Back in the eighties, when this writer was living in the Illinois heartland, I was part of a group of new music lovers who used to regularly drive a van up north to Chicago or Schaumburg to see then up-and-comers like the B-52’s or Devo. It was a two-hour plus drive, and when our blurry-eyed selves were released from the clubs, we typically had to stop on the way home in the Bolingbrook Denny’s for some caffeine and sustenance. Listening to Jed Davis’ The Cutting Room Floor (Eschatone Records), I found myself recollecting those late night early repasts: not just because one of the tracks on this disc specifically recalls the joys of “Denny’s 3:00 A.M.,” but because the whole disc captures so much of the sounds of that era.
A pop-punk collection of late-night reveries, Floor brought this listener back to the days when New York Rocker was an essential read in any college town record store. As a musician, keyboardist Davis has worked with surviving members of the Ramones on a tribute track to Joey R. and been a part of the garage-y Hanslick (“You Are Boring the Shit Out of Me”) Rebellion, but Floor works a more varied alt-pop palette. Playing in his studio with a group of unidentified fellow musicians, the singer/songwriter glides from high-register hollering a la Dee Dee Ramone to smooth pop jazz (“Interesting Times”) like you might’ve gotten from Blondie at their peak.
Though the album opens on a patience-trying note (an over-produced despairing shanty), it gathers steam with the hard rocking “Before I Was Born,” which quickly belies its slowed down nod to Bill Withers’ “Somebody to Lean On” by speeding up into a tuneful adolescent complaint about growing up middle class. Elsewhere, our boyish vocalist engages in some new wave rap (the dark-themed “Blood”), a gospel-like paean to old school arcade games like Donkey Kong, an optimistically sweet harpsichord flavored love song (“I Have A Rose”), and that guitar-driven Denny’s track, with its reminiscences of early morning flirting with the waitress. That last is reprised at the end of the album as a lo-fi goof that recalls Todd Rundgren’s fourth side antics on Something/Anything? but these mystery track games don’t spoil the song.
As a lyricist Davis moves from angst-ridden to comic, the point-of-view of a guy who’s romped in the New York music scene for years now — who knows the high of getting that one track down right and the heartbreak of realizing that this same cut isn’t being appreciated by a large enough audience. That beat-up van of record store geeks in the 1980’s would’ve recognized where Davis is coming from — along with the joys of a Grand Slam Breakfast.