” are exuberantly catchy and hook laden.  The group is clearly a victim of it’s own low profile because in the hands of one today’s more popular mainstream groups songs like “End Of The World”,“So Bad” and “More Of A Miracle” would be huge hits.

While the group’s musical progress is charted on their albums the personality of the shines through on their website www.venicecentral.com. This is far and away the best band related website I have ever seen. It’s like a super packed special edition DVD that’s constantly updated. In addition to the usual band news, tour dates, and FAQ’s you get painstakingly exhaustive audio and video sections with hundreds of downloadable clips and songs. The most fun and special feature is the spinning V box’s that are generously scattered throughout the website. Clicking on these provides commentary by the band regarding the particular subject you’re viewing. Like a directors commentary on a DVD this provides cool insight and behind the scenes dirt no normally afforded fans.

The audio section of the website not only provides generously long song samples from all of the groups albums it also serves up dozens of early demos of songs, bootlegs of cover songs, interviews, full concerts, radio appearances, commercials, even the groups freakin’ answering machine messages. The cover songs are a real treat. Besides being great singers these guys are also excellent mimics. Their versions of Bowie’s “Young Americans” and Bob Marley’s (Could You Be Loved) are so spot on it’s scary. Plus, anyone who can successfully mix Steven Still’s “Love The One You’re With”, Zepplin’s “Kashmir”, and the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” is brilliant.  It’s also interesting to see some of the other media things these guys have been involved with. They’ve done a bunch of songs for the Simpson’s including the Cheer’s parody “Flaming Moe’s” and the faux Michael Jackson “Happy Birthday Lisa”. They’re also responsible for hundreds of commercial jingles, one of the more famous being the Coors Light “It’s the right beer now”. 

The video section contains a number of full concerts along with probably every TV appearance the band has made including Regis & Kathie Lee, Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, and virtually every other entertainment show on the air. The most amusing of these video clips is the group playing a number of “bands” on the early eighties syndicated comedy “Throb” which is set at a fictional record company and stars a very young Jane Leeves of Frasier fame.

While probably not for everyone’s tastes those with a predilection to ease into a mellow sunny groove would be well advised to check this band out. At the very least stop by www.venicecentral.com and root around a bit. There’s a lot amusing things on there to keep you busy and you might soon find yourself hooked on this fun and talented band.

As always I live for your feedback good or bad. Tell me what you think about the columns or clue me into some new music. Grozan@bellsouth.net

Copyright©2001 Tom Grozan