Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Just Water-DOWNTOWN AND BROOKLYN, THE COMPLETE RECORDINGS 3-CD set (, also available via CD Baby)

Last week it was David Patrick Kelly's turn. Now it's Just Water's.

Yeah, I know you most certainly don't remember Just Water, and to most of the rats who threw their heart, soul and a few cornplastered tootsies into what we know as seventies underground rock they're just anudder name that pops up in the "footnote" category while all of the hefty rock space is being devoted to the likes of Talking Heads, Blondie and the rest of those groups that made it big while sacrificing more than a little integrity in the process. Maybe if Just Water decided to do a little twisto-changeo with their sound we woulda been seeing their albums proudly emblazoned in the record shops of the day only to fall into the 99-cent bin once 1980 rolled around. Thankfully they didn't stray too far from the core of the matter (rock & roll) even if it meant losing a whole lotta buckskins and chances at immortality in the process.

My first tumbling upon the Just Water name came when I got hold of the second MAX'S KANSAS CITY album...y'know, the one that everybody dismissed offhand because none of the "punkier" New York groups appeared on it. Yes, although the likes of Pere Ubu and the Cramps were slated for this 1977 outing it seems as if the entirety of MAX'S KANSAS CITY VOLUME TWO was taken up by what one would call the second and third string of New York's underground rock, those groups that I won't deny were good enough, but totally out of step with the Ramones and Dictator-type groups that were getting all of that hotcha ROCK SCENE press. More or less Wednesday night at CBGB stuff or, as the then-current vernacular would say, "bar bands".

Amongst these so called "bar bands" were some interesting acts like the Elliot Murphy-esque Andrew Pearson Band, the Kiss without makeup hard pop of the Brats and just post-Winkies Phillip Rambow, not to mention a few more halfway-there groups who might have made it had they somehow stuck out amongst the reams of acts trying to make the big time via the small stage. One group that did seem to show promise was Just Water, an act whose "What We Need is Some Rock" came off like a good enough FM rock anthem for the day, kinda like Boston without the zillion-dollar budget or the Who if they sorta remembered their promise about dying before they got old. The Who comparison actually works wonders...y'see, Just Water shared the same manager with local Who-maniacs the Planets, and not surprising the two were sharing many a stage at Max's putting on shows that I would say were probably a whole lot more in-sync than some of those gigs where the likes of Pezband would be matched up with Suicide and Kongress!

Unlike the Planets and a whole load of local underground groups of the day, Just Water were also releasing their own wares via their own Branded records, their first outing being a single entitled "King Kong", released around the same time Television and Cross were getting their indie singles out for a clientele that sure didn't know what an indie single even was! By '77 they had followed it up not only with an album entitled THE RIFF, but a teenage pop cover version of the Joe Cook classic "Singin' In The Rain" which believe-it-or-not Stiff Records picked up for British Isles consumption! According to the group, the Amerigan version was actually the first record since ? and the Mysterians' "96 Tears" to "get heavy airplay in the United States without the backing of any record company"! That sure must've been a feat especially during this heavily manipulated time in radio programming, though for the life of me I can't recall hearing this song anywhere, especially amidst the stench of disco that was all the rage right around the same time.

Flashing foward to today and whaddya know but it seems as if there's a whole slew of Just Water booty available for all three of us who remember who they were in the first place! And this triple-disc set, packaged in a neat professional fold-out cover with informative insert booklet glued to the package making it hard to lose (and hard to read), might just ensure that there will be more than three fans once word of this neat collection makes its way via the blogvine!

As far as being a "document", well it sure works wonders presenting Just Water as a band that had something good to say for ears that, if only attuned to their brand of hard pop, would have eaten this stuff up along with the better aspects of whatever was left of seventies AM (and FM) at the time. And with the Who making it big on the heels of Keith Moon's passing with WHO ARE YOU I'm sure these guys coulda done even more'n just rode around on their coattails, and if you thought that "Hot Child in the City" was the last seventies single (excepting some Leif Garrett tuneage if you like!) perhaps "Singin' in the Rain" woulda given it a little run for the money if only that self-push had been a little harder.

Disc one's a reissue of THE RIFF, and for a guy who thought that album was kinda iffy I find that it sounds fantastic all these years later. Good on the harmony pop mixed in with the tried yet surprisingly true hard poundage so common in late-seventies rock, THE RIFF sounds more like CBGB 1976 and less like the bar band schmooze of the day when collegiate numbnuts were all agog over half-baked Springsteen imitations and ignored the real thing (not Brooce, if you know what I mean). I'm surprised at the smoothness of it all which did make a fine counterpoint to the one-dimensional heavy metal goes hard pop that was so prevalent at the time.

The unreleased second album on disque #2, MEET THE COMPETITION, didn't quite zone it for me and sounds like a standard tired followup which is nothing new in the record biz unless your name is Velvet Underground or Stooges. Good thing they didn't get to release it because I find it less enthralling and perhaps more of a commercial try at the big time, but slipping on two versions of "Singin' in the Rain" (the Branded and Stiff records takes) was a stroke of genius and who am I to complain about that?

THe final disc has two live recordings, the first a portion of an FM broadcast from the old CBGB Theatre in '78 and the second from CBGB proper also in '78, showing that these guys were a lot freer and rockin' in a live setting, or at least there was a spark of action on these tracks which makes me really think that Just Water would have been a great band to lay eyes upon in any underground club they'd care to grace, delivering a whole lot of energy and power that could be found in ready supply in the garages and dives of underground Ameriga during those best and worst of times days.

Filling out the discs are alternate takes and early versions and fun things along those lines that sometimes do perk up the ears a bit. Disc #3 has got to be noted for having some interesting enough additional flotsam to pad the thing out, including what was purported to be the group's very own attempt at a (now get this) ROCK OPERA sometime in the just-pre club days. It's funny, but when I was spinning this "opera" entitled "The Last Phonograph in the World" I kinda flashed back to what it must've been like in 1971 listening to the last days of freeform rock radio hearing a whole lotta interesting shards mixed in amongst the James Taylors and ELPs, and just wondering what that pretty good bit of obscurity was in the first place!

Maybe I should tell you more about the music and the musicians who made up Just Water. They're tight, energetic, rocking, pro and always in tune, but they still come off like a boss band anyway! Lead singer and guitarist Mitch Dancik pretty much holds it all together with a voice that reminds me of a variety of late-seventies teen idol hard rockers, yet it's sure good to hear such a voice wrapped around great writing, rock & roll hooks and post-Who credo than it is to re-live the reams of Journeys and Foreigners who were doing the same thing and coming off more or less like the Frankies and Bobbys of the early-eighties. Sometimes it's really nice to listen to something well-thought-out, exact, clean and well-produced...that doesn't make you want to puke your guts out, that is!

Before I tune out, I thought I'd let you know that a visit or ten to the band's very own website linked up above is more'n worth the cliched time/effort to do so. It's jam-packed with some really good historical information on the group as well as plenty of old clippings to remind you of just how exciting rock & roll could have been in the seventies, and what really got me all hot and bothered were the old club listings from Max's and CBGB from '75 until the latter part of that high energy decade...really, you learn a lot just by finding out which acts were populating those stages way back when, and not only is it a hoot to discover to your amazement that Max's was still devoting their weekends to disco (?!?!?!) as late as January of '76 (maybe even until the end of March since they were still not listing weekend gigs at this late date!) but that various acts not usually akin to yer standard "punk rock" club (as if CBGB and Max's ever were 100% underground rock) were front and center on these stages where blues and jazz acts were splattered amidst the New York underground clientele...acts like jazz songstress Mercedes Hall and blues guy Paul Oscher were probably just as plentiful at Max's as the Ramones were, and hey I'd love to hear what a group like "300 Years" or especially "Pee Shee" sounded like so if any ex-members have tapes they'd like to jet my way... Anyway, this site is one worth the time to eyeball when you have those mid-seventies hankerin's, and if you used to buy ROCK SCENE to check out the goings on and want a little more resensification after three decades of Madonna (who actually made her debut @ Max's opening for the Rousers!) maybe this'll make you feel like an acne-riddled under-the-thumb repressed li'l kiddie again!

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