March 2009

Joe Cassady and the West End Sound - The 47th Problem
Avenue A Records (no catalog number)
Format: CD
Released: 2009

by David J. Cantor

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

In this album, Joe Cassady and the West End Sound, more than most singers and bands, resubmit familiar experiences to us afresh. Maybe songwriter Cassady’s "Willie Mays" is influenced by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy’s "Catfish," about Catfish Hunter, another baseball star, but like the album’s other ten original soft-to-driving rock tracks, this song sparkles in its own right: "Pinstripes and diamonds and overhead lights / Million mile stars twinkle through million dollar nights."

Cassady explicitly acknowledges his Dylan influence. Especially when spinning out his prosaic lines while fronting his ragtag-sounding, deceptively musical band, he makes big-time hay from ground that Dylan already plowed. But part of his success is his individuality, and he diverges significantly from Dylan. His singing is more conversational, less apocalyptic, and reading the lyrics, you think about Allen Ginsberg -- another acknowledged occupier of Cassady’s brain.

Shu Nakamura on several instruments, Robert Bohnomme on drums, Anthony Bax on percussion, and Aaron Gardner on bass shine more than players in a classic Dylan model band -- Nakamura in particular, with his hot guitar solos and catchy introductions. The sound needed a bit more work, but we'd want to keep the "mess" that keeps the listener hopping.

Cassady’s writing on personal relationships and literature are sophisticated and witty but not in a popular vein. Writing excitingly on public matters might be a useful page to borrow from Dylan. Cassady's big talent deserves a serious following, and the timing is right.