While listening to Tommy Keene’s new collection of covers, Excitement at Your Feet, I had a strange flashback to the mid-’70s. Back then, a small indie power pop label called Beserkley Records had a roster of performers like Earth Quake, Greg Kihn, The Rubinoos, and Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers.
These musicians/bands were all represented on the 1975 sampler, Beserkley Chartbusters Vol. 1, a cult album which didn’t include any chartbusters at all. It was the sort of music that was more or less labeled new wave at the time, with various groups having their best success reworking the styles of earlier bands or doing covers of ’60s hits.
Flash forward to 2013, and Tommy Keene revisits the spirit of those Beserkley bands with a jangly assembly of his takes on 11 often rather obscure songs. What we learn is just how deep his record collection is. For example, the set opens with “Have You Seen My Baby?,” a song credited to The Flamin’ Groovies. However, it was a Randy Newman song first covered by Ringo Starr in 1973.
It’s true The Rolling Stones released their version of the Jagger/Richards-penned “Ride On, Baby” in 1967, but only after the Jagger-produced version by Chris Farlowe was a minor hit in 1966. Keene’s cover choices (including “Ride On, Baby”) invite such musicology. He also covers “The Puppet” by Echo & the Bunnymen, “I Laugh in Your Face” by The Bee Gees, “Let Me Dream If I Want To” by Mink DeVille, and “Guiding Light” by Television. How’s that for a wide musical range? If you were to cover a Who tune (as he does here), would it be “Much Too Much”?
Does an acoustic rendition of Donovan’s “Catch the Wind” fit with “Choking Tara” by Guided By Voices, “Nighttime” by Big Star, and the album’s clear standout, Roxy Music’s “Out of the Blue”? Clearly, Keene set out to entertain himself and take a break from his string of nine original studio releases, even though he’s done covers before, as in Alex Chilton’s “Hey Little Child” and Lou Reed’s “Kill Your Sons.”
This year, Keene’s version of Slim Dunlap’s “Nowhere’s Near” was released as the flip side of Lucinda Williams’ take on Dunlap’s “Partners in Crime” for the limited 7-inch single auctioned to raise money for the ailing former Replacements guitarist. I can’t attest to the virtues of “Nowhere’s Near,” but Excitement at Your Feet is an enjoyable assembly of lightweight knock-offs that emphasize lyrics more so than hook-filled melodies. There’s nothing wrong with that, and Keene fans will likely be happy to have this album as a place-holder until he crafts a new batch of originals. The feel of the album, I must admit, has a sense of sameness where nothing is too hot or too cold. Well, we learned a long time ago not everything has to be a chartbuster.