Saturday, March 29, 2008

the cuts

In October of 1988, a Burlington, Vt.-based rock band called the Cuts released their second album, Straight Path. Their first album, a self-titled LP, had been a local favorite in 1985, and the band was doing their own promotion for the follow-up, sending it to DJs, promoters, anyone who could expose their music to a wider audience.

The Cuts never broke big, and if you Google them, the only mention you will find is in the recollections of ex-Burlington scenesters like this guy. In fact, the only reason I know about them is that the band's guitarist, Frank Egan, is my uncle.

For a few dollars, I recently bought a vinyl promo copy of Straight Path on eBay. It came with a great promotional poster of the band and a press release with a hand-written note to someone named Mickey, signed by Dave Daignault, the lead singer and bass player of the Cuts, and to this day one of Frank's best friends. After the Cuts, Frank and Dave moved to Boston and then New York, playing together under a variety of names: Lisa Rock, Coffee, Penny, and most recently Louder Daddy. Now Frank is a financial analyst with a wife, an ex-wife, and two kids, soon to be three.

But I digress. Here is my copy of Straight Path:

While the cassette version of the album (which I listened to repeatedly as a kid) had ten tracks, the vinyl edition has just six — "to insure [sic] greater fidelity for radio airplay," as the press release explains — making it more of an EP than a bona fide LP. My intention here is to re-expose the world to an album that very few people ever heard, and that probably I am the first person to listen to in a good 10 years. I managed to figure out how to digitize the EP, and I present it here (with Frank's pre-approval, of course) for your listening pleasure, complete with analog pops and hisses.

Click here to download the whole EP, or click on the track names below to listen to or download them individually:

01 Straight Path (lyrics)
02 In a Different Part of the World (lyrics)
03 Pig (lyrics)
04 Rain (lyrics)
05 Hard to Pretend (lyrics)
06 People Solving Problems (lyrics)

I recommend starting with the title track — the one the most deserves the title of "lost gem." This one's got it all: some kick-ass guitar lines, some oh-so-'80s synths, an anthemic chorus, and an even better verse melody that Dave milks for all it's worth. My favorite part is the fourth time through the "My roots..." verse, when Frank joins in on backing vocals. I also love the rhyme of "avoid" with "Freud." Classic.

Some of the other tracks maybe haven't aged as well, particularly "People Solving Problems" and "Pig," which are ruminations on world peace and American greed, respectively. (In particular, the sax solo on "Pig" reminds me how glad I am that that instrument is no longer prominently featured in many pop songs.) "In a Different Part of the World" is another topical song, but it's interesting for a number of reasons: first, the production, which is very Talking Heads-y in its world-music flavor and its female backing vocals; and second, the lyrics, which are frankly hilarious. The verses totally throw the feel-good message of the chorus on its head.

"Rain" is an interesting atmospheric piece that feels a bit longer than it is, but the production is fantastic, with synthesizers, backing vocals and distorted guitars used to spooky effect. This should've been in a movie.

The sleeper hit on the record, for me, is "Hard to Pretend." The synth line that opens the song would've fit right in on pop radio in '88, and the song is brooding, dark and moody as hell. Plus that guitar solo — damn, uncle!

When I was a kid listening to this stuff, I guess I didn't realize how many of the Cuts' songs were about messed-up desire and illicit romance, although I guess they did make the sex stuff more overt in one of their later songs, which was titled "Take Me Down." (I wish I could've been able to post an mp3 of "Esther," one of the cassette-only songs from Straight Path, which was about Dave's "Domino's pizza girl" and contained the awesome line, "There isn't anything that I wouldn't give just to munch-a-munch-a-munch on her pies.")

OK, so have a listen to these tracks and post reactions in the comments section.


Mary said...

why did you put [sic] after insure? insure and ensure are virtually interchangeable... no?

Carl Burnett said...

You're right; there is overlap. But ensure in this context would be more correct.

ensure: make certain that (something) shall occur or be the case : the client must ensure that accurate records be kept.

insure: (figurative) secure or protect someone against (a possible contingency) : by appeasing Celia they might insure themselves against further misfortune.

Anonymous said...

You sir rock!

I saw many a cuts show in BTV back in the day and knew your uncle. I have been looking for a set of mp3s to replace our virtually dead casset.

Tell Frank Stew says hi (His old girl friend Julie's house mate). I still see. NATO around town as well.

Kathryn King said...

wow! but my fav cuts song isn't here...architecture. so how does a librarian in Ft Worth TX have a favorite Cuts song? i went to Middlebury Coll my freshman year. my best friend was a native Vermonter from the northeast kingdom. She came back from a weekend home with a cassette of the cuts. in fact i still have a mix tape she made me that has architecture and straight path on it...thanks for the songs!! my other college friend who now lives in FL will be pleased as well.

Hampster said...

wow can't believe i found this. had a tape in college of the cuts - with architecture, ni##er in new england, etc. good stuff. wish i could find that tape. will always remember (well ok, flashbacks more like it) of one crazy night in Burlington when i was visiting UVM friends and walked into bar and The Cuts were playing. woke up to chinese man saying "why you sleep on my couch?" :-)

Chad Klever said...

Anonymous posted Stew says hi. Well, hooray for speech therapy. You can't fool me Jensen, your spelling still sucks.

Michael Peterson said...

I too saw The Cuts many times while living in Burlington in the late 80's/early 90's. I have their first and second tapes, and am currently transferring them to digital for my own listening. If you'd like them, I can send them to you and possibly have them available to others from your page.

Amy Blumer Badini said...

This was a fun find! I'm going to hunt down a tape player to play my old tapes which I do still have! UVM '90.

Anonymous said...

I have this album. My wife and I purchased it during one of their performances at Nector's in Burlington. Since that time I had recorded MP3 files of both Straight Path and In A Different Part Of The World and both of these songs appear on numerous mix discs in our CD wallet in our car. In fact, I listened to Straight Path just yesterday, as of this post.