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Music Review: The Novas – The Sump’n Else Tapes

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One of my descendants was good enough to drop by from the future and provide a *ahem* timely review of a disc from a band playing the upcoming South by Southwest festival. Let me turn it over to him . . .

Good news, everyone! Professor Bluto Garnsworth here from the 31st century, with word of an extraordinary scientific breakthrough, so modestly priced that it’s within the grasp of even pathetic, chronically under-employed drones like my five-times-great-in-name-only uncle, James.

You see, this marvelous, anachronistic audio disc — The Sump’n Else Tapes by The Novas — is a veritable time machine. I must say, placing a “compact disc” in a bulky playing device does seem less convenient than plugging an audio chip directly into one’s skull, as we do in my time. Your method does have the edge in comfort, though.

This compact disc, or CD, contains recordings made by the band in 1967- '68, an era when the Beatles’ first appearance on American television had resulted in a veritable clone war of faux Fab bands throughout the country — nay, across the globe.

Among them was a group of youths from the state of Texas, who picked up electric guitars and drumsticks, named themselves after a model of Chevrolet automobile*, and learned to render the rock and roll sounds that were driving all the kids frantic. As far as my studies can determine, The Novas — guitarists David Brown and John Solly; originally, Mike Mullen, then the similarly alliteratively-named David Dennard, on bass; and Gary Madrigal on drums — were exceptional among the thousands of so-called garage bands that sprang up in the wake of the Beatles.

The Novas stood apart from the standard garage (or in Texas, where the heat prohibited “jamming” there, den) bands of the era in several respects:

• They didn’t limit themselves to minimal chords changes, simplistic arrangements, and sparing use of vocal harmonies.

• They original material on a par with million selling songs they covered.

• They were regulars on a Dallas teen dance TV show, Sump’n Else. **


In my extensive studies of the popular music scene of your time, I’ve come to admire a number of the day’s top combos, and The Novas prove adept at recreating some of those groups’ finest numbers. These apt lads assay accomplished renditions of jangly pop selections from The Hollies (“Bus Stop”), The Byrds (the sublime “Feel A Whole Lot Better”), and The Beatles (“Help!” and “Taxman”). These selections, presumably among those they performed on the Sump’n Else dance program, show the Novas’ precise harmonies, rich range of guitar tones, and cracker-jack rhythm department to splendid advantage.

Most of their renditions are spot-on, without resorting to pathetic mimicry. The minor guitar fluff in “Taxman,” for instance, may have been due to the fact that, unlike many of their contemporaries, the Novas likely weren’t tripping balls when they recorded it. About the only serious missteps are when they delve into more-traditional garage material, such as “Shake!,” which, judging from the number of versions you people left behind, bands must have been required by law to record. Or perhaps it, and not “Louie, Louie,” was actually the national anthem back in your time. At any rate, the cruder material does not play to the Novas’ greatest strengths.

The highlights of the original compositions are “William Junior” and “And It’s Time” (which I’m told were issued on a 45, a seven-inch disc of hardened, compressed dinosaur juice), tunes not derivative, but pleasantly reminiscent of The Five Americans’ “Western Union” and The Hollies’ “Look Through Any Window,” respectively. All of The Novas’ own tunes are comparable to the better-known cover songs they accompany, making a most enjoyable program of period music.

As I mentioned, this audio-disc of exuberant youth music so thoroughly evokes its time, listening to The Sump’n Else Tapes is virtually indistinguishable from traveling back to the 1960s. Except you don’t have to concern yourself about accidently stepping on a butterfly and rending the space-time continuum to shreds, which is a plus.

As it happens, The Novas have reunited in your time and will be appearing at something called S times SW, in Austin, Texas, this coming weekend, and are performing a limited number of other engagements. Guitarist John Solly also records and performs as a solo act. And I must say, he’s missing a golden opportunity if he doesn’t release an album titled Love Means Never Having to Say You’re Solly.

* Automobiles, or cars, I believe you primitives call them. The history books of our time refer to automobiles by their correct appellation, of course: four-wheeled ozone blasters.#

# Of course, the chances are good that The Novas chose their name because “a nova in astronomy is an exploding star,” considering that’s bassist David Dennard’s contention in an interview I discovered in some ancient archives:

** For an entertaining, informative profile of The Novas, and the Texas garage (and den) band phenomena, see the article “Three Chords and a Station Wagon” by Michael Hall, in the March 2010 issue of Texas Monthly. If you can’t find an issue in print, I suppose I could loan you my holodisc copy.

[More about The Novas, including some amazing vintage photos, can be found at: their website.]
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About James A. Gardner