A few years ago I bought Andy Partridge’s ‘Fuzzy Warbles’ box set. Nestled among the nine CDs of demos and unreleased tunes was a faithful recreation of The Beatles ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, recorded by his fellow XTC guitarist, Dave Gregory, on a four track home recorder in his front room. Gregory, the sleeve notes explained, enjoys the challenge of reproducing his favourite records in what Partridge refers to as ‘atomic exactary’. His reason for undertaking these self-set goals is purely to see whether or not he is capable of achieving them.
The reason this sprang to mind is because I’m guessing that it may also be Vinnie Zummo’s motive for his ‘Swinging Guitar Sounds of Young America’ series, which has now reached volume three. What this album delivers is Zummo writing original tunes in the style of successful artists of the past sixty years (a similar strategy to what XTC themselves did under their psychedelic ‘Dukes of Stratosphere’ guise). There’s a Stevie Wonder pastiche on ‘Funky Games’, The Beach Boys close-harmony style is replicated on ‘I Wanna love you’, Tom Petty is stylistically aped on ‘I’m in no Shape’, and is that George Harrison on ‘Play Paul McCartney’, and, err, John Lennon on ‘George Harrison’? You get the general drift, but the sheer variety of styles and approaches contained within this album is quite staggering, from Zappa through Cream, to Merseybeat and Nashville. There are some strong tunes contained within. The Bangles-esque ‘Hey You’ has a neat riff and a sweet melody, whilst ‘Like Living on the Sun’ is a great rocker (in an OK-Go style). The Country tunes fare particularly well, especially the Bob Wills’ inspired ‘San Antonio Jump’. However, at nineteen songs over eighty minutes, the novelty of the approach eventually wears off and it starts to feel like listening to an extended episode of Name that Tune.
There’s no denying Zummo’s musical prowess, his incredible creativity, and his ingenious ability to capture the textures of yesterday. He remains one of the most under-valued guitarists around (his playing on last year’s Joe Jackson album, ‘The Duke’, is an absolute delight). This is a fun album and worth a listen.