It’s a sign of a truly great album when it still leaves you laid low some 28 years later. David + David’s Boomtown does just that. David Baerwald and David Ricketts’ 1986 album is a masterpiece from start to finish. Produced by Davitt Sigerson, Boomtown is full of funky bass playing, snappy drumming, slash-and-burn guitar and growling vocals. Yet the album is graceful, nuanced and riveting.
Both Davids applied their California experiences to the album, combining them with Middle Eastern and R&B grooves to make a fascinating gumbo of rock sounds. Lyrically, Baerwald paints in vivid colors — as heard on the opening track and hit single, “Welcome To the Boomtown,” Direct and sexy, the song is led by an e-bow-like guitar and a pulsing bass which intertwine with electronic and acoustic drums. All of it combines to transport the listener into a car hurtling down the Sunset Strip.
“Welcome” made it to No. 8 on the rock charts and No. 37 on the pop chart, unusual given the heady topics it covers. Same goes for “Swallowed By The Cracks,” also a rock chart hit at No. 14, which adds an almost jaunty bounce provided by drummer Ed Greene — something that works in stark contrast to Baerwald’s tale of woe. The juxtaposition is comical and effective.
“Ain’t So Easy” then finds the pace picking up to an almost fevered pitch, as David + David follow our hero home. There, he finds a wife who is about to leave him after another episode of verbal and physical abuse. Do his pleas of remorse work? Does she do the right thing and leave him? David + David are effective at punching their listener and then kicking him in the nuts when he’s down. “Being Alone Together” takes us to the awkward place where that once loving couple is now lovelorn. Are they too lazy to leave? Too fearful? Add in the pleading background vamp by Toni Childs, and the listener wants the song both to continue — and to stop.
The bouncy “A Rock for the Forgotten” followed, in what used to the side two-opening slot. David + David handle almost everything on this one, including vocals, guitar, bass guitar, mandolin, Dobro, piano, drums, keyboards, harmonica, lap steel and an economical, Telecaster-like lead guitar. They are augmented by Paulinho da Costa’s percussion and a muscular acoustic and synth drum backing from Ed Greene. Baerwald’s gruff lead vocal/narration over the almost sweet harmony, a potent and compelling effect, is coupled with Ricketts’ effective reggae-like backdrop to leave the listener utterly captivated.
“River’s Gonna Rise” then completes the downward spiral, as synth drums and explosive live drumming cradle the David Gilmour-like lead guitar and insane Sonic Youth-like ending solos.
God ain’t in his heaven, something ain’t right
The TV newsman smiles and says, “The curfew starts tonight”
They’re killing a man from the inside in the broad daylight
While the propped up puppet wags his head
And watches all the proud things die
But the river’s gonna rise
Rock is rarely this depressing — or this good.
“Swimming In The Ocean” is a funky-tight guitar and drum work out, while “All Alone In the Big City” reminds us once more that we are down, there’s not much hope and we are alone. Boomtown ends with “Heroes” — a song, with its bright dobro lead and straight-rock rhythm, that works as a perfect end of the nighter. Upbeat music from Ricketts, and almost hopeful lyrics from Baerwald, leave the listener eager to hear a second David + David album that, alas, never came.
Pity. The duo later made key contributions to debut albums by both Sheryl Crow and Toni Childs, but neither comes close the Boomtown.
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