No tags :(

Share it




Any time we see his name on a record, either as the primary artist, songwriter or producer, there’s a certain level of intense curiosity to see what Dave Bartholomew will have come up with.

Few early rock acts were as ambitious, creative and proudly determined as he was, yet – at least when it came to his own records as the lead artist – few were as unpredictable and sometimes inexplicable in terms of coming up with commercial content.

This was always what made him such a wild card, the fact that someone who crafted more great material for (and with) the artists under his watch could seem to forget how to adhere to the basic principles of selling music to the public when it was he who stood to benefit most from it.


Soup’s On!
Let’s start with the obvious point of interest… the title.

An intriguing title always had the potential to stir interest on its own, promising some quirky story that would be worth checking out. Since Bartholomew had already proven this once before with the delightful That’s How You Got Killed Before, we hoped that this might prove to be a similar case, but when we find out this is an instrumental our hopes for some humor, an interesting perspective or at least an unusual delivery go out the window.

But that’s okay, we also know that references to food have made for some great rock instrumentals too and while most of those were briefer titles about specific dishes, particularly staples of Black Southern Cuisine, rather than sort of a catch-all phrase taken most likely from Dave’s Army days (where, at least in all of the movies I’ve seen, as if that’s definitive proof, food is referred to as “chow”), means this might’ve just been something taken off the top of his head to give a name to an otherwise insignificant recording.

The sad part is if he HAD come up with a story based on the title alone it probably would’ve been somewhat funny, especially since humor was one area of his songwriting that would blossom most when writing for himself rather than others.

But if an instrumental it is, then he’s fortunate he’s got arguably the best studio band in rock’s first dozen years behind him.

Unfortunately what he has them playing is fairly directionless and mundane, even if it’s played with technical proficiency.

Going To Chow starts off pretty well with a slightly heavy handed piano that quickly gets complimented by some gently riffing horns and a ringing guitar that caps off each line.

When the song proper finally kicks in after that extended intro there’s some admirable vitality to how it’s delivered. The horns may be pitched a little too high for rock’s comfort zone and consequently they may come across to some as “droning”, but they’re keeping the song firmly in the pocket while Ernest McLean’s guitar throws in some intentionally abrasive interjections to provide a fairly interesting contrast.

But he might’ve been better served using the same idea with different instrumental highlights such as a grittier tenor playing the same basic pattern, maybe with a baritone rejoinder that could’ve transformed the entire feel of this and made it more appropriate for our communal interests as rock fans.

Even without that though at this point it’s still holding its own in a modest sort of way… at least until Bartholomew himself comes into the picture and throws the stylistic allegiance of the record into utter confusion.

Chow Down
I’m sure regular readers cringe when the topic of trumpets ruining rock songs come up around here. It’d even be entirely understandable if somebody misinterpreting that broad edict thought all of the criticism stems from just my own aversion to that particular instrument and nothing more.

But that’s not the case at all. Though it is true that rock music had difficulty incorporating the trumpet into their arrangements early on because so many of the musicians were jazz-reared and thus used to having the trumpet given free rein to improvise, the fact of the matter simply comes down to each musical genre having a different intent.

Rock was riff based whereas trumpets tended to favor melodic invention. Rock gravitated towards the reeds in the horn section, while the trumpet is a member of the brass section. The trumpet generally has higher tonal qualities than rock favors and because of that it stands out, even in a larger ensemble because its sound doesn’t blend as well with other instruments.

Rock has only occasionally been able to find innovative ways to incorporate the trumpet into the music over the years, but usually when they do it’s because they use it sparingly – quick bursts of notes, or perhaps a mournful dirge in a downcast song – or by changing its focus to the aforementioned riff based approach.

Going To Chow is not downcast and Dave Bartholomew doesn’t just offer a few sudden accents with his horn, but rather plays a long solo, squawking away, using the trumpet almost as a voice (think of the adults in Charlie Brown holiday specials). But without more of a clear cut image like that to build upon it sounds like a goose being grabbed out of the air… or sounds like Dave’s goose is being cooked when it comes to his career as a headliner.

Now let it be said that he plays fine, his talent as a musician was never in doubt, but instrumentally he still was thinking of what the trumpet was capable of in jazz and then trying to adapt it to a more rhythmic track where it just doesn’t work as well.

When he wraps it up by lifting a page from the Army Buglers Corps playbook you can see his inspiration for this song but at no other point between scanning the title and the brief outro do you get any connection to what was going on in his mind regarding its theme.


No Second Helpings
Since Bartholomew himself used a food connotation for this song, maybe it’s best to stick with that to describe his – and the trumpet’s – ongoing issues.

There are a lot of spices in people’s kitchen cabinets that they like in small portions, adding flavor to a particular dish. But those same spices in the wrong meal would ruin them, just as using too much of it in your favorite dinner would overpower it.

Going To Chow doesn’t get ruined by the trumpet, but it’s allowed to dominate the taste to its ultimate detriment.

Rock is a fairly simple dish that frustrates a lot of more skilled musical chefs who’d like to use all of their ingredients rather than sticking to just the basics. But it’s such a popular meal because it consistently serves up just a hearty plate of meat and potatoes that fills your stomach and goes down easy. When the chef does that well, as Bartholomew always seems to manage when producing someone else, nobody goes away hungry.

These specials on the menu on the other hand are usually ordered by just a few more daring customers who may find it appealing for their palette but it’s never going to be what keeps any restaurant in business for long… nor is it going to sustain the aspirations of a rock musician looking to hit the charts.


(Visit the Artist page of Dave Bartholomew for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)