Song of the day: Jud Norman – "Baby Step"

November 10, 2012

A little while back I pestered you with the latest Research Turtles EP, Mankiller – Part 2 of 2.

At the time, the Turtlin’ Dudes also told me that head Turtle Jud Norman (Hi, Jud!) released a solo album and asked if I wouldn’t mind having a listen to it. My response, as always, was “I wouldn’t mind at all.”

A Note About The Album

Jud’s solo album is called Baby Step, and it’s his second. (His first, Apples, Oranges, was released in 2004.)

Baby Step is a collection of home demos recorded between 2009 and 2012, and everything on the album is played solely by Jud. (None of his Research Turtle band mates got a look in.)

Baby Step is available completely free of charge over at the Research Turtles Music page. Click on the album cover, and it’ll start downloading immediately.

Oh, and speaking of the album cover…

A Note About The Album Cover

Before I get to the music and my responses to it, I must let you know that I modified the album cover for this post. (See above.)

The cover originally contained a black-and-white drawing of Jud. Unfortunately, I found that particular drawing to be, er, ah, um…

I don’t quite know how to put this without offending someone (namely, the person who drew the picture), but I can’t look at the original picture. I just can’t. There’s something about it that I find disturbing. It’s not offensive at all (well, not in most accepted meanings of the word), because it’s only a drawing of what I presume is Jud. But it’s a picture that gives me the heebie jeebies in a major way.

So I modified the cover.

If you want to see the original cover, by all means you can do so here. But please don’t ask me to.

I hope I’m not stepping on any artistic toes with my visual vandalism, but it’s something I had to do.

The Album

1. “Baby Step”

The first word that came to mind when I heard this was “OK”. Nothing more. It could be because I had just listened to three King Crimson albums in a row (Discipline, Beat, and Three Of A Perfect Pair), but hearing “Baby Step” was a bit of a step down for me. (Awful pun not intended.) I’d say that any kind of regular rock music after King Crimson would sound pretty ordinary, so this isn’t necessarily a reflection on Jud and his song. I think I might need a couple of minutes to adjust to completely different music.

2. “Cool And Cold”

I must admit that I’m not especially keen on this. Where are the time changes? Where’s the virtuosity? Where’s Tony Levin?

(Note to self: You’re not listening to King Crimson anymore, idiot. Pay attention to what you’re hearing.)

Back to “Cool And Cold”…

Although I’m not especially keen on the verses and choruses, I do like the middle eight a lot (1:55-2:09). I think it’s the best part of the song. Can Jud make that the chorus for a different song? And if he does, can he revise a lyric in it? (At 2:02 he sings “Girl I gots to know”. I’m not the biggest fan of using the word “gots” in any song, no matter who it’s by – even King Crimson.)

Incidentally, leading into the middle eight is a little bit on the bass guitar that reminds me of the little bit on the bass guitar in The Beatles‘ “I’m Only Sleeping“:

Jud Norman – “Cool And Cold” (2012) (excerpt)

The Beatles – “I’m Only Sleeping (1966) (excerpt)

Going back to another instance of “I wasn’t terribly impressed with…”, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the guitar solo that followed the middle eight, although during the solo I did like the accompanying tremolo guitar riff in the left channel (e.g., 2:20-2:23). Groovy.

A Production Suggestion Too Late To Mention Because The Album’s Already Been Made But I’ll Suggest It Anyway: After the guitar solo there’s a guitar in the left channel playing some riffs (from 2:36). I like those riffs, but I would have gone for playing the same parts an octave lower. Hey, Jud: do you feel like re-recording “Cool And Cold”?

Oops. The phrase “Hey, Jud” just reminded me of… this. Excuse me while I spend the next six minutes listening to, er, something else.

Right. I’m back from Beatle Land. (What an exceedingly nice place to visit.) Next song.

3. “One And Two”

This is a very pleasant sittin’-around-the-campfire song, the kind where all you need is an acoustic guitar and a voice, with harmonica optional. Jud opted to add the harmonica. I enjoyed this.

4. “It’s Easy”

We’re back in singalong rock song territory, and it’s cute, especially those background vocals in the left channel. This is one cute song. (Dig that quiet little Farfisa organ in the right channel, tootling away). Considering this is supposed to be a demo, I reckon if you give this to the right band (the Research Turtles perhaps?) you’d have what music publisher like to call “It’s a hit!”.

5. “Roll On”

I thought this was OK, but didn’t go anywhere in particular. Nice “I-I-I-I-I…” tune though (0:51-0:56). For me, that’s one of the positives. Balancing that out in the negative department is that dinky synthesizer (1:07-1:26). Ugh. Message to Jud: If you ever play that song live, would you mind not using that synthesizer? Ever? Thanks.

Oh, before we get to the next song I’d just like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed that single bass note that finishes the song at 3:23. It’s (almost) dramatic. Of all the spectacular crash-bang ways you could have chosen to end the song – drums and guitars slamming together at full force, or a percussion ensemble banging everything at the same time, or full orchestra with choir emitting an excruciatingly loud chord – you chose one bass guitar note. Excellent.

6. “Electricity”

This sounds like an attempt to be The Band. Or putting it another way: this reminds me of The Band. Hmm: dodgy backing vocals in the left channel. (Note to self: Remember, Peter – these are demos. Most of them are pretty polished, but they’re still only demos.)

7. “Someone”

Another campfire song. With a standard Fifties chord structure (until we get 0:38, and then it’s a modern song).

I like this song.

I’ve just noticed that the album has 14 tracks, and I’m only halfway there. Eek! If I don’t hurry up I’ll still be reviewing this tomorrow.

8. “She Got Something”

A straight-ahead, Research Turtles-ish rocker. This is Fifties- and Sixties-influenced, which is alright by me. Oh, there’s a little catchy vocal melody (0:15-0:17, then 0:32-0:34 etc.) that reminds me a lot of something, but I can’t figure out what it reminds me of. I like all the little influences scattered throughout the song, such as the backing vocals (e.g., 0:37-0:47) and the guitar solo (0:48-1:05). And especially Jud’s falsetto “Ooooh!” at 0:48. It’s a heap o’ fun.

Gah! Another six songs to get through. Hurry, Peter, hurry.

9. “Come On Back”

When this song started I thought “This really does sound like a demo – have a listen to those low-fi drums.” But then the other instruments came in, and everything went jangly. And catchy. Very catchy. I’m liking this song a lot. Pompous Advice To Jud: Record this properly, and you’ve got yourself a song a lot of people will want to hear repeatedly.

10. “Crash”

Nope. This one doesn’t do anything for me. I guess it’s meant to be moody, but I’m not in the mood for the mood it’s in. I didn’t mind it when it started but it got repetitive very quickly. I almost like the ultra-heavy guitar sound (the one where it sounds like the amplifier’s speaker has a ruddy great hole in it). The part of this song from 1:52-2:08 reminds me of Jud’s Research Turtles song “Bugs In A Jar” from 0:52-0:55. (Similar chord progression.)

11. “Alison Mosshart”

Ah, another song with jingle bells. (See my review of the Motel Beds album, Dumb Gold. They have a song with jingle bells in it as well.) Have jingle bells been on special in music stores recently?

I think this song is cute. It has catchy tunes, guitar playing a fun riff in the left channel during the choruses, backing vocals going “Ooh la la la”, and jingle bells. Unfortunately, it has a fairly dreadful guitar solo (1:12-1:27) that’s out of tune (mostly sharp). Come to think of it, while I’m bagging aspects of this song I’ll mention the snare drum sound. I think that’s fairly ghastly too. (Note to self: Calm down, Peter – it’s only a demo. It’s not supposed to sound all super-duper.) But I reckon this is another song that you could tidy up and make it a nice little pop song.

By the way, the title of this song reminds me of a song I like a lot. because I haven’t heard that other song in ages, I think I’ll put it on the blog sometime soon. Thanks, Jud, for reminding me of that other song.

12. “I’ll Wait”

This isn’t a cover of my least favourite song on Van Halen’s 1984. And I’m very glad about that.

I don’t mind this song. There isn’t much in the way of melody, but when the vocal harmonies come in at 0:55, it makes what there is of the melody much nicer. I will say that by the end of the song I enjoyed the verse melody more. As for the chorus, for me it was more “Meh” than “Melody”.

By the way, this song contains some very enthusiastic crash cymbal hitting during the latter part of each chorus.

Pointless information for drum nerds: The first part of the song where Jud bashes away at his cymbal (0:36-0:47) he hits it steadily throughout, but the second time he spends time whacking that critter (1:23-1:34), he hits it not as strongly in places – specifically, these places: 1:31 and 1:33.

Jud more than makes up for the inconsistent smashes the third (and final) time he hits that cymbal (2:34-). He just keeps thumping it for a full 23 seconds. Now there’s a man with stamina. And then Jud hits it a few more times for good measure.

I don’t know why I told you that. (The only reason I can think of is that I noticed it.)

Changing the subject away from cymbal trivia: I like the guitar lick at the start of the solo (1:36-1:39). I don’t like the rest of the solo, but I do like that opening lick.

I think I may have talked enough about this song. (Note to self: You have.)

13. “I Like You”

I enjoyed this very much, except for the “Bop shoo wop…” backing vocals (e.g., 0:51-0:56). I thought they belonged in a different song. I actually think the song would have benefited from those backing vocals not being there at all, which would have enhanced its relaxed feel. But apart from those out-of-place vocals, I think this song is lovely. There are a lot of little things about the song I like, but this post is far too long as it is, so I won’t enumerate them. (I can hear you say “Don’t you dare enumerate, Peter. Don’t even think about it.”)

However, I do want to say that the tune played by the solo guitar from 3:02-3:09 is enormously frustrating because it’s a tune I’ve heard somewhere before, but I can’t for the life of me remember where I’ve heard it before. Grrr! And what makes it worse is that Jud plays it again from 3:14-3:42, but this time he echoes it with another guitar, thereby making me hear it twice as much. (Talk about rubbing it in.) And I still can’t figure out where I’ve heard that tune before. Aaaargh!

Where have I heard that tune before? Somebody please tell me. Please!

14. “Stormy Skies”

OK. This is it. We’ve finally arrived at the last song, which means I can stop typing soon, and you can stop reading. (It sounds like a win-win situation to me.)

Jud has gone troubadour for this track: just an acoustic guitar and a voice. Well, until he added a dinky little synthesizer from 1:36-1:50. The sound of it is a bit difficult to describe. It’s sort of like a muffled stylophone, or a melodica in a state of disrepair. Maybe it’s best you just hear it for yourself.

But the weird non-troubadour sound goes away, and we’re left with Jud The Acoustic Artiste, gettin’ all lonely. (Sample lyric: “No-one’s callin’ my phone, it never rings”).

But then Jud gets fatalistic (“Stormy skies will come and they will go”), so at least the song – and the album – doesn’t end on a complete downer.

One last thing: I really like how Jud sang the last phrase of the song (“…that I have come to know”, from 2:27-2:32). Very nice.

***

Hooray! I finished this review.

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