Friday, October 11, 2013

Tommy Jay - Tall Tales of Trauma [1986]

Here's a bit of weirdo psych-folk for the proud losers to jam on this Friday night. Tommy Jay is one of the pioneers of the Central Ohio underground. He and a few other outsiders like Mike Rep formed some of that state's first punk bands in the early-mid '70s, carrying the torch of Lou Reed and the 13th Floor Elevators on through the '80s to light the way for everyone from Guided By Voices to Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments to Pink Reason. But don't take it from me, take it from the anonymous crowdsourced writeup I found on lastfm:
Tommy Jay is legendary — whether writing songs and playing drums for Mike Rep & the Quotas (or The True Believers farther back), or collaborating on a number of Nudge Squidfish self-releases — but even as an equal in the now legendary Ego Summit, his contemporaries' main projects (V-3, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, Bassholes) outshined Jay’s dark horse status. Only now does one realize that his "Novocaine" was the fulcrum of the entire project. He was the poignant, coherent, folkie among a barn full of well-medicated genius.
The balance between these crisp psych-folk nuggets and direct contact with the lunatic fringe (be it “little black jelly beans,” blotter, or blue oyster cults) make cult record Tall Tales Of Trauma a rewarding time warp through twelve years of Central Ohio lore. In the record’s earliest documents (circa ‘74, Timberlake) The Velvet Underground’s influence is obvious, not just on the cover of Ocean but also in "I Was There," a jangly, kaleidoscope of bittersweet pop that never edits his repeated guitar freak-outs. Into the 80’s the specter of Lou Reed (or perhaps more referentially precise, the echoes of Mayo Thompson) loomed large in Jay’s voice, phrasing, and tragic moods evoked, still the mysticism of Harrisburg is the overwhelming resonate. May I be crucified for such statement, but Tall Tales is infinitely more colorful and strange than any Reed solo venture (save Berlin), because it’s the quirky folk record Reed never made. It tip-toes around Indian burial grounds, abuses cheap-drug in dingy basements, chronicles the lives of gypsies, tramps, thieves, murderers, the village idiot and the quintessential anti-hero in all of us (who may or may not still live on Weber Rd.). 
Back to that lunatic fringe — the cast of characters Jay surrounded himself with give the songs their creepy (and often beautiful) skin. Squid’s pedal-steel synth on "Memories" transforms it into dim-lit neon honky-tonk or the flute and harmony provided by Jennifer Eling and Mike Rep respectively on the Joni Mitchell cover "Dreamland" is the closest thing to Laurel Canyon sunshine these ears have heard in the Columbus Discount Records pantheon.
Fans of the more acoustic-y side of J.T. IV would be well-advised to get ahold of this one. For more on the Central Ohio underground, see this post on WFMU's Beware of the Blog.

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