December 2007

Joe Cassady & the West End Sound - What’s Your Sign?
Avenue A Records
Format: CD
Released: 2007

by David J. Cantor

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

This second CD by Joe Cassady & the West End Sound is an engaging collection of paradoxes. Driven by bass, guitar, drums, and keyboard and rich in instrumental breaks and introductions, it showcases some interesting lyrics. Sounding casual and spontaneous, it is also well rehearsed and polished. Wearing influences on its sleeve, it is still very original. It is reminiscent of late-'60s garage-band arrangements, yet advanced and expert recording and mixing replace that old-time muddiness with pleasing clarity. At one point, you’ll swear you’re hearing a mid-'60s Dylan bass-drums-organ intro, but when lead singer Cassady comes in, he sounds more like a throat-constricted Arlo Guthrie -- and the lyrics sound like neither.

Cassady wrote all but the last of the album’s 13 tracks: "jack kerouac" by "ken kweder" [sic]. Using no capital letters throughout the liner notes -- not uncommon -- is in this case a self-conscious component of the playfulness that belies the work’s seriousness -- or is it the other way round? Could a serious person write a song called "can opener" that begins "the can opener was rusted but the worms are still crawling on the floor" and never again refers to a can opener or other implement? Like the tracks’ solid rhythms, this ambiguity engages the listener.

The late Norman Mailer famously said that if Bob Dylan were a poet, then he, Mailer, was a basketball player. Mailer was a very, very smart dude, but his foul shot needed a lot of work. In Cassady’s case, you decide. Wherever you come down, What’s Your Sign? demands many listens.