Shoes plus Green
SHOES, the trailblazing guitar-pop combo from tiny Zion, Illinois who in the 1970s prefigured the home-recording DIY boom of the ’90s and beyond released their first album of new material since 1994 on August 14, 2012. Ignition switches on with 15 fresh, vital tracks from Shoes’ three founding members and songwriters: bassist-vocalist John Murphy, guitarist-vocalist Jeff Murphy, and guitarist-vocalist Gary Klebe, plus longtime stage drummer John Richardson. Self-produced and released on the band’s own Black Vinyl Records, Ignition not only carries on Shoes’ cult-heroic tradition of edibly tuneful, harmony-honeycombed guitar pop; it ventures intriguingly beyond those comfortable (though undeniably rewarding) borders as well. Altogether the work of seasoned, mature musicians whose singular trajectory as 100-percent self-taught, self-created recording artists has been outside-the-box since it began, Ignition showcases Shoes at their technical and artistic peak.
The album’s release coincides with that of a new book, definitive band chronicle Boys Don’t Lie: A History of Shoes by Mary E. Donnelly (New York college professor and managing editor of PurePopPress.com) with Moira McCormick. It recounts the critically-lionized group’s evolution from rudimentary mid-’70s experiments in cutting their own records at home, through a three-album 1980s tenure at major label Elektra Records, on to a ’90s incarnation as self-sufficient indie artists operating their own full-service label and studio businesses, before coming full-circle back to home recording in the new, post-digital-revolution millennium.
It was Gary Klebe’s state-of-the-art home studio, in fact, that helped spark Ignition into existence in 2010. Unbeknownst to his cohorts, the singer-guitarist had transformed his unfinished concrete basement into a sophisticated digital-analog hybrid recording facility; he unveiled it to his bandmates in October, shortly after singer-guitarist Jeff Murphy presented them with a new song he’d written, seeking his fellow Shoes’ feedback. But his brother John, along with Klebe, didn’t merely critique Jeff’s stark, stripped-down rumination, “Out of Round”: employing Gary’s new studio gear, they transformed it from a straightforward ballad to a strikingly off-kilter rock track. Written for a friend who’d died suddenly of an infectious brain disease but from the perspective of his grief-stricken wife “Out of Round” is driven by a measured, minor-key piano figure evoking a barely-getting-by atmosphere of loss, which alternates with guardedly hopeful bursts of the double-time-drummed chorus. “Out of Round” is like nothing else in Shoes’ canon.
Ignition is Shoes’ fourth self-released album of all-new music since parting ways with Elektra, a series that began with 1984’s Silhouette, continued in 1990 with Stolen Wishes, and halted (temporarily) four years later with its 1994 follow-up, Propeller. The ensuing 18 years’ output has included a live CD, reissues, rarities compilations, a two-CD set of early demos (2007’s limited-edition Double Exposure), film-soundtrack and tribute-album contributions, Jeff Murphy’s ’07 solo release, Cantilever and now, Ignition. http://www.shoeswire.com/home.cfm
The Chicago rock band GREEN was started by Jeff Lescher (guitar and vocals), John Diamond (bass and backing vocals), and John Valley (drums). This lineup recorded the 1984 four-song EP The Name of This Group Is Green and the band's 1986 self-titled debut album, which featured 14 songs, including re-recordings of all four songs from the earlier EP. In 1986, Diamond and Valley elected to leave the band as Lescher announced plans for a national tour. Recruited from local music papers and from among their Chicago fan base were new bassist Ken Kurson, rhythm guitarist Stuart Shea, and drummer Rich Clifton. Shea departed following a brief U.S. tour, and the remaining three-piece recorded Elaine MacKenzie, including the tracks "Heavy Metal Kids", "She Was My Girl", and "Radio Caroline".
Writing in Spin magazine, rock critic Ira Robbins reviewed Elaine MacKenzie, noting, "Lescher's voice is astonishing — a rough but melodic roar that seems to be straining for release" before concluding "The Greening of America starts here." Away From the Pulsebeat magazine's review of Elaine MacKenzie stated: "Best American band, best songwriter, best singer, best LP. Sweep year." In 1990, Green released an EP called REM, this after the band R.E.M. released an album called Green.
The group's membership changed again when Mark Mosher (drums/vocals) and Clay Tomasek (bass/vocals) joined the group for the Bittersweet E.P. in 1993. In 2001 Eau de Vie was released. The group released its seventh album, the 16-track concept affair The Planets, in 2009. The group now includes Lescher, Tomasek, Mike Zelenko on drums, and guitarist Jason Mosher.