July 27, 2003

Tony Scheuren "Gaining on You"

Gaining On You is a posthumous release of songs by Tony Scheuren, a man whose name you probably don't know. He was a relatively obscure musician; he was in two bands in the 1960s, Ultimate Spinach and Chamaeleon Church (only remembered mainly because Chevy Chase was a memeber), and he contributed several parody songs to the wonderfully hilarious (and one of the last radio programs) National Lampoon Radio Hour. His two shining moments during his time with National Lampoon were "Southern California Brings Me Down" (a Neil Young spoof) and his James Taylor parody "Methadone Maintenance Man." Other than that, he never made any commercial music, and he passed away in the early 1990s at the age of 45.

Like Love's Bryan MacLean or Badfinger's Pete Ham, Gaining On You is an album of mixed emotions; it's hard not to listen to these recordings without the spectre of their passing looming large--because had they not passed, we more than likely would not be privy to such releases. It's a peculiar feeling, too, especially if the artist released very little music during their lifetime. As such, Gaining On You is a tad solemn; it is a labor of love from his family, and it's difficult to judge fairly the works of a man who did not have the ability to choose the songs on the record, or even to offer an opinion about his music. As with most of the previously-mentioned artists, many of the songs deal with regret--regret at not being able to convince anyone that their music is good, and regret that their opportunity for fame and fortune never came. Witness the heartbreaking "Goodbye Takes So Long," where he comments that "When you're on, you're really on/But when it's gone, it's gone."

The most obvious observation is that Scheuren was a fine multi-instrumentalist; his songs--especially "Lucky Star" and "Heart By Heart" sound like a full band accompaniment--with excellent drums, guitars, bass, and percussion. All of the songs have a bit of a hint of age; they certainly sound like the 1970s, due to the lo-fi nature of the recording, as well as the general decay that comes from sitting inactive in a trunk. Scheuren was certainly aware of the popular styles of the day; at times, the songs on Gaining on You remind me of America, Steely Dan, Elton John and especially James Taylor. It's hard to compare the songs to the era in which they were written, as there are no records of when these songs were recorded.

While you've never heard of Scheuren, Gaining On You is still an intimate look at a talent who, for whatever reason, kept his music to himself. It's too bad, though, that he passed away shortly before the lo-fi/home recording trend in music became popular, and that he never got the chance to live in a world that was allowed to know him and his music. Gaining On You proves once again that obscurity doesn't necessarily obscure true talent, and that the fears of the artist towards his or her muse might be the only thing holding them back from deserved greatness. A touching, lovely document of a man nobody really was allowed to know.

--Joseph Kyle

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