WHO’S THAT MAN? ED RANDAZZO IS THAT MAN CELEBRATING 10 YEARS IN THE PA MUSIC BIZ

A comprehensive compilation of an artist’s survival in a local market for over ten years. A rare feat for that market. Photo courtesy edrandazzomusic.com

One thing this blog has taught me is, “Stay in your lane”. I’ve dabbled in jazz reviews, world reviews, indie reviews, Americana reviews, and it has brought me to the point where, I need to stay within my personal wheelhouse of expertise. While I may not be the world’s foremost authority on Goth music, I will continue to bait all the Daniel Ash fans with my opinion (yes, Vinnie, that last word, OPINION, stupid Bauhaus loser arguing with my opinion) but I will pick and choose my reviews carefully from this point forward.

So when it was proposed to me that I could do the new Ed Randazzo retrospective, I jumped at the chance. Admittedly, Randazzo’s style of traditional, Americana folk-soul borders suspiciously close to some of the music I have recently sworn-off. For personal reasons I will pay no more attention to Sam Llanas and his crew. Since I will not be committing any further column space about his Americana, why not support a local boy who isn’t a full-of-himself douche who doesn’t appreciate those who were pulling for him, and promoting them to the best of their ability? Randazzo never made any promises, connections or forged any allegiances to go back on.

I have no problem promoting someone who is genuine, earnest, and has bon-a-fide talent. Like Ed…

There is so much soul in that boy, not to mention the nerve to survive the NorthEast Pennsylvania music “scene”. Photo By Jim Gavenus

You also have to admire Radnazzo’s brass kehones.

Here’s someone who has thrived in the NorthEast Pennsylvania music scene for ten plus years! I know I am one musician who didn’t have the stomach (patience/temperament) to deal with it on a continual basis at all, much less stay in and be active in it for a decade or so.

I’m reaching for the Pepto as I type…

Randazzo first appeared on my radar when I approached him via Facebook to ask him if (by chance) he was related to someone I used to work with a couple of lifetimes ago. While the answer was a polite no, through time I came to find that Ed was reverently active in the regional music scene, and I was invited to attend his show at a neighborhood venue (as in I have walked farther from my home).

I was blown away by his voice. His tenor, his barratone, just so booming. And the emotion? The pipes are full of them. But what’s even more amazing about Randazzo is his overall passion for music. His influences are wide ranging, and often times diverse from his own style.

Ed Randazzo reflects on his decades long career with this comprehensive collection. Photo by Amanda Hrycyna

As they might have said on Monty Python, there’s not wrong with vast and varied sources to draw from…

So let’s talk about this project right here. Who’s That Man? Collected Songs 2008 – 2018 is exactly that. A collection of songs Randazzo felt best exemplified his journey through the making of his many solo albums as well as a compilation or two, during the span of a decade.

Randazzo is part of a collective of musicians that inhabit a region near me called the Wyoming Valley, specifically a city named Pittston. Pittston has some checkered memory for me. I spent an eternity in an original band for a couple of years (those 18 months felt like years) back in the 80’s. That time was so riddled with hassle, corruption and internal strife within the band, after a couple of fell-short attempts at bands, I was done with the local scene.

So I have nothing but repels to for all these guys in that region. Randazzo, Brett Alexander, his long-time cohort in composition for much of this music, and more folks you will read about on the way, and some others who, while perhaps not involved in this, still team together to support Randazzo when he performs live either by playing for his music during his set, or just by having him come up during an open mic or other band’s set to do common covers, traditional tunes, or even his own songs if there are enough common musicians available who are familiar with the songs. Names like Tim and Rob Husty, Eddie Appnel, and I could overload this column with names of musician-friends of Ed Randazzo.

But it’s about the music…

We are buzzed-in to Randazzo’s world with “Be My Husband” written by Nina Simone from Randazzo’s album If You Don’t Bring Me Joy (Be On Your Way) from 2015. The song starts off with a stompin’ bass drum and rhythm guitar spitting out chords and a really funky rhythm for this version. I am not familiar with these styles, Randazzo is that far a departure from me. But I found myself enjoying the first song so much, I forgot to take notes, and found myself just grooving along and just…

enjoying… strange… I don’t get to DO that much anymore. Click play, click pause, type or scribble, type or scribble, click play, lick pause, rewind if need be, click play, click pause, and yeah, it’s a bitch with vinyl…

Into a second verse structure, a lead guitar makes poignant sparks that sound (at least on my system) like they are panned, right then left, for interesting accents throughout the verse structures.

Randazzo’s voice is, as usual, passionate about what he is singing. When it comes to covering artists that Randazzo considers sacred, (as in the case of Simone), the melodies are treated with both reverence and abandon.

Perhaps that’s the part that drew me in. Although I was hooked from the intro… First pause at the middle of the ‘Ooh daddy…’ break towards the Hollywood sounding blues ending.

All-in-all, I have to say, I am taken with the production on this first number. Randazzo’s voice is mixed right where it should be; In your face! But with his ad-lib at the end, everything is so eat-off-it clean, you can hear the guitar chord slide down the neck in the middle of Randazzo’s huge-sounding ending ad-lib.

This is gonna be a fun ride…

The only familiarity I have with “Grandma’s Hands” written by Bill Withers from Randazzo’s album See That My Grave Is Kept Clean from 2009, is in fact through Randazzo. Being a death-hag that I am (my favorite member of Adrian Belew’s band the Bears? The drummer, because they call him Deathy!), I was immediately drawn to Randazzo’s See That My Grave… album. If memory serves me (and as usual, it never does, too many drugs? Yes please he said as he pulled out his medical marijuana…) I might have seen Randazzo do this song live at Tripp House here in Scranton a few years back. Don’t quote me, in fact, never quote me.

I hate that…

But rest assured, there will be more reverence paid to Withers, another strong Randazzo influence. A solemn foot stomp acocompanies an acoustic guitar as it brews up the melody. Soulfully handled by Alexander, I am assuming. And not long in, Randazzo makes his presence known.

For the second verse, an unassuming organ slowly, gently weaves a hold-note in. Randazzo is doing Withers proud with the interpretation. Again, this is not in my record collection. But I have heard Withers’ voice. Randazzo is not Withers. He’s better. I feel more soul in Randazzo’s vibrato than Withers. Check the categories, it says opinion.

Just as the lyrics begin to reflect Grandma’s aging, the instruments begin to make themselves more known, but in subtle, reflective ways. As in to further the lyrical metaphors for the passing of time. Small licks, hold notes, things and sounds of that nature.

As Grandma passes lyrically, the slow, mournful fade out begins with the instruments perking up, but falling under Randazzo’s equally mournful ad-libs.

Not a dry eye in the house.

I would have to say the biggest deal on this compilation has to be (so far, and that is in terms of singlability) would have to be “Devil’s Trail” by Randazzo and Tony Halchak as it was taken from a local compilation album called Brew Sessions III from 2016 and is featured on Randazzo’s Facebook music page as the single, whatever that means today, as an individual download.

A scratchy rhythm guitar starts us up, and thankfully, Bob Dylan does not start singing after it, although you would swear he was going to. Randazzo does, and with his voice comes the trusty tremolo electric guitar, right out of a spaghetti western. Can’t say I haven’t dialed up that patch on a recording before…

As the lyrics detail a desolate, lonely place, occupied by a desolate and lonely soul, the music sets the stage perfectly! Lone, reversed bass drum only on accents, a wistful harmonica setting the dusty scene, the picture draws itself in the listener’s head!

As the lyrics take a break, a sound solo begins. Train whistle sounds, chimes, and some discrete guitar notes. A non-solo if you will…

Another catch-you-off-guard spot is when they bring the whole track to a stop during the last verse after the line “I know the tale…”, it really adds dramatic punch to the song, which had galloped along at a stallion’s pace up to this point. Some slight guitar and chimes take us out to a hold note end.

It’s not surprising a bunch of guys from North East PA can hop on the country music bandwagon. Contrary to popular belief, the area isn’t riddled with farmland. Yes, it does have some rural areas with farmland, and yes, these guys don’t live far from places named Dallas, Wyoming, and yes, the local CBS radio station is a country music station, and no, there are no local cities North of Philadelphia to rival New York City, but still, that’s no reason to assume we are all hayseeds. But we can sure conjure up some redneck when we need to…

What we can all assume is the title track for this compilation, “Who’s That Man” from his album Show And Tell released in 2012. A duet with long-time Randazzo cohort Alexis P. Suter, with the song starting off A Cappella with Randazzo on lyrics and Suter offering ad-lib rebuttals to Randazzo’s line. With the next lyric set, the drums come in first.

The slow, almost macabre parade, like the kind you’d see in New Orleans, materializes within the music. I swear if they pull out tubas and horns, I will lose my shit…

Thankfully, a tremoloed guitar introduces itself with the rest of the band, and no, not a marching jazz band. Phew! The interesting thing is, all the while, as instruments appear, Randazzo and Suter match each other soul-for-soul with the lyrics. Randazzo having the advantage over Suter in that he gets the lyrics, she gets ad-libs, but don’t worry, she’s keeping up in the soul department just fine.

Acoustic slide guitar comes with a headache. Both lyrically and, nope, won’t go there.

The lyrics hit me too close to home. I was on the blower yesterday with another local musician and we both felt identity to not wanting to acknowledge what greets us in the mirror each morning. There was a song about it in my last review…

But Randazzo’s protagonist manages to get out, as it were. And if somebody can tell me how to leave eye bags at the door, I’d be very interested.

The rhythm track will build itself up so that all the afore-mentioned intstruments come forward, hey, there’s a bass! Damn, there IS one on this record. First time it’s come to say howdy. And I have a whopping huge sub-woofer, so I guess that would be my one complaint about the sound, could have some more low-end at spots.

But not everybody is Jeff Berlin.

And as we near the end of the track, there is another of those ‘gotcha’ rest points and then things pick up to let Suter have the last word. Don’t give her lyric lines? She’ll soul all over your ending, chump sucker!

We spice things up with an uptempo, full band number with bass front and center in “I Need A Woman” from If You Don’t Bring Me…. Randazzo hums his way into the rhythm track, and steams the lyrics into a snappy, full on blues number.

What I like about Randazzo is, yeah, he lives in styles I am not one to dwell mightily in, but he and Alexander make it so interesting. There are changes and breaks and riffs within the structure that take it out of the ‘Just play 12 bar, three chord structure to jam the blues’ horseshit that was the problem in many local bands that drove me to the point where I now refuse to take part in any blues jam. A to D to E my ass! Instead of just dropping from chord to chord, these guys put a little sumtin’ sumtin’ in it, and I love that!

Now if you still can dig the blues, this number here is a real toe-tapper. Yeah there’s a bridge after a couple of verses that is right out of the blues handbook, but it’s played so well, yeah you’ve been here before, but hang out for the ride anyway.

You can derive what the topic of the lyrics are about from the title. But Randazzo still makes the lyrics and melody interesting. Another reason I like to do these out-of-my-wheelhouse reviews is, on some of the lines in this one, Randazzo reminds me of an in-his-prime David Sylvian.

Ain’t no blues aficionados gonna make that comparison…

They back the rhythm section back down into the chorus repeat to a nice ad-lib fade with some guitar licks for good measure. Just guitars and voice. Noisters!

A zippy acoustic guitar lick opens up “Let Me Go” from Show And Tell. Some slurred 16th high hats add some funk to the rhythm. But once in the song proper, the snare drum takes those 16th notes into a semi-march, semi-“50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”, Steve Gadd kinda beat. And this train is out of the station.

The descending chorus parts have a stabbing guitar, I mean, those chords sound sharp, not as in pitch but more like if you get too close it will cut you. Me, I like the line

“… I have things you’ll never take from me, cause I keep them buried way down so deep inside…”

Then there are other venomous lines delivered by Randazzo with equal spite, “You’re a love killer, love killer”, how many times I would have liked to use THAT line…

They fall back into the locomotive groove again and it all builds with some crash cymbals accenting that funkarama beat.

They give us a guitar solo, and what a solo it is, replete with a modulation or two. Way to keep it interesting guys.

They go back into the spite bridge, but things have escalated within the rhythm track. After the fuller cycle, we break for acoustic guitar and some instruments pop up during an ad-lib break into the ‘night-go-black’, three hit ending.

This is where side A would end on the vinyl.

Surviving the NorthEast Pennsylvania music scene for ten years would make anybody smile. Photo by Amanda Hrycyna

To set it right, there were three singles from the Who’s That Man album, and it wouldn’t surprise me if “Soldier, Soldier” which is different from the rest of the tracks on this compilation in that it is a new track done just for this release, weren’t one of them.

A tremoloed electric opens the song, but as Randozzo’s humming begins, so does a mid-high filter acoustic. Randazzo tells a Lysistrada-esque tale of a soldier being recruited, for marriage.

As someone who is coming up on being married for 23 years early next year, I can state with all certainty, he’d be better off in Syria.

The next verse brings up a banjo on the counter-beats, then it falls into a very revolutionary-era melody. Make me think this is a civil war tale. I told you these guys can paint a picture.

The lyrics paint a picture of a soldier that could learn how make a list and go shopping to prevent the pretty little girl from having to make multiple trips to the dry goods store. Doesn’t matter, he was just using the pretty little girl, who he thinks is really ugly, but she had the money to buy him a new suit, hat and shoes. All in separate trips. Spending her money…

True Americana all right, thumbing its nose at women’s rights, general equality, and progress overall. Making America Colonial Again… But I applaud the boys for the lyrics on this one, fuck political correctness to the point of obsession!

A full rhthym track kicks off “Wade In The Water” which is written by Alexander, Dustin Douglas and Paul Mark Young. It still appears on Randazzo’s If You Don’t Bring… album.

That rythym track is propelled by a brush snare and a shimmering vibrato guitar. Randazzo’s voice has a fragility on this track, as if the tremor is caused by his anxiousness in meeting the man with a message by the water. Perhaps I’m over-reacting to a key choice that might have been too low.

Too low for Randazzo, what, am I nuts?

We hear a subdued guitar solo. Then our protagonist wades in that water. After a chorus, we get a quick treat of bass and a sweltering guitar solo with Randazzo filling the void with ad-libs before cutting back into the ‘how long’ bridge.

But a nice arrangemental surprise into the ending. These guys put out interesting, even prog-like arrangements in these songs. It’s refreshing. There does still exist some form of originality, inventiveness, risk-taking, in local music. It does my heart good…

After the stringy slide guitar has it’s way with our ears, Alexis Suter is back once again, and you know it from the second she starts her part, she’s back! She owns the intro to “Still Cry” from Show And Tell. Naturally about love lost, the first part of the cycle features a very nice acoustic line under Suter and Randazzo’s co-vocals. For the chorus of ‘Still cry’, the band is in, but an electric lead overcomes all and leads to the second cycle through.

The second cycle gives way to a full out, ride cymbal, all in bridge where Randazzo resigns himself to acceptance, but it doesn’t help the emotion. While Suter’s performances have been powerful, it loses something on the line ‘boo hoo hoo’. Just can’t buy it in this song.

The third go-around is slightly staccato, for a change-up to the rhythm. Still interesting. One more acceptance break, into that ‘still cry’ section which naturally is a great point to ride out to the hold end with Suter once again finishing matters in her own, inimitable style.

A finger-picked guitar that sounds like a clock begins the slow, “A Work Song” from If You Don’t Bring…. Some more guitar embellishments add. Distant drums bring in lyrics detailing labor, jobbing, punch-clocking, so on.

The chorus breaks down the second time into a more staccato formation, with some cymbals and guitars accenting here and there. Everything seems machine regimented until a swift violin line takes us to a break.

A fairly optimistic break. Definitely a nod to nostalgia as the lines do NOT apply to today’s ‘At Will’ employment status. You see, ‘At Will’ states are those where employers can, for no explainable reason, and at any time, simply say ‘Your services are no longer required here’ and that employee is an ex-employee. A standard in the business community is around 18 months.

Yeah, so much for working until your time’s put in…

That violin resurfaces to flesh out a slight but busy guitar solo. The arrangement differs in that the verse is shortened, the bridge is only one line, and the chorus comes back in with that optimistic chorus with some slight word changes to reflect the progression of time. But for this time around, the violin, banjo, and the rhythm track are all full-out. Got ya-self a regular hootenanny here!

The song ends with a sparse verse, with repeating lines about time for sleep and dreams. With the sustain notes at the end, we wonder if our working man has set his head down for the last time. Again, the death-hag in me.

I’m not a Dylan fan, so… “Knocking On Heaven’s Door”, yeah, the Dylan song, also recorded for this compilation, is nigh. Guitars of the tremolo and acoustic variety begin this cover with some humming thrown in to represent.

I already like Randazzo’s voice better in this take. While I know I should be thrilled about the near-death content of the lyrics, it’s still Dylan, so, MEH. They pepper in some organ for the chorus. It sounds really nice, great production, and Randazzo’s voice always delivers, but, sorry, I’m out.

The great guy Randazzo is, he has someone singing backup on the song, and has also dedicated the song to the memory of that background singer’s passed relative. No better way to get the emotion of the experience than to have someone in the room, singing, who has been touched, or ravaged, by the experience.

A very tasteful, repspectful guitar solo, and the next verse is delivered with a ferverence Randazzo hasn’t shown on the disc so far. No wonder this was kept for second to last cut. Powerful.

A jaunty mandolin starts the end with “Ring Them Bells” from See That My Grave…. A sparse song about the anticipation of meeting one’s maker, and the bells that ring for summoning one ‘home’. Alexander provides accute harmonies on the bridges.

A harmonica solo goes on with Alexander over the bridge. The mandolin calms for the next verse after the harmonica solo. The mandolin plays the melody solo for one chorus, and we end.

There you have a glimpse into a fascinating and extremely talented local boy who is making good on the other side of the state. Randazzo returns to the area this Sunday night at WIlkes Barre’s Karl Hall. For you local enthusiasts, you can get all the info here:

https://www.facebook.com/events/428739444432279/?ti=icl

Also for you local enthusiasts, if you are local to the PIttston area, check the listing for Tony’s Wine Cellar from time-to-time as Randazzo makes frequent trips back from his newly adopted hometown of Erie several times a year for return triumphs at Tony’s. Perhaps you can pick up a copy of Who’s That Man or any of the mentioned Randazzo albums at his gig? If not, try finding info about them or anything else Randazzo here:

https://www.edrandazzomusic.com/

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