Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Return of Franklin Bruno

Playing right now: Thomas Chapin - Quartets '95 & '96

On Monday, Donovan and I were getting ready to go out when I realized that I hadn't sent my Best of 2012 list to JazzTimes. After quickly dispatching that - and feeling that, this year, I actually had a better grasp of the albums that merited such a distinction - I thought I'd quickly check my personal email account just to see if there was anything important there.

As fate would have it, my good friend Will sent me a very important email, letting me know that Franklin Bruno - once and forever the frontman of Nothing Painted Blue and a big inspiration to my songwriting over the past 15 years or so - was going to be appearing at Sound Cat, the record store in Bloomfield. FRANKLIN BRUNO IN PITTSBURGH! FOR FREE! AT 6 O'CLOCK! HOLY COW!

I had been thinking about him recently because during my interview with Stephin Merritt, I brought up Bruno's name, and Merritt mentioned how he remembered a song Bruno sang at CMJ in 1993 - and he proceeded to sing "Growth Spurt" to me, melody and crucial lyrics intact. I hadn't heard hide or hare from Mr. Bruno in several years. About 10 years ago he played at Quiet Storm in support of a solo album, and a few years later there was a posthumous final Nothing Painted Blue album, which is not exactly reviewed but expounded up in this early entry.

Well not only is Bruno still playing music, mid-set he mentioned that he now lives in New York, rather than back in California where he originated. And he was appearing not as himself but as part of a two-piece band called the Human Hearts, who just released an album called Another. His partner in crime is drummer Matt Houser who pounds like a monster, and occasionally came close to drowning out the guitar in the louder moments of the songs.

Any longtime fan of Bruno's will appreciate the songs from Another, as they have the same brand of guitar pop with a sprinkling of jazzy chords to spice up the music. And then of course there's Bruno's gift as a lyricist for which he's virtually in a class by himself. There was one song he did that really reminded me of separate parts of a couple songs that I wrote several years ago (not that he would've ever heard them since they were never released). But that was cool with me because I think I subconsciously lifted pieces of his work in one of my songs - on top of thinking WWFD when I wrote the lyrics.

The crowd was small. I could probably count them on two hands. But if I had no idea one of my faves was in town, how's the rest of the fair city to know? But of course this simply meant that there was a small very appreciative flock of people hanging out and listening intently.

Another is available both as a CD and a double-10" vinyl. The packaging and the general festive mood of the evening made me decide that I needed to get the double 10" of course. Bruno plugged the vinyl by explaining that the previous day he had them all set up in his apartment, assembling them (they come in two separate handmade covers, with a cardboard insert and a band to hold them together). This was before he mentioned living in Queens, so he had me puzzling how he did the production yesterday and got to Pittsburgh so quickly. "He must've flown here," I thought. The packaging and the general festive mood of the evening made me decide that I needed to get the double 10" of course.

Years ago, I interviewed NPB for my fanzine Discourse and I remember Bruno talking about how impossible it seemed to try to attempt a career in music playing the style that he did. He didn't seem interested in any compromise and was going to school for a doctorate in philosophy. (Drummer Kyle Broudie had just taken the bar exam prior to the tour.) The way they talked about it made it sound like there was limit placed on how long they'd be doing this. That was about 18 years ago and while it might have held true for Broudie, it does my heart good to know that Bruno is still doing it.

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