Here's an article that's been a long time coming! Sorry it's a year late Len, I've got reasons but not excuses!
"What Are You Blathering About?"
Last year I emailed Len Penzo about doing a "paper vs. plastic?" post for one of his "Letters, I Get Letters" articles. Len, as you know, is a plastics guy at heart, but he loved the idea so he sent me something awesome - his band's CD, "In Retrospect". You see, Len is more than an awesome blogger, his talents run much deeper. He was in a band, The Relics, which released an album on Blind Dog Records back in 1995. He also had an awesome haircut, which I have evidence of on the right!
Len Penzo the Musician
I recently bought a house and as we were unpacking, I saw Len's CD in one of the boxes and I put it in the office waiting for a good time to do a review. First impression - this isn't gym music. Second impression - I thought I was going to hear Len's voice through my surround sound, so it was pretty funny when a female voice piped up. Third impression - Len is a solid guitarist.
The album starts with a song called "Vancouver", which is a song about losing yourself in your driving... which is great, because the album returns constantly to the struggles of a suburban middle class lifestyle. Driving songs, songs about creeping urbanization in the suburbs (and the associated problems) and passing down good values to the next generation are all encapsulated on the disk. I can tell you - it's not gym listening, but it's certainly worth A listen.
Do They Have Talent?
Layered vocals and guitar parts convey that The Relics indeed had some talent (and some decent studio work) - and the finger-picking patterns on some of the songs make me believe Len also has some classical guitar training. The beginning of Glad You're Mine (Ed note: Len actually plays in the next song, Stranger in My House) is the best proof of finger-picking skills, but he gets to display them in a couple other tracks as well. I was hoping that there would be more solos albumwide, but The Relics do let Len go off a bit on Stranger in My House (with a little bit of post-grunge 90s distortion - but not too much) and Cancion de Dolor is an instrumental track where Len gets a showcase.
The best song? I've got to go with The Burbs, a song that talks about the problems of the city creeping into a previously suburban community. Len gets two solos in this song and gets to crank up the reverb a bit. The song is a long one and changes tone multiple times (3 songs for the price of one!). Some of the guitar fill work in this song is pretty legitimate and technically proficient as well, which means it's on the top of my list!
It's hard to peg the influences of the Relics, as I'm stronger on my knowledge of the Alternative and Classic Rock side (c'mon, I'm not Chuck Klosterman, this is a Personal Finance website!) than the Soft Rock side, but I can hear a bit of Mason Williams or some of the more classically styled Carlos Santana songs in Len's playing style. When I think of the album's composition, for some reason I'm leaning towards Fleetwood Mac, but maybe I'm just confused by the female vocals! I'm thinking closer to "Landslide" than "Rhiannon", but hopefully Len can come in here and tell me he (and they) hate all these artists.
Thanks for sending me the CD Len, they rock you in NorCal now! From a musician (check out my guitar nearby - I play it sometimes when I'm not ranting) to a musician, I hope you're still playing!