Caveman Shoestore
Super Sale


If I remember correctly, it was about ten years ago that a friend of mine told me about a CD called Caveman Hughscore: a curious title for what proved to be a successful studio collaboration between Hugh Hopper (the English musician whose highly personal style has always been apparent both on electric bass - an instrument of which he is considered to be one of the most influential masters - and as a composer) and the US group Caveman Shoestore: a trio that immediately appeared to me as quite capable of performing - con brio and agility - those maze-like compositions penned by Hopper. The only member of the trio that I had previously encountered was electric bassist Fred Chalenor, whose work I had heard on an album by the group Tone Dogs, Ankety Low Day (1990 - at the time, it had been the presence of multi-instrumentalist Amy Denio that had made me curious to hear the group), and who later became a member of line-ups led by keyboardist and composer Wayne Horvitz: Pigpen and Zony Mash. I knew absolutely nothing about the two albums the trio had released during the first half of the 90s (Master Cylinder and Flux), and so this was the first time I heard the work of the other two elements of the trio: agile drummer Henry Franzoni and keyboard player, accordionist and singer Elaine diFalco.

Caveman Hughscore (1995) was a good album, where multiple, fuzzed bass parts were intelligently paired with diFalco's Fender Rhodes electric piano, accordion and fine voice; at first it was a bit strange to hear Hopper's melodies - which one usually hears "wearing British clothes" - with a bit of "new wave USA sauce" added; the spoken parts were not too successful, and I was also puzzled by Franzoni's drum parts: while he was obviously a fine instrumentalist, to me his work sounded more than a bit "out of sync" with the album. A different drummer (Will Dowd), some wind instruments, and a very clear production work (by Wayne Horvitz, i.e.: "every thing in the right place") made the following CD, Highspotparadox (1997), the superior album, it being the fruit of a joint collaboration released under the name Hughscore. Different coordinates, but the same high quality, were to be found on Delta Flora (1999), where the drum parts and the "space-age, modern" production work - both by Tucker Martine - placed the material inside a different framework.

Super Sale sees Caveman Shoestore back to their original trio: Chalenor, diFalco and Franzoni. Hopper and Soft Machine are still part of the "list of ingredients", but the sound - songs and instrumentals, both in odd time signatures - reminded me of many things; we still have a certain agility that we could maybe call "new waver USA with mobile drums" (does anybody remember the Orthotonics?); Chalenor plays the electric bass and the Stick, but there's no accordion this time: in fine voice as her usual, here Elaine diFalco mostly plays the Fender Rhodes and some synthesizers, which, with the exception of the first track, sound fine. Super Sale is an album that calls for an articulated judgement: there are a lot of nice things here, but there are also things that I definitely found to be not to my taste; it'll be the (personal) ratio of the former and the latter that'll determine one's final opinion.

Fifteen tracks in an LP-like length, many styles, beautiful songs, agile instrumentals, musicians attuned to each other, music that reminds one of many things but is never a direct copy: those are the pro. What about the cons? Well, first of all a mix that sounds pretty peculiar, to say the least: I had to turn the bass tone control quite a bit to the right in order to place Chalenor's bass parts where I felt they belonged. I also found many things sounding "wrong" with the drums: the hi-hat is way too metallic-sounding, almost techno; the drums' stereo spread sounds as too exaggerated to me; there's also a concept of the work of the "rhythm section" that at times I found to be detrimental to the songs - it was obviously not a "bass locked with the bass drum" that I was expecting to hear, but on tracks such as Austin Noto and Merry-Go-Treadmill the bass and drums sound as they are coming from different worlds! But - surprise! - I found myself listening to the album more and more often, every time with increasing pleasure: so it's a glass that's half-full?

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2005 | Dec. 1, 2005