Friday, August 28, 2015

Drastic Measures

Before music streaming, browsing used music shops was a great source to feed my appetite for "new" tunes back in the mid-late 90's, during a time when the CD format was king, and my love for the vinyl format was criticized and ridiculed by my peers.

Before the resurgence of vinyl records in the mid-late 2000's, used records were in abundance, cheap and unaffected by "hipster prices". For a fair price (0.50 - $2), one could easily take a chance on sampling "new" sonic territory (Note: I use the term "new" loosely as it does not stay within the confines of what is associated with the current calendar year, but redefining it as a concept of prior ignorance towards the existence of something previously unnoticed, and the joys of discovering it for the first time).

Lisa Dal Bello's 1981 album, Drastic Measures, stands at the forefront of my mind as the first album that I took that chance with, without having previous knowledge of who she was, what she did, and what she had accomplished in her musical career.

The album artwork was what caught my eye: Lisa with her off-the-shoulder zip-up sweater, sporting a chunky couldn't help but draw comparison to Olivia Newton John's Physical album cover, coincidentally, released the same year. My preconceived notions were, based on the album artwork alone, was that this album would be a full-blow, synth-drench musical affair, ideal to accompany aerobic activity. However, after a few rotations, the phrase "never judge a book by its cover" resonated louder than ever.

Original album cover

The first four tracks on Drastic Measure pack a fierce punch, all showcasing Lisa's robust, high-powered vocals, accompanied by tight-rhythmic, rolling percussion, punctuated by gritty electric guitars and light trickles of new-wave style synthesizers...all on a foundation of meticulously crafted chords and melodies. Jim Vallance, known for his songwriting partnership with Bryan Adams, lends basic production skills to three of the albums stand out tracks: "Just Like You", "Dr. Noble" and album closer, "Stereo Madness", which is perhaps one of the best tracks off the album with it's eerie, hovering synth pad presence, slow burning melody, and of course, Lisa's sultry vocal delivery, which is also showcased on the rock-ballad "She Wants to Know". "Stereo Madness" ultimately crescendos to an irresistible doubled guitar solo that takes the listener right to the fade out (who can resist a fade-out). Other stand-out tracks are the hard-rock driven, head-banging melody of "Bad Timing" and "It's Over", with it's icy robotic, vocoder solo, a perfect accompaniment to the apathetic lyrics. 

Bryan Adams contributed his co-writing talents to three of the track ("Never Get to Heaven", "You Could Be Good For Me", "She Wants to Know"), as well as her mother, Yolanda Dalbello ("Princess Telephone", "Dr. Noble"). Guest musicians on this record are Canadian songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Ben Mink, who provides a wonderfully raw and upbeat electric violin solo on "Just Like You"; Bruce Rob (formerly of the Robbs) electronic Organ solo [Hammond B-3],on "It's Over"; and Jeff Baxter, known for his work with Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers, adorns the tracks "She Wants to Know" and "What Your Mama Don't Know" with his seasoned guitar skills, worthy of the engagement of "air-guitaring".

Alternate US album cover
Clearly a product of it's time with the asymmetrical, torn construction paper, grid design..

This marvelously overlooked pop/rock gem was produced by Bob Esty (for Fave Rave Productions), who is best known by disco music aficionados for his contributions to soundtrack work (Roller Boogie) and musical acts like The Pointer Sisters, Donna Summer, Cher, Paul Jabara and Barbra Streisand. Although his name is predominately associated with the Disco genre, Bob Esty was just as skilled at crafting energetic sharp, pop/rock numbers as he was with pulsating, disco tunes.

Why is this record worth checking out? For one, it's littered with home-grown talent. Plus, Lisa Dal Bello is one of those Canadian artists that I feel is grossly underrated. Only a handful of people, specifically music enthusiasts, know who she is and will acknowledge her incredible talents. As well, Drastic Measures is, to put it simply, an "all killer and no filler" record. It is one of those albums that will creep up to you when you least expect it, and you will find yourself repeating tracks/sides, and ultimately, caught in the web of its musical spell.

I might have been drawn in by the album cover - and hey, with a $2 price tag - worth the gamble.  This gamble paid off - like so many others I will be writing about in the future. Take a chance, discover great music and expect the unexpected.

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