If a group makes back-to-back standout albums, is there any reason why radio hasn't jumped on their bandwagon?
That question could be asked of Chapel Hill, North Carolina's Gladhands. Sounding nothing like the typical "Chapel Hill" sound but closer to Cheap Trick or Matthew Sweet's form of perfect pop, the radio gods that be have doomed us to endless spins of the Spice Girls or Celine Dion.
The band's 1995 debut, the unfortunately aptly-named _From Here To Obscurity_, generated an immediate buzz with those who heard it (including this writer, who placed it in his "Top 5" of 1995) - but there were far too people who *did* hear that stunning debut.
Drummer and co-lead vocalist Doug Edmunds feels much more confident about the new record on Big Deal, _La Di Da_. "It's always hard to break a new band at radio, but as long as people listen to the songs they're going to recognize that this is good stuff. Flavors of the month will always get airplay...that's why they're flavors of the month, right?!"
Guitarist and the other lead vocalist, Jeff Carlson, expresses some frustration about the past. But, "we feel a lot stronger about _La Di Da_. We have a much better (label) team involved with this record."
On _La Di Da_, Carlson and Edmunds split the vocal duties equally, with each taking the lead on 6 of the album's 12 tracks. That's Jeff's vocals taking over on the rocking pop throwback leadoff ode to being nice, "Kill 'Em With Kindness", with Doug's vocals (Peter Cetera meshed with Cheap Trick's Robin Zander) rising to the occasion on "Smallsville". "Gore Girls (Gimme More)" alternately splits its musical time between the Beatles' "Penny Lane", Tommy Roe's "Dizzy" and R.E.M.'s "Pop Song 89", while the lyrics ("They're not so untouchable / An average Joe could take one home") take a playful poke at the Vice-President's daughters. R.E.M./Byrds-like guitars also rule on "Kat". And if there was any justice, the Raspberries meets Cheap Trick, harmony-filled "House of Mirrors" would be blaring out of radios around the country.
The inclusion of Ben Folds Five bassist Robert Sledge (appearing on 6 tracks, including backing vocals on the title track) is just an added bonus. Carlson and Sledge have known each other for a while, and the appearance on the album wasn't a result of pulling any strings.
"Robert was a roommate of mine during a time when Ben Folds Five were just starting to create a buzz," Carlson recalls. "I'd done some demos for the new album (_La Di Da_) and Robert had played on a few of them. He had a 4-track and drums and we laid down an early version of "Kat". When it came time for us to record the album, I asked him if he had a few days available to record and he said 'Yeah, I'd love to.' Ben Folds Five were pretty busy at the time, but he fit it into his schedule. He recorded all six of his bass tracks in one day with us."
Edmunds remembers the initial time he checked out the "other" North Carolina piano alterna-pop trio. "I walked in on their sound check at their very first show here in Chapel Hill. I was there to hang a flyer for a Gladhands gig, and when I heard them I flipped. That was in spring of '94. Ever since then I've remained friendly with those guys."
And, has the critical praise generated towards BFF and success of Matthew Sweet offer hope for the future? Carlson responds: "It certainly helps. Anytime a band with songs as their main focus - rather than attitude or image - succeeds, it's going to point things in a good direction."
Both members play coy when asked about their influences, preferring to leave it up to critics and fans to determine those. Edmunds specifically states that "It's impossible to deny the influence of my favorite pop rock artists. I think we do a good job of mixing our influences and creating something fresh and original. I don't think anybody sounds quite like us."
The new saviors of pop music might be right about that. Let's see when radio programmers wake up to that fact and start adding some Gladhands songs to their playlists. For those wishing to check out the Gladhands online, their web site is located at http://www.gladhands.com