Monday, March 22, 2010

CD of the Day, 3/22/10: Wendell Nightfall Troupe-Clumsy Grace

Now here's a disc with an interesting backstory. Released last year to little fanfare (it flew under the radar of the power pop community), Wendell Nightfall Troupe's Clumsy Grace is a collection of 1974 recordings by Norbert Wabnig and Richard Duncan, two musicians who moved from New Orleans to Los Angeles that year and laid down some tracks, and may have recorded the best early ELO album that Jeff Lynne didn't have a hand in. These days, Wabnig is the owner of The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, and he finally got an album from the sessions out last year.

WNT manage to capture that early ELO sound quite well - a mix of pop, classical and rock with a Euro sheen. Opener "Stardumb" takes a cynical look at their new LA home (the title is a play on the word "stardom") with a melody that could have been a precursor to ELO's "Across the Border" and a sound that's also reminiscent of The Nines. The title track follows, goofy 70s excess and all, and almost sounds like a template for Jellyfish. "Take a Chance" is Eurodisco and fun as all get-out, and "You're Not Listening" has an "Evil Woman" vibe to it. "Hollywood Boulevard" is probably the most ambitious thing here, playing out as a kind of "MacArthur Park", going from quiet orchestrated moments to a guitar freakout and back again.

Not that there aren't a few clinkers. "There's Something Wrong" comes off as one of those over-earnest pre-disco Bee Gees tunes from the late 60s/early 70s, and "Stars in Manhattan" meanders to no particular destination. But it's a highly interesting (and highly enjoyable) unearthed artifact from the 70s, and fans of early ELO and baroque pop are going to love it.

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