Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A little touch of Monda in the night

So we spent the holidays reading Joseph Wambaugh’s Hollywood Station and Michael Connelly’s Echo Park, and listening to a new CD that could serve as a soundtrack to either. This Time is a slow-burning and bluesy Los Angeles jazz pop masterpiece for those of us who’ve been around more than once and found ourselves back in the same place every time.

The first time we slid This Time into the CD player, we did a double take on the PCH. We were sure it had to be Harry Nilsson, or his ghost—or at least what Harry Nilsson would have sounded like had he kept his boozing in check and taken enough care of himself to make it this far. And it turns out the similarity is not entirely coincidental. The artist was a friend of Harry, born about ten months earlier, who calls himself M. Richard Monda.

Friends know him as Dick Monda. You, if you have a sense of pop music history that goes back farther than the last Fergie single, might remember him as Daddy Dewdrop, who charted in the Top 10 in 1971 with a wacky novelty song called Chick-A-Boom (Don’t Ya Jes Love It). The 45 was sort of a catchy kiddie version of Spill the Wine that Monda had actually written for a cartoon show called Sabrina and the Groovie Goolies, just one of his many Hollywood stops since arriving from Cleveland as a kid and playing the young Eddie Cantor in The Eddie Cantor Story. Monda's been all over the music business in the years since, producing and writing songs for everyone from Tom Jones to Sammy Davis Jr. to Ringo Starr to the Hudson Brothers, and if his new CD is any indication, he's loved and lost and left more than a few along the way.

(And dig this: He also appeared in a 1989 cinematic work called Oversexed Rugsucker from Mars, which Joe Bob Briggs hailed as “a serious examination of what exactly would happen if three drunk six-inch-high Martians landed on earth, climbed inside a vacuum cleaner bag, and electronically mated with a street bum,” and whose writer-director contributes a song to This Time. We don’t make this shit up.)

Now, somehow from out of nowhere, M. Richard Monda has released this classic late night album that unspools like a set after hours at a jazz club in Sherman Oaks. Or early morning in a living room in Malibu.

This is LA music that brings in a little Michael Franks, a dash of Mark Murphy and a kinship to Charlie Haden's Haunted Heart, but fits securely in the tradition of the grown-up, stripped-down weary pop perfected by Harry Nilsson and Dennis Wilson too long ago. So intimate that much of it is sung in a whisper, This Time is the sound of a polished pop craftsman putting aside the trappings and looking back, just as Leiber & Stoller did with Peggy Lee—and it turns out that track we mistook for Harry Nilsson was “It’s A Good Day,” an old one written by Peggy Lee, and it’s reprised at the end the CD with backing vocals by Mark Hudson as a “Tribute to Harry Nilsson.”

In between is a mix of Monda originals and standards like Blues In the Night: songs about love lost, wrong roads taken, cheating, loneliness, and in the title track, optimism that finally he’s gotten it right. Though he probably hasn’t. It seems a long way from Chick-A-Boom. Until you remember those lyrics:
Last night I had a crazy dream
About a chick in a black bikini
Oh, she looked so good
She couldn't be real
She must be a magic genie
But then she disappeared around the corner…
M. Richard Monda and old friend and Hudson Brother Brett Hudson on the set of Hudson's classic motion picture comedy, Cloud 9.

No comments: