Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

JUNE 1, 1998: 

Victor Mecyssne Hush Money (Sweetfish)

The definition of cool often depends more upon what isn’t present, instead of what is. For example, take the latest release from Victor Mecyssne (okay, boys and girls, repeat after me: muh-SESS-nee), titled Hush Money. A cover blurb would lead one to believe that all the songs are “Tawdry Tales Of Tarnished Lives,” which is only partly true. What makes it cool is that Victor Mecyssne gets away with it, partly because he refuses to follow any current musical fashion.

Hush Money is Mecyssne’s second CD (his first for Sweetfish), following two years after his well-received (but rarely heard) independent debut, Personal Mercury. Several startling revelations are immediately apparent once Hush Money starts spinning, with the first one being that Mecyssne doesn’t have to shout to get the listener’s attention. No squealing guitars, no layers of grunge, and best of all, no whining.

Another kicker is that Mecyssne is a native Nashvillian, but his sound never betrays that dirty secret. Mecyssne could have come from an alternate Nashville that never existed, where Charlie Rich plays jazz full-time and nobody gives a damn about “demographics.” The music Mecyssne makes couldn’t be further from the insipid “Big Hat” acts that permeate the modern country scene, leaving him exposed as a man happily out of time and step with current convention.

Describing Mecyssne’s sound is no easy task, with his influences ranging from Tennessee Ernie Ford and Glenn Miller to Tom Waits and Randy Newman. The late Walter Hyatt (another victim of that tragic ValuJet crash in Florida) figures prominently in Mecyssne’s psyche, and provides the spiritual base for Hush Money (a stark, heartfelt cover of Hyatt’s “Going To New Orleans” closes the record). But if you have to hang Mecyssne on a musical hook for examination, think Lyle Lovett without the overly smart-ass attitude (and Mecyssne’s hair appears to be better managed).

Victor Mecyssne: from an alternate Nashville
The 11 songs on Hush Money run through several different musical styles, all worthy of inclusion. Highlights include the punchy opener, “A Girl That’s Hip,” the backhanded tribute to Nashville, “Lower Broadway,” “Small Town Grapevine,” and the smoky, after-hours feel of “Relax.” Hush Money also features a playful enhanced-CD program, where you can prowl through a digitized Cadillac to reveal several Mecyssne-related audio and video items (here’s a tip – look for the fish icon and follow the arrows, and don’t forget to beep the horn!).

With a bevy of Nashville-based guest stars in tow and his good musical taste on obvious display, Mecyssne shouldn’t expect anyone to take over the tasty turf he’s claimed for his own any time soon. With Hush Money, Victor Mecyssne has created that rare album that works both as background music in the foreground and foreground music in the background. Now, that’s rapidly approaching cool, if it isn’t fully there already. – David D. Duncan

Mea Culpa Sucker Punch Drunk (Tortuga)

Mea Culpa frontman Gilbert Garcia is as throughly mesmerized by the boy/girl thing as any singer/songwriter I’ve ever encountered. I can just see him as a child, bumping into telephone poles on his way home from school, gloriously abstracted, happily/sadly unable to stop thinking about the afternoon sun’s effect on the flowing hair of the little gal who sits next to him in math class.

I would say “poor kid,” were it not for two facts. To begin with, I can still remember how wonderful it was to indulge such bittersweet obsession. Secondly, were it not for such obsessions, we might not have Garcia’s pop-music smarts to discuss here and now.

Smarts, indeed. Garcia is a pop genius waiting to happen, and that’s no exaggeration.

Waiting to happen? Well, yes, I think so. When Gilbert Garcia finally frees himself from his influences – most notably the Beatles via Squeeze – he will almost surely have ascended to world-class status … at least I sincerely hope that’s true; he rates it.

Sucker Punch Drunk is a worthy follow-up to 1997’s Blindfolds And Cigarettes, though not quite as inspired, and certainly not quite as well-rendered. Although Garcia’s tremendous songwriting talent stands tall, on occasion the CD’s other aspects sound a bit … rushed. For instance, am I missing something, or is the no-man’s-land wooziness of the last track’s slide guitar part rather awful?

Yes, every now and then Sucker Punch Drunk reveals a hurried approach – probably a money thing (studio time whisks bucks out of a wallet like some sort of greedy poltergeist). But there is no denying that Garcia is a brilliant songwriter, one of that rare and valuable breed capable of weaving melody and lyric in such a manner as to make the process barely noticeable, yet ostentatious. An impressive trick, that.

– Stephen Grimstead

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