Band members Related acts
line up 1 (1981)
- John Gurnsey -- vocals, keyboards
- Rust Bogart -- guiatr, backing vocals
- Barry Foley -- bass
- Eric Hock -- drums, percussion
- Jay Levy -- keyboards
- Lefty Potomac (aka Nils Lofgren) -- guitar
- Joe Rubin -- guitar, backing vocals
- Paul White -- drums, percussion
- The Claude Jones Band (John Guernsey)
Rating: 3 stars ***
Country/State: Chicago, Illinois
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Catalog ID: 3251
So this was one of those albums I bought entire based on the striking album cover.
So, before going on, let me quote my favorite review of this album - it came from an eBay listing: "Oddball LP from Virginia with a somewhat sleazy vibe throughout." Not sure I agree with the review (see below), but it was short and funny. It also happens to be one of the few reviews I've ever seen.
I can't say I know a lot about John Gurnsey. His late brother Tom was a member of Washington's The Hangmen (of 'What a Girl Can't Do' fame). John was a member of Washington, D.C.'s Claude Jones (aka Claude Jones Band), who managed to record a 1971 EP before calling it quits for some two decades.
Two songs originally intended for the Claude Jones EP, were released as a hideously rare 1975 single under the John Gurnsey Band nameplate. The record may be best known for featuring a young Hannah Brown (aka Emmylou Harris) on backing vocals:
- 1975's 'All the Kings Men' b/w 'King of Slang' (Sweet Breeze catalog number RI 3937)
I believe Gurnsey has moved into the art world under the name John Brian Gurnsey.
Produced by Malcolm Poplow (drummer Eric Hock handling two songs),1981's "Rocketville" was recorded at Alexandria, Virginia's Starting Point Studios. A classic vanity project, Gurnsey sang, wrote all ten tracks, handled keyboards, and even furnished the cover art. Musically the collection was actually better than you would have expected. In all honesty, Gurnsey didn't have the greatest voice you've ever come across. On a couple of occasions you were left to wonder if the man would actually make it through a song ('Still In Love'). The good thing is most of these tunes showcased Guernsey's vocal chops in ways that took advantage of his limited vocal ranges. The album was also suitably diverse with Gurnsey and company seemingly trying to appeal to a broad audience. The title track offered up a jittery, new wave edge. Nice enough, but also somewhat atypical. 'The Letter' (not The Box Tops hit), was a strong conventional rocker. At the other end of the spectrum, 'Still In Love with You' had a clear '60s pop feel. Among the highlights was the growling ballad 'Solid Rain' which has always reminded me of early Nick Lowe, or Graham Parker. Equally impressive, side two's snarling garage rockers 'What Are We Doing Here?' and 'Bad Dream'. In fact, it was those garage rockers that made for the album's standout performances. Not sure I agree with the "sleazy" adjective used above. I'd describe it as "Oddball LP from Maryland with a sense of fun throughout."
In case anyone cared, Nils Lofgren guested on the album under the pseudonym Potomac Lefty.
"Rocketville" track listing:
1.) Rocketville (John Gurnsey) - 3:05 rating: *** stars
Hum, new wave band meets '60s garage rockers ... Not the most dazzling thing you've ever heard, but after a couple of cold beers, I can picture this one getting better and better.
2.) Solid Rain (John Gurnsey) - 4:30 rating: **** stars
Built on his barrelhouse piano and Lofgren's lead guitar, 'Solid Rain' was a nice, slightly ominous ballad that showcased Gurnsey's growl of a voice. To my ears the song had a slightly English new wave edge to it. Imagine early Nick Lowe, or Graham Parker.
3.) Still In Love (John Gurnsey) - 4:38 rating: *** stars
Perhaps the album's most commercial tune, 'Still In Love' had a '60s pop flavor, complete with pretty melody and nice, if slightly ragged backing vocals. The only thing holding this one back was Gurney's ragged lead vocal. You kind of wondered if he was going to get through the song.
4.) She Don't Even Live Here (John Gurnsey) - 3:45 rating: **** stars
It's a strange comparison, but the bouncy 'She Don't Even Live Here' has always reminded me of Colin Hay and Men At Work. Gurnsey's play-if-for-laughs vocals bore a passing resemblance to Hay, but more to the point was the song's biting edge, One of the album highlights.
5.) The Last Day (John Gurnsey) - 4:30 rating: *** stars
'The Last Day' was a pretty country-rock ballad that sounded like Bob Dylan being backed by The Grateful Dead. Bland autobiographical life's-tough-on-the-road lyrics didn't help much.
1.) What Are We Doing Here? (John Gurnsey) - 4:00 rating: **** stars
I'm a sucker for a good Farsifa organ fill, so 'What Are We Doing Here?' had me from the opening chords. The combination of Gurnsey's snarling vocals and the the pounding rhythm made this my pick for the album's best tune.
2.) The Letter (John Gurnsey) - 4:07 rating: **** stars
'The Letter' benefited from a strong melody and the album's most conventional rock arrangement. Shame he didn;t do a couple more songs in this vein.
3.) Bad Dream (John Gurnsey) - 4:30 rating: **** stars
'Bad Dream' was a return to Gurnsey's garage roots and a return to form.
4.) Unfinished Business (John Gurnsey) - 3:10 rating: *** stars
Three in a row - another nice garage rocker.
5.) Delusions of Grandeur (John Gurnsey) - 2:20 rating: ** stars
Hum, hearing Gurnsey trot out his best Elvis impersonation may have been meant to be cute. It wasn't.
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