Andy Zwerling


Band members                             Related acts

- Andy Zwerling -- vocals, guitar

 

  supporting musicians: (1971)

- Lenny Kaye -- guitar, bass, keyboards, backing vocals  (1971)

- Anne Marie Micklo -- backing vocals (1971)

- Lisa Robinson -- backing vocals (1971)

- Richard Robinson -- guitar, bass (1971)

- Leslie Zwerling -- vocals

 

  supporting musicians: (2008)

- Lynn Portas -- keyboards, strings, harp, harmonica

- David Turinsky -- horns

- Steve Young -- guitar, bass, drums, keyboards

- Leslie Zwerling -- vocals

 

 

 

Andy Z. & Leslie

 

 

 


 

Genre: pop

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Spiders In the Night

Company: Kama Sutra

Catalog: KSBS 2036
Year:
 1971

Country/State: Long Island, New York

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: promo copy

Catalog ID: 5554

Price: $25.00

 

If you've looked through my website reviews you'll quickly figure out that I have a thing for offbeat and non-mainstream artists.  Obscurity's a good thing in my catalog.  Obscure music isn't always enjoyable, but it's usually interesting.   Needless to say Andy Zwerling fits into all of those categories ...

 

Probably not a major surprise, but while still attending high school in Long Island one of Zwerling's first jobs was as a freelance writer for Rolling Stone magazine (he reviewed The Dead's "American Beauty" among others) - naturally he contributed record reviews to the magazine.  He apparently also wrote songs on the side and through a weird set of circumstances, was introduced to A&R man/producer/friend Richard Robinson.  Zwerling had previously written a favorable review of a Flaming Groovies LP that Robinson had produced.  Their meeting led Zwerling to record some demos for Robinson who was then working for Kama Sutra Records.  Robinson somehow then convinced the company to sign Zwerling.  The catch was that Kama Sutra demand that Zwerling finish the record using no more than 64 hours of studio time.  

 

inner sleeve photo

 

Co-produced by Robinson and the late Lenny Kaye (the two also provided instrumental backing throughout the set), 1971's "Spiders In the Night" showcased Zwerling as a capable, if slightly offbeat singer/songwriter. With his blaring baritone Zwerling certainly wasn't the greatest singer you've ever encountered and the largely acoustic songs were a bit on the spare and under produced side (remember he had roughly three days to finish the project).  Sure, as you'd expect from a 17 year old living on Long Island,  there was plenty of suburban angst on display in Zwerling originals like 'Slicing', 'Sifting Around In A Haze', and 'It's In the Morning'.  On the other hand tracks like 'Knife Man', 'Orange Skylight' (an apparent meditation of the annihilation of American Indians) and 'Turtles vs. Green Ants' weren't exactly your standard James Taylor-styled singer/songwriter fair.  Deeply personnel, moody, and occasionally simply indecipherable (anyone got a clue as to what the title track was about), nothing here was particularly commercial (at least in a top-40 sense), though there were plenty of stunning melodies floating amidst these ten original songs. Combined with Zwerling's earnest dedication to the material, the set had a certain hard to describe quirky appeal - imagine a less eclectic Jonathan Richmond, or a more focused Skip Spence (whom Zwerling has named as an influence) and you'd be in the right musical neighborhood.   

 

"Spiders In the Night" track listing:

(side 1)

1.) Knife Man   (Andy Zwerling) - 4:28

Opening up with simple strumming acoustic guitars and an upright acoustic bass, 'Knife Man' served to spotlight Zwerling's sweet and earnest voice..  The production on this one was quite understated which made it sound like Zwerling was literally engulfing the microphone.    Lyrically this one was definitely strange (crickets in the basement ...), but there was something very engaging here and it's easy to find yourself humming the tune at unexpected moments.    rating: **** stars

2.) Slicing   (Andy Zwerling) - 2:57

It's bothered me for years, but the opening chords of 'Slicing' have reminded me of another tune I use to hear on the radio.  Some day I'll nail the connection.  A stark, but pretty ballad, this one exposed Zwerling's vocal limitations.    rating: ** stars

3.) Turtles vs. the Green Ants   (Andy Zwerling) - 2:52

Turtles vs. the Green Ants' sounded very earnest and reminded me a bit of  the music I use to hear at Saturday evening Catholic folk mass.  As to what it meant ...  beats the crap out of me.   rating: ** stars

4.) It's In the Morning   (Andy Zwerling) - 2:01

A sweet, if slightly overly sensitive-songwriter ballad, 'It's In the Morning' could have been a demo for a band like America.     rating: ** stars 

5.) Spiders In the Night   (Andy Zwerling) - 7:10

Kicked along by strumming guitars and Lenny Kaye's cool bass, the spacey 'Spiders In the Night' sounded like something David Crosby might have written for a solo effort, or contributed to a CSN&Y album.  Built on a beautiful melody, the song has a fragile grace (like a spider web) that quickly buried itself into your head and wouldn't leave.  Thoroughly fascinating with some killer backing vocals from sister Leslie and a wonderful lead guitar solo from Kaye.  Another one that's lyrically a complete mystery to me ...   rating: **** stars

 

(side 2)

1.) Sifting Around In A Haze   (Andy Zwerling) - 4:20

Imagine Water Rogers as a 17 year old Long Island kid and you'll have a feel for what 'Sifting Around In A Haze' sounded like.  Like Waters' best material, this one had a killer hook and a sense of forlornness and desperation that should appeal to anyone under 25.  rating: **** stars

2.) Words To This Song   (Andy Zwerling) - 2:42

With one of the album's fuller arrangements and a totally bizarre lyric ('cars rest feel them rusting in Queens'), 'Words To This Song' was a personnel favorite.   rating: **** stars  

3.) Orange Skylights   (Andy Zwerling) - 4:17

Andy Zwerling channels Al Stewart ...  No, make that Al Stewart does his best Bruce Cochburn impression.  I'm sure Zwerling had no idea who Cockburn was, but on 'Orange Skylights' his dripping sincerity was a dead ringer for the Canadian singer.  Nice to see that Zwerling had a sense of social responsibility, though it didn't necessarily translate into a good song.   rating: ** stars

4.) Branches   (Andy Zwerling) - 1:33

Another pleasant, but forgettable ballad, 'Branches' was one of the songs that just kind of passed by without leaving much of an impression.   rating: ** stars

5.) Downwaters/Crosswaters   (Andy Zwerling) - 6:52

Built on another strumming guitar arrangement with subtle Lenny Kaye keyboards, 'Downwaters/Crosswaters' wasn't the most sophisticated song structure you've ever heard, but like the best of his material, the song's very simplicity gave it a fascinating, real-person vibe.  rating: **** stars

 

It's truly one of those records that grows on the listener the more you listen to it ...  personnel favorites included 'Words To This Song' (the unexpected female chorus always makes me smile) and  the ethereal title track that's always reminded me of an outtake that could have come from David Crosby's "If I Could Only Remember My Name" album.  Unfortunately by the time the album was released Zwerling's mentor Robinson had left for an A&R job with RCA.  Being in college and unable to actively support the album didn't exactly help Zwerling's cause; not that it mattered since confronted with a host of business and financial issues Kama Sutra had little interest in supporting the LP.  The net result was instant obscurity.

 

 

Normally I'd stop writing about here, but Zwerling's story is pretty intriguing so I'd keep on going.

 

Dropped by Kama Sutra and unable to find a new recording contract, over the next three years Zwerling actively pursued his  musical career, even managing to record some demos first for Paul Nelson at Mercury Records and then a couple of songs for Columbia.  Sadly neither company signed him.  Finally in 1974 he decided to turn his attentions in a different direction - law school.  Enrolled in Hofstra Law School, he continued to write and record demos (his sister Leslie frequently participating) and also found time to form his own publishing company - Snow Beach Music.  In 1980 Andy, Leslie and former Hofstra student Elissa Epstein formed their own Opportunity Rocks, Inc. label.   Zwerling and his sister Leslie recruited Hofstra students and friends to back them and after rehearsing in his mother's living room, they recorded an album's worth of material that was subsequently issued as "Opportunity Knocks".  Credited to Andy and Leslie Z, the pair started playing New York clubs, including CBGBs, but again failed to find a label to sign them.  Moreover they weren't making any money so in 1986 Andy and Leslie decided to call it a day, once again paying his bills as a lawyer.  Leslie shifted her attention to jewelry design and art.  

 

 

 

 

 


Genre: pop

Rating: 4 stars ****

Title:  Hold Up the Sky

Company: Snow Beach

Catalog: SNB002
Year:
 2008

Country/State: Long Island, New York

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: CD format

Catalog ID: --

Price: not for sale

 

Andy Zwerling's my idea of the ultimate cult artist.  As a 17 year old, he recorded his first album in 1971 ("Spiders In the Night"). Over the ensuing years he worked as a lawyer (specializing in general litigation), while finding the time to reportedly record thousands of songs; releasing a couple of LPs along the way with sister Leslie under the name Andy Z & Leslie. The fact his biggest fans seem to work for National Public Radio (critics Ken Tucker and Ed Ward have championed Zwerling's cause for years), merely underscored that dreaded cult artist label.   That said, it only took Zwerling 37 years to get around to releasing his sophomore album - 2008's "Hold Up the Sky".   His return to the studio was reportedly inspired by the cancer death of a close friend - the liner notes mentioned six friends and acquaintances who had passed on.    

 

So here are what Zwerling's somewhat disjointed liner notes had to say about his recording history and the new album: "I have been recording melodic rock n roll since I was seventeen and my sister Leslie was twelve. My first album "Spiders in the Night", recorded for Kama Sutra is still considered a cult classic and has gotten excellent reviews as recently as 2008, on DrasticPlastic and playitagainmax.  In 1980 Leslie and I recorded "Opportunity Rocks and Rolls", which got an excellent review in Rolling Stone. We could not come terms on a recording contract with the majors, and we recorded independently until 1986. The music that we recorded during the 70s and 80s formed the basis for our 2000 2CD retrospective "Somewhere Near Pop Heaven". In March 2001 Ed Ward wrote a Sunday New York Times Arts and Leisure section cover story on us and the making of our retrospective album "Somewhere Near Pop Heaven". After the Sunday Times Arts story appeared, "Somewhere Near Pop Heaven" received a four and a half star review on allmusic.com, written by Thom Jurek. In 2003-2004 "Somewhere Near Pop Heaven" became a surprise radio hit in Croatia. The song "Someday Forever" legitimately went Top Twenty. NPR Rock Critic Ken Tucker chose Andy Zwerling's Hold Up The Sky for his list of top 10 best albums of 2008. All music was written, arranged, produced, recorded and mixed by Steve Young at Media Recording Studios. In April, 2007 I went to Media Recording and with my friend Steve Young produced my new album "Hold Up the Sky", which was finished in May, 2008. Leslie sings multiple background parts on the album. I am very proud of it. 

 

Ed Ward wrote a story about my album on  http://www.sonicboomers.com/onthecorner/zwerling-space

 

Ken Tucker reviewed "Hold Up the Sky" on NPR's 'Fresh Air' on September 17, 2008. I want to thank him for the great national review. 

 

In the October issue of Rock and Rap Confidential, legendary music writer Dave Marsh called "Hold Up the Sky" 'remarkable'. For anyone interested, I located the brief review at: http://heavysoundsandtheabstracttruth.wordpress.com/2008/10/01/rock-rap-confidential-october-2008/ 

 

On the December 16th, 2008 NPR "Fresh Air" , Ken Tucker chose "Hold Up the Sky" as one of the Top Ten albums of 2008. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98327691 

 

 

Recorded with keyboard player Lynn Portas, longtime friend Steve Young, and sister Leslie, 2008 saw the release of "Holding Up the Sky".   

 

When I finally located a copy of the CD, it took me a couple of days and spins to recognized the links between the debut and the follow-on. At the surface level, the album cover was pretty funny in that it featured Zwerling perched on a roof of what may have been the same house featured on the debut album ( (presumably the home he grew up in).  . Who says you can't go home ?  On a musical level Zwerling's voice had deepened over the years; now occasionally sounding a bit like Bill Medley (meant as a compliment, not a criticism). Thematically he continued to draw musical inspiration from a wide array of everyday surroundings - Jerry Lewis telethons, National Public Radio, string theory, though this time out Zwerling showed a surprisingly activist edge on tracks like 'I'm Going To Buy Brazil' and 'The Sound of Trains'. Guess that comes with getting older. In one of my earlier reviews I'd described Zwerling as a musical chameleon and that was certain the case this time around with the 14 songs including stabs at blues (' Jazz About the Blues') , bossa nova ('I'm Going To Buy Brazil'), commercial pop ('Flower Girl'), supper-club lounge act ('Here In My Heart'), and conventional rock ('I Want To Go Home').  Unlike anything else released during the year; Zwerling and company were definitely idosychric and all the better for avoiding popular trends - no auto-tuning; no raps, or guest-artist remixes ...   

 

"Hold Up the Sky" track listing"

1.) TV Pizza   (Andy Zwerling) - 1:44

From a technical perspective Zwerling may not have the greatest voice you've ever heard, but I've got to admit I love the voice and it's seldom sounded as good as on the martially-paced opener 'TV Pizza'.  The song had quirky lyrics and an elaborate vocal arrangement that showcased just how good Andy and Leslie's voices blended together.  Imagine one of those cool Free Design songs and you'll have a feel for the overall sound.   Only complaint, clocking in at under two minutes, the track was too short.    rating: **** stars

2.) Jerry Lewis Is Live    (Andy Zwerling) - 3:57

His lyrics can be enigmatic and that's certainly the case for 'Jerry Lewis Is Live', but when the melody gets going, this one's a charmer with the title chorus plowing into your head and refusing to leave.   The song even has harpsichord flourishes.    rating: **** stars

3.) The Sound of Trains   (Andy Zwerling) - 4:18

Another one where I'd love to learn what the theme was - yearning for a simpler time ?  I've read the lyrics dozens of times and don't really know.)  Never mind since 'The Sound of Trains' showcased one of the prettiest melodies Zwerling's ever written.  Beautiful piano courtesy of Lynn Portas.   rating: **** stars

4.) Flower Girl   (Andy Zwerling) - 3:45

Infectiously bouncy pop song with a killer chorus that would have made Brian Wilson green with envy.  rating: **** stars

5.) Here In My Heart   (Andy Zwerling) - 3:18

The album's first disappointment, 'Here In My Heart' found Zwerling taking a stab at supper-club lounge act.   The '40s-styled arrangement and backing vocals didn't help.  rating: * star

6.) Public Radio   (Andy Zwerling) - 3:41

One of the album's catchiest tunes and also lyrically one of the strangest ...  I originally thought this was going to be Zwerling paying back his NRP supporters, but based on the lyrics which included name-checking a bunch of NRP shows,, I don't think so.   rating: **** stars

7.) I'm Gonna Buy Brazil   (Andy Zwerling) - 4:35

So why not throw in some bossa nova moves with an apparently slam at consumerism ?   Different, if not one of my favorite tunes.   rating: *** stars

8.) I Want To Go Home   (Andy Zwerling) - 3:10

With a glistening melody and full rock arrangement, 'I Want To Go Home' was probably the album's most overtly commercial and radio-friendly tune.   Shame it didn't get any exposure.   rating: **** stars

9.) Jazz About the Blues   (Andy Zwerling) - 4:05

Yeah, judging by 'Jazz About the Blues', blues wasn't an idiom particularly suited to Zwerling's talents.  Imagine Barry Manilow taking a stab at a blues tune and you'll get a feel for this one.  That said, Steve Young turned in a nice guitar solo.    rating: ** stars

10.) Africa's Calling   (Andy Zwerling) - 2:28

The lyric had less than fifty words and was another complete mystery, but 'Africa's Calling' had a pretty melody and more of those glorious multi-tracked Andy and Leslie vocals.   rating: **** stars

11.) Love Is Not Safe   (Andy Zwerling) - 3:27

Andy-channels The Talking Heads with a touch of Steely Dan-styled jazz ?   Who knows, but  kicked along by Steve Young's keyboards and guitar this was another irritating catchy performance.  rating: **** stars

12.) Flight Pattern   (Andy Zwerling) - 3:39

Decent, but ultimately slightly anonymous ballad.  rating: ** stars

13.) String Theory   (Andy Zwerling) - 4:22

The perfect love song for The Big Bang ...   I guarantee you've never heard a love song that incorporates the concept of string theory.   Who knew physics could be so catchy ?    rating: **** stars

14.) Holding Up the Sky   (Andy Zwerling) - 0:49

Another pretty mid-tempo ballad that simply came to an abrupt ending after 49 seconds.  Shame since it was a wonderful melody.  Maybe he'll finish the song by 2018.   rating: *** stars

 

The NPR guys got it right - all hyperbole aside, this was simply a wonderful album that should have made everyone's top-10 lists and turned Zwerling into a massive star.   One of the few album's I have loaded in its entirety on my iPhone.

 

For anyone interested, Zwerling has a web presence and myspace site at:

www.andyzwerling.com  and  http://www.myspace.com/andyzwerling

 

By the way, while I try not to be intrusive in the lives of people I write about, sister Leslie is a major ingredient in what makes Andy's records so cool. That said, she doesn't sit around waiting for Andy to decide to release an album every decade or so. In fact, she's a highly regarded jeweler. Hopefully she won't mind any resulting publicity, so here's a link to here website: http://www.lesliezwerling.com/#

 

 

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