"The Long Hundred" sounds like one of those epic Kipling poems wherein brave British Colonialists are named Peachy and Colonel Wellington-Hare, and by the bloomin' God that made them, Gunga Din was a better man than they were!
Not so fast.
"The Long Hundred" is the lastest compilation from Cosmodemonic Telegraph. This is a two-disc affair necessitated by a sprawling, 40-artist roster - and is by far the most adventurous of the label's numerous annual compilations.
This is because the "New London music scene" has expanded significantly. For years, it was synonymous with indie rock, garage and punk - and that was sort of all.
It's to the credit of the clubs and the booking agents and, obviously, the musicians themselves, that, nowadays, on any given night, a multi-act bill might leapfrog from the scene's old school indie/punk and include pure honky-tonk and sophisticated mainstream rock, Wilco-happy roots music and hip-hop.
Perhaps in deference to the wide variety of bands, the two discs that make up "The Long Hundred" are respectively arranged to fit as smoothly together as possible - by which, depending on the tastes of the listener, one will either decisively prefer Disc One (the earlier indie spirit) or Disc Two (Americana and mainstream).
Either way, both have plenty of cool tunes. The first record kicks off with a sterling one-two punch. The ska-happy Hempsteadys turn in a hilarious "Judas Priest," name-checking the metal icons' "Breaking the Law," while pub-rock gods the Reducers' "Sound of the City" proves the elder wizards are just as fresh and creative as they were three decades ago.
Also strong: the glistening pop of "Night Driving" by the new group Silvervine and the murky, melancholy "When Eye Met Her" from the equally new Burnouts From Outer Space. Matt Gouette's "Giants Orbiting" continues to demonstrate he's always full of terrific melodic ideas.
The lamentably defunct Above/Below is represented by "Things Get Better," which is just really smart, wonderfully arranged hip-hop. Fatal Film could be a competitive band wherever they wanted to go, and "Boys Oh Boys" only confirms that.
Recur Occurrence doesn't particularly spin anything original in the power-punk arena, but "You've Got What's Left" has plenty of sprightly energy, while Dorian James' "Deep Horizon" recalls the filtered sonics of Spaceman Three and even 801.
Disc Two is, from my perspective, the stronger collection. Almost every song works - both on its own and in the overall tapestry of the other 19 tunes. "Ride to Nowhere" is Gone For Good's latest homage to the Cheap Trick legacy, and Dogbite fuse Buddy Holly and the Old '97s on "Electrified."
"I Can't Drink Enough," by the always-excellent Jim Carpenter & Hoolios, polishes Gulf Coast gospel as filtered through a whisky bottle. Daphne Lee Martin & Raise the Rent's lovely "Rosalita" sounds like the Texas Tornados if they replaced Freddie Fender with Linda Ronstadt.
Get Haunted throws down delightful Appalachian spook music. Contrast the spectral banjo with the ethereal vocals on "Falling Stars" that recall recently deceased Broadcast singer Trish Keenan. Later, the smooth "Travelling Home" by John Fries and the Heat echo the sweeter moments of Tony Joe White or J.J. Cale from his "Magnolia" era.
One of the absolute best tunes on the whole collection is "One Day in New York" by the Sue Menhart Band. What a clever collision of styles: a breezy travelogue that would be welcome in disparate catalogs ranging from Irma Thomas to Babs Streisand.
Menhart also surfaces in the Red Hot Stove Tops, with harmony-happy cohorts Daphne Lee Martin and Nancy Parent, on their sublime "Jezebel."
Anne Castellano's "Headache" is also pretty wonderful with a thick, Moody Blues-ish synth ascension and a tender vocal melody melting over the top like butterscotch. I hear the Franklin Brothers's slick "New London Blues" and ask: Did you say Walter Becker and Don Fagen just moved in together on Bank Street? Nice.
Meanwhile, "Tumbling Soil" by Table and Chairs cleverly echoes David & David, and "Katie's Ring" by Brad Bensko boasts a floating vocal line and '60s instrumentation that sounds like a butterfly who grew up listening to the Zombies.
Ben Parent's "Empire" begs the question: will Ryan Adams and Gary Louris play an autumn croquet match to see who gets the right to cover this tune? And Parent's Rivergods twist new ground on the lovely "Big C" by including an outta-left-field guest rap segment by ex-Above/Below MC Gabe Chandler. Odd - but it works.
There are some selections on the two-disc set that also showcase a very real element of the New London scene: Those bands who sort of suck for the sheer joy of it. They're in bands to make noise and drink beer, and could just as easily be in a knitting circle or on a softball team. Nothing wrong with that on the surface: playing music is a blast - just don't ask me to pay for the privilege of listening to it.
However, these inclusions are minimal. "The Long Hundred" is the strongest Cosmodemonic Telegraph compilation yet out - and that says a lot about the growth of the scene.