Written by 4:20 am Audiophile Music

Title Trackers : LA Session Dudes’ Tribute To Rock Royalty Titles

Mark Smotroff has fun playing spot the influence with new parody homage album

So… I’ll tell ya… 

When I decided I really was going to review this debut album by a new band called The Title Trackers, I realized I had to do a little homework to make sure I was really hearing all I was hearing.

You see, this group has found a novel niche between being a cover band and an original rock and roll band AND a comedy act. 

Comedy? On Audiophilereview?  Stick with me… this one is a bit different and worthy of your attention.

AR-TitleTrackersBACKCOVER225.jpgOver the years there have certainly been any number of respected artists who have taken their deep knowledge of particular styles of music and merged them with an innate sense of humor into a musical statement issued to the buying public in the form of pre-recorded music.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?

This sort of thing has been going on for decades, whether you know it or not… From PDQ Bach in the classical world to modern day comic pop hero Weird Al Yankovic and everyone betwixt and between….. 

There is a long and fruitful history for parody in the music world.  

Even one of my all time musical heroes, Frank Zappa has done comedic parody across much of his oeuvre. In 1967, Zappa issued an album under the guise of an imaginary band named Ruben & The Jets which so brilliantly parodied and paid homage to the Doo Wop and early Rock ‘n Roll sounds of his 1950s youth, that some DJs missed the joke (later copies were issued with a sticker identifying it clearly as a record by Zappa’s band, The Mothers of Invention).

In the late 1970s, Neil Innes and some of his gang from Monty Python skewered The Beatles with their Beatle-approved parody album (and full length mockumentary film) The Rutles (which remains one of the pinnacles of the genre). 

One of my all time favorite bands, XTC, put out an EP and a full album in the early/mid 1980s under the guise of a fake band called The Dukes of Stratosphear, which was a brilliant tribute to the 60s psychedelic pop movement, with spot the influence moments ranging from The Hollies and The Pink Floyd to The Move, The Byrds and The Beatles. 

Heck, more recently some of the members of Jellyfish put out an 80s influenced album of new music called TV Eyes with recordings that sound like they could have been made in that decade but which never existed before. The Explorer’s Club was an acclaimed band from South Carolina that nailed the sound and style of vintage Beach Boys and sunshine pop in a manner so true you might think their records were made in 1965 — but they were issued in 2008 and 2012. 

So…I am comfortable adding The Title Trackers to that lineage with their album Lost Title Tracks.

AR-TitleTrackersCOVER225.jpgTheir concept is simple: You see, in the world of 20th and 21st century pop music, there has been a convention which not many people notice — but all the hip kids recognize it as the coolest thing for a band to do. That is, simply, not have a song on the album related to the title.  The albums with song-less titles are legion, from Abba’s The Album to Frank Zappa’s We’re Only In It For The Money. So, the Title Trackers had a nifty idea of writing songs for those albums that didn’t actually have title songs — and here’s the catch: they write and record them in the style of the artists and the period of their music. 

So when they play their song “Living in Exile On Main Street,” the band sounds pretty spot on to the way The Rolling Stones sounded in 1972 when they made the album called Exile On Main Street, right down to the horn section and Charlie Watts’ loping drum signatures.  I spot checked my original pressing of the Stones album and dang if they haven’t nailed a lot of the swagger that made that album what it is (hopefully The Title Trackers didn’t have to consume too much booze or do any drugs to recreate that feel!).

When “Checking in to The Morrison Hotel” The Title Trackers knock down all the Doors-isms and Jim Morrison-isms to a point where you almost gotta wonder: why didn’t The Doors make a song like this for the album? 

]]>Equally impressive is their “Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ,” an epic in the early Springsteen vein that would have not been out of place on an imaginary EP issued between that first album and the second, The Wild, The Innocent and The E-Street Shuffle. Sure, the Bruce-esque voice is so over the top and clearly mixing up eras of the Boss’ sound, but at the end of the day, they pull it off quite righteously (be sure to listen for the mumbled vocal bits at the end of the song as the song fades out, a quintessentially early Bruce moment).

AR-TitleTrackersINSIDECOVER225.jpgNow, make no mistake about this: the band is doing all this in a loving tribute and a very clear sense of parody.  So much so they even added a disclaimer on the album should anyone misunderstand their intention: “Lost Title Tracks is a stylistic parody. The music and lyrics are 100% the creation of The Title Trackers. It has absolutely no affiliation with, nor is it endorsed by, The Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, The Doors, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Johnny Cash, The Who, The Clash Bob Dylan or any of their publishers, record labels, or estates or any other known artist or entity.” 

Wow. These guys covered it all there. They know what they are doing: apparently all the guys in the band have played together for years and are regulars on the Los Angeles session musician scene. 

That said: I think Tom Petty should really consider covering their song “Full Moon Fever” (although I think Tom would play it a tad slower)

The most stunning production on this album however has to be the Johnny Cash homage called “Doomed to Live at San Quentin” (a play off the Cash album named Live at San Quentin).  On this track they rather frighteningly recreated the sound and feel of the Live at San Quentin concert experience, right down to the on-the-edge audience of prisoners who erupt into cheers and heckles periodically on the album. Andy Hill’s uncanny Johnny Cash impersonation is only bested by Russell Weiner’s Bob Wooten-isms (who played guitar on the original show).   

Nice touches like the Merle (Haggard) reference in there makes this album all the more enjoyable. I don’t want to spoil all the little gems for you. 

The fidelity on this album is really very enjoyable. The vinyl is thick and well centered and sounds real nice. It is hard to review the audio overall since each song seems to have its own mix that apes the feel of the artists and time periods they are parodying.  It was probably a digital recording as I do hear some of the artifacts endemic to digital mixing and mastering, more noticeable on some tracks over others (the album was created in multiple studios across the US). 

But, y’know what? Who cares? Really, you should get this album to listen to it for the fun game of spotting the influences and their attention to wondrous details, not for demonstrating your  $100,000 speakers to impress your friends.  

Check this out: these guys even pulled in Billy Joel’s original saxophone player, Richie Canata, to do the solo on the Joel homage “Throwing Stones at Glass Houses.”  I can only imagine that Richie had more than a few laughs while recording this one when listening to the Billy-isms (“you play with Fi-yah, you’re bound to get boined”). 

Not everything on the album is quite up to the same standard. Or perhaps I’m just too close to Who’s Next to dig that song or The Clash homage “Got Our Slingshot and our Combat Rock” 

Nonetheless, the album ends on a really charming note with “Blood on the Tracks,” a fun mid-70s Dylan-esque piece where all three band members take turns singing without once falling into the obvious fake-Dylan mimicry, yet you know immediately that it is a Dylan-esque feel to the tune from that period.  While its overall a serious tune that sort of morphs the sound and feel of Dylan’s “Lily, Rosemary and The Jack of Hearts” with “If You See Her Say Hello,” I had a huge chuckle with the very Dylan-esque rhymes throughout the song — these guys know the stuff they are parodying intimately.

It’s pretty cool. And its fun. I started listening to this album while driving down to Los Angeles and that album had me laughing and singing along. The vinyl edition comes with CD so  you can play it in your car or rip it to your iTunes to listen via your iPhone, iPad or iPod or whatever other device you like to listen on. The car may well be the optimum place to listen to this album.

Actually, I think it’d be fun to do a whole playlist of “spot the influence” type songs from The Dukes of Stratosphear, The Rutles, TV Eyes, The Explorer’s Club and now The Title Trackers. 

You’re in good company boys.  Looking forward to your follow on album… here is a possible track listing for your next album. 

Get Happy (Elvis Costello)

Vitalogy (Pearl Jam)

Burgers (Hot Tuna)

Locust Abortion Technician (Butthole Surfers)

In Through The Out Door (Led Zeppelin)

Abbey Road (The Beatles)

Eat A Peach (The Allman Brothers)

Drama (Yes)

OK Computer (Radiohead)

Siren (Roxy Music)

Fear of Music (Talking Heads)

Sound Magazine (The Partridge Family)

Loaded (Velvet Underground)

Innervisions (Stevie Wonder)

I’ll bet the readers here will have a lot of ideas to suggest too. Leave your suggestions in the comments below, folks!

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