Finally, someone has traced alt-rock to the Gin Blossoms and beyond, making a connection to the Beatles (you’ve heard of them, that band Paul McCartney used to be in before Wings). Sure, the Badinovs sound closer to the former, but there’s no denying their respect for and ability at—even with modern-day production values—good old fashioned, raw-edged rock ‘n’ roll topped off by just the right touch of polish.
Much of the long-storied British Invasion had that as a signature. The Badinovs bring it home, picking up where history left off; it’s doubtful George Martin himself could have done a much better job than producer-engineer Kent Peterson does on the Badinovs’ debut Fess Up, a perfect gift for even the pickiest Grinch on your Christmas shopping list.
The Badinovs keep things simple, trusting to the tried-and-true method of just putting the right notes in the right places and doing it with feeling. Well, okay, tight chops, too. “I Fade Away” hooks you on first hearing. It drives, guitar brightly chording, drums nailing hard. The transition into the chorus is heavenly. In the old days, this cut would come out as a 45 in advance of the album, whetting listeners’ appetite in anticipation of the whole thing. In those days, hit singles too often were a lot better than the rest of the album. Here, “I Fade Away,” leading Fess Up off, heralds a disc with nothing but A-sides.
In general, the material is characterized by strong melodies, rich harmonies, Mike Nilles’s ringing, Roger-McGuinn-ish 12-string electric and sardonic lyrics. Not a half-bad combination. “Let Me Off Here” is fun, toe-tapping rockabilly at its best. Something of a hoot, in fact, with lines like, “We were here to help and show the world/ How they could live—how good life could be/ We were the good guys in white hats/ To the rescue—let us set you free/ Somewhere back our lines got crossed/ We fell asleep at the wheel/ This is where I’ll get off, could you let me off here” and “There used to be some charm in this town/ There used to be neighbors, now there’s just a ‘hood.”
The personnel is Nilles (vocals, guitar), Pat Olberding (vocals, guitar), Jeffry Becker (drums), Dug Salmela (bass), and Bill Kelm (keys). Gifted guest vocalist Joni Vincent does backup and takes a sweet lead on the upbeat ballad “End of the Day.” Oddly enough, there are no songwriting credits in the liner notes, so, you have to assume it’s all done by Nilles and Olberding, notables from when they headed up St.-Paul-based alt-pop outfit Smart Alex.
Give this one to your friends for Christmas. Hell, take a copy home to put under your own tree.