Truth & Memory
The sad fact is that releasing a live CD is much like stepping into a large crowd with an inflated ego, a grin, and an autograph pen. These are the self-indulgent moments that only work for accomplished bands with large fan bases, to which the masses will flock by name recognition alone. For the smaller, lesser-known majority of the world, there is still much to prove. There are albums to sell, and shows to sell out, and a musical message to spread. A live album from a big band is a time to showcase a transformation of beloved tunes. A live album from a small band, quite frankly, is the most ineffective way to show off anything besides a shameless sense of self importance.
“We’re here! Don’t you want our autographs?” the small band says to the crowd, their glossy photographs and thick Sharpie pens ready for action.
“Autographs? From you? Get out of my way, pal,” the crowd says.
It’s a shame, really. Jacksonville’s The Fenwicks sound like they have a lot to offer, and they seem to think so, too. They are a self-described “Afro-Celtic Yiddish Ska” band, although that really just translates into “a ska band with some unique percussion and a smattering of Jewish jokes and politics.” The band caught some positive press after they released two studio albums, but followed it up with an extended hiatus that ended last year. Truth & Memory, a 17-track recording of one show in New York City, is a celebration of their reunion — and if the rambling self-congratulatory chat sessions that separate each and every song are any indication, they couldn’t be prouder.
There’s no doubt that this band has talent. Their songs are high-paced and dripping with energy, with clever twists and an obvious avoidance of the repetitive bop-bop-bop that ska bands tend to corner themselves into. The Fenwicks’ songs are full and frothy, driven by tight horn riffs a high-paced lead singer who shoulders full responsibility for the group=EDs entertainment value.
Live reviews herald their shows as wildly amusing and bursting with goofy passion, and insist that they are a musical crossover into community theater. The problem is that the band has to be seen to be believed. In this live album, all we hear is fun songs being interrupted by “If you’re happy and you know it” segments, embarrassingly lengthy band member introductions, and minute-long stories about the songs themselves. The live show may turn the crowd into one big happy family, but listening to the show from your living room feels more like being the weird, estranged uncle that never gets invited to the family picnic.
The Fenwicks have a lot of talent and a lot of pride, and they clearly plan on moving on up. Given their malleability and undaunted drive, they very well may. Their lyrics are cleverly infused with politics, and that healthy balance between content and comment is sorely lacking in today’s musical world. But, until they get to the top of the heap, they still need to keep introducing themselves. A live show will do it, and so will a studio album, where their talents and songwriting can be fully explored. This album is a lazy combination of their strengths, and it accomplishes nothing. Sure, if Truth & Memory is for fans of theirs that eagerly awaited a reunion, it’s inarguably a charming sentiment. Otherwise, though, The Fenwicks need to hang up their egos and meet the world halfway.
The Fenwicks: http://www.thefenwicks.com