Written by: Alex Green
Their new three-song E.P. Down Tangerine Road finds Norway’s Sleepyard doing what they do best: playing ’60s-influenced pop with utter perfection. “Dear Melody” is an open-hearted blast of dreamy pop brilliance, while “Pebble Girl” effortlessly suggests The Zombies. The band sounds better than ever, clearly more at home in a pop song than almost anyone else in music today: the hooks are big, the harmonies are bigger and it’s nearly impossible to get these choruses out of one’s head.
However, the piece de résistance here is the title track, co-written and sung by former Jasmine Mink Jim Shepherd. Bridging the gap between The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer In The City” and Sam Cooke’s “Sad Mood,” “Down Tangerine Road” is nothing short of a revelation. Shepherd, who remains one of Creation Records’ true titans, turns in what might very well be the best vocal performance of his already fine career. Employing a bluesy delivery that is at once wistful and optimistic, Shepherd’s voice, which has the spectral quality of Billie Holiday and a rousing spiritual authority, gives the track an infusion of melancholic resolve. This is a song about the past that doesn’t want to talk about the past.
“What will we do now that our summers have gone?” Shepherd wonders, as “Down Tangerine Road” captures the great existential dilemma of human existence. Keats said there were four seasons in the mind of man and Paul Weller once likened the passing of time to the crashing of waves—either way, leaves fall, tides recede and the future arrives and ages right before our very eyes. Shepherd’s “Down Tangerine Road” is aware of all this—it resists and embraces time and although like the work of the great poets it evokes, it can’t offer a solution, it’s the most life affirming blast of indie rock gospel you’ll ever hear. Perfection.
Jim Shepherd Talks To CITC About Down Tangerine Road:
Caught In The Carousel: Can you talk a bit about how the collaboration between you and Sleepyard happened?
Jim Shepherd: Oliver from Sleepyard and I have been in contact for a few years now and we hoped to do something together. He is a very talented and inspiring guy. He has the knack of being able to create wonderful noises that have good melodies, something that is very hard to do! He has the most amazing knowledge of music too, from Sky Saxon and the Seeds, Dennis Wilson and the Beach Boys to Spaceman 3 (who he has also collaborated with). He sent me some lovely tunes last year and I was instantly inspired to write words and sing on them. I rarely manage to find songs which I can really let go on but the first tune he sent me (“Tangerine Road”) was just that. It was about to be released on Sleepyard’s instrumental album Future Lines. We had already started the vocal version so I really wanted to release it immediately! Of course, no-one was interested and, in a way, I’m glad that they weren’t because it has been a labour of love putting it out. I have Oliver to thank for giving me the confidence to make music which I think is fit for a wide release. Whether it gets that or not is another story. But for now it is available from my own Oatcake Records of Scotland label on 7″ vinyl with a slightly changed name (“Down Tangerine Road”) to distinguish it from the instrumental version.
CITC: Where did the idea for the bluesy lead vocal come from?
JS: I had these words floating around in my head from a year before with a few lines from a long time ago and I knew where the story was coming from and going. Kind of 20th century images of the misery and, perversely the joy, of unemployment, women’s roles in the family and at work and pervading it all, a kind of ennui which has beauty in it and not just dull boredom. The feeling of living from day to day and enjoying each moment as opposed to fretting about old age and hoping that things will always stay the same. So it became obvious the vocal called for an emotional response, which matched that feeling. I had some deep soul from Dave Godin’s compilations going round in my head and I had the idea of starting the vocal before the wonderful piano playing of Mike Garson came in. Almost like saying to the band ‘when I hit that high note guys, then come in.’ But since the early days of The Jasmine Minks I have been trying to improve my singing, so it’s no big jump, much more of a gradual thing. My singing could be quite soulful on Another Age and on an unreleased track recorded in 1985 called “Everybody’s Got To Grow Up Sometimes,” coincidentally also in 3/4 time.
CITC: Vocally, it ranks with the best work you’ve ever done. What did you think of it when you first played it back?
JS: I first recorded a rough vocal on my mobile phone’s recorder. It had a certain beauty about it – scratchy and distorted. But I eventually re-recorded it with a small digital recorder in my bathroom on a hung-over morning, maybe the best time to put emotions in and keep rational thoughts away! So I would say it was very exciting when I heard it all put together. To play on Oliver’s lovely tune and have one of my boyhood heroes tinkling the ivories on it was just heaven.
CITC: “Down Tangerine Road” is much different than any of your previous work–is this an indication where your new material might head?
JS: I just sing; I do songs! I can’t say much more than that. So far people have listed the sound or feel of the song as like Tom Waits (“Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis”), Bowie’s “Eight Line Poem” and even Gospel, which is really nice. I have done more new songs and I think they are just as high quality. Two songs with apb (again getting Bowie comparisons, this time Young Americans-era) who have a strong following in the nightclubs in New York. And Beat Hotel, a band who have the potential to be as big as The Cult and with who I have sung a couple of power-pop tunes which will raise the roof! I’d really like to get The Jasmine Minks back together on Oatcake, so maybe that’ll happen next year. There’s so much going on with the release of the Creation Records movie “Upside Down” and bands like The Loft getting back together to promote that, Phil Wilson returning after a 20 year hiatus with the best stuff he’s ever written. So who knows what I’ll be doing next year? Singing hopefully!