I’m riding the tram, it’s freezing cold outside and the heating system is turned on at...
What follows is as much a commentary on how special-interest albums are marketed and sold in this current era as it is a review of the music. In this particular instance, it is difficult if not downright impossible to separate this relatively new form of consumerism from the LP itself since the modern-day internet-driven economy familiar to most of us has played a major role in both the supply of and demand for the subject of this piece.
I’ve been collecting records long enough to have witnessed the emergence of several new categories and sub-genres of music over the years, with records falling into the “loner folk” bag becoming increasingly popular with my like-minded vinyl-hoarding brethren.
Indeed, such items (which are usually private pressings) have become so coveted that many otherwise sensible associates of mine have spent ridiculous sums of money acquiring them on eBay and other online marketplaces. More often than not, I have found these LPs to be “lonerly” and folky - but not necessarily good, especially in light of their asking prices. Experience has taught me that rare albums not appreciated by contemporary listeners can occasionally turn out to be underground masterpieces. However, most of these titles deserve their obscurity simply because the performances often lack any semblance of competence.
This jaded outlook contributed to my ambivalent reaction earlier this year when Light in the Attic Records announced they would be re-releasing what some consider to be the holy grail of loner folkdom, Songs from Suicide Bridge. As someone who has a marked preference for music from the 1960s, my mixed feelings were reinforced upon reading press for the album, which mentioned that it was originally a product of the dreaded 1980s. I then forgot about it until listening to the label’s second podcast a couple of months later. That particular episode presented the story behind the LP and its musicians, singer-guitarists David Kauffman and Eric Caboor. Interspersed in the narration were samples of selected songs from the album, and each fragment slowly transformed my indifference to genuine curiosity. These bits of music sounded so haunting and desolate that I began to understand why original copies were fetching such significant sums for Internet vinyl vendors. Its status with private press cognoscenti eventually created sufficient demand to warrant its reissue on LITA, whose extremely eclectic and rapidly growing catalogue is helping to make them the Rhino Records of the twenty-first century.
Thus Songs from Suicide Bridge provides yet another example of an LP ignored during the time of its release only to become retroactively appreciated and championed by collectors. After earning its underground reputation, such people often used the Internet as a medium to acquire the record. Now things have come full circle as Internet marketing has helped create a buzz for the album that never would have been possible thirty years ago.
Be that as it may, this is an album critique, not a lesson in economics. So what does this record sound like? To begin, I’ll take issue with the term “loner folk” since an LP recorded by a duo cannot accurately be described as a solitary undertaking. While acoustic guitars dominate the proceedings - and are supplemented by other non-amplified instruments including mandolin and dulcimer - the presence of piano as well as electric and bass guitars give Songs from Suicide Bridge a decidedly post-folk music vibe, as would be expected for anything recorded in 1983.
Indeed, the album comes off as more of a non-commercial singer-songwriter project than anything else, although using that particular genre term is not to imply the material occupies the same insubstantial stylistic territory of wimps such as James Taylor. Regardless of the jargon used to describe the performances, nobody bothered to tell Kauffman and Caboor that the scene for their kind of music was dead in the late 1970s-early 1980s, especially in Los Angeles. The aforementioned podcast and accompanying booklet describe the depressing circuit in which the pair performed and met, leaving one to contemplate the unlikelihood of this record ever being released in the first place.
With most of the songs clocking in roughly between four and eight minutes, it was clear that the duo did not have Top 40 aspirations. The material has been described by some as depressing, and the album’s title (which refers to the local nickname for the Colorado Street Bridge that connects L.A. and Pasadena) doesn’t exactly suggest otherwise. Nevertheless, the overall mood can be more accurately described as introspective and cathartic as opposed to morose.
The hazy opening track, “Kiss Another Day Goodbye,” sets the tone with memorable lines such as “The California sunshine was all I had for breakfast, and it burned my mind.” That song and Kauffman’s other compositions tend to be the LP’s bleaker performances, with “Life without Love” ranking as the most downer moment. Caboor’s pieces hardly qualify as joyful, but his wry observations of suburbia in “Neighborhood Blues” and the unobtrusively inspirational “One More Day (You’ll Fly Again)” provide a distinctive and indispensible counterpoint.
While some of the songs linger a bit too long for their own good, Songs from Suicide Bridge has a sufficient number of compelling moments to describe it as a worthwhile listening experience and an album that only could have come out of early-1980s L.A. and its environs.
Yet another title with LITA’s high production standards, the LP features all of the usual selling points (thick cardboard outer sleeve, high-quality vinyl, enlightening notes, etc.) that contribute to the label’s deservedly esteemed reputation. The decision to repress it as a two-disc set (resulting in less compressed grooves) probably improves upon the sound quality of the original single-disc version, but might be problematic for those who don’t like getting up every twelve minutes or so to turn over the record.
Tracklist:A1. Kiss Another Day Goodbye
A2. Neighborhood Blues
A3. Life Without Love
B1. Angel Of Mercy
B2. Life And Times On The Beach
C2. Midnight Willie
C3. Where's The Understanding?
D1. Tinsel Town
D2. One More Day (You'll Fly Again)