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Listening Report: Marshall Crenshaw’s #447

Mark Smotroff is reminded that its all about the rock…


There’s something heartwarming and reassuring in these highly processed digital times we live in when first experiencing a fine album you’ve somehow never heard before by singer/ songwriter/guitarist Marshall Crenshaw… 

For those of you not in the know, Crenshaw sprang up seemingly overnight to great acclaim in the early 1980s, particularly surrounding two well received and popular albums issued on Warner Brothers Records.  After several more years completing his major label runs, he resurfaced amidst in the ‘90s indie rock universe. Crenshaw made some really great albums at that time which serious fans got into. But I do wonder if perhaps those recordings didn’t achieve quite the same momentum as his earlier releases without the major label star making machinery behind him. Hold that thought for a moment… 

I knew about some of Crenshaw’s indie label releases on Razor & Tie Records back in the day. I even reviewed one of them recently, Miracle of Science, which was reissued (click here for my listening report)

However, when the album titled #447 arrived for my review consideration, I was both immediately excited as I was dumbfounded. How did I completely miss this album back then? It happens!  In part, I’ll point blame at the indie rock universe of the times because in those early Internet days, if you weren’t reading the right publications, listening to the the right radio stations and shopping in the right stores, it was possible for some things to slip through the cracks. Add to this that I was super busy in my life at the time (including being immersed in my own band’s releases!) so I’m not entirely surprised that I missed this. (Mea culpa, Marshall!)

So, what a joy it has been to effectively hear a fine new Marshall Crenshaw album for the first time, one which in many ways ranks up there with Miracle Of Science and his first two Warner Brothers albums from the 1980s (Marshall Crenshaw and Field Day). 

The CD version of #447 includes two brand new songs as bonus tracks. Fear not vinyl lovers as those same tracks are included as a bonus 45 RPM single that comes with the LP! Talk about value for your entertainment dollar!

I love how #447 opens with a “welcome to the show” rock ’n roll overture, as if the song was the theme to an alternate universe American Bandstand type TV or radio program. Comically called “Opening” — spoiler alert: replete with a nifty-trippy rewinding tape moment in the middle — it sets the stage that this album was going to be a return to form, with Marshall singing “Its all about rock, we bring it right to your door… just like we did before…” 

A splendid time is guaranteed for all in this show. Some of my favorite songs on #447  include “Dime A Dozen Guy,” “T.M.D.” and the brilliant “Tell Me All About It.” And, like the best variety shows, Marshall peppers #447 with some songwriting diversity including instrumentals which work very nicely especially in the vinyl edition — they cap the end of Side One and offer a bit of change in the flow on Side Two, sequencing wise.

“West of Bald Knob” sounds kind of like what might have happened had Jeff Beck recorded a sweet end-of-summer quasi-surf sunset ballad. “Edyies Tune” is a beautiful little jazz inflected piece that reminds me of no less than Les Paul’s great Grammy-winning recordings made with Chet Atkins in the mid 1970s, Chester & Lester.

Issued originally only on CD, now for the first time #447 can be enjoyed on long playing vinyl records. My copy is excellent in all those ways audiophiles groove on, pressed on quiet, dark black vinyl that is well centered. It was even remastered by legendary engineer Greg Calbi of Sterling Sound fame.

Marshall Crenshaw also has a new live album out, humorously dubbed The Wild Exciting Sounds of Marshall Crenshaw: Live In The 20th and 21st Century. Tongue-in-cheek title aside, this two-CD set delivers a solid snapshot of what the man has been doing on stage across his career including during that early first peak in the 1980s as well as in the 1990s.

Both of these new Marshall Crenshaw releases are rich, full of catchy, heartfelt songs. If you are looking for sampled beats and dance tracks, this probably isn’t going to be your cuppa tea. But, if you like your rock and roll power-popped and jangling with guitars ‘n amplifiers ‘n riffs ’n solos driving strong melodies, then Marshall Crenshaw is your jam.

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