A rose by any name


strangefinger's into the blueStrangefinger
Into the Blue
SideB Music//2009

Listen up, kids, for today we have a lesson in how to turn a perfectly good record into a perfectly fantastic one.

Fred Lemke made his perfectly good record in 2005, which he called Sound Awake and released under the band name Fred. Featuring 14 songs into which he and his band poured their hearts, souls and sweaty tears, the self-released album emerged complete, thanks to former Jellyfisher Chris Manning, who co-produced with Lemke. The record subsequently did time in music business hell, clutched tightly in the talons of a label that never did anything with it, until it was rescued by Jerry Boyd and his SideB Music.

That's enough of a cautionary tale in and of itself, but there's more bite to the beat. Boyd didn't simply release Sound Awake on his label. He renamed the band from the sort-of ordinary Fred to the much more commanding (and odd) Strangefinger and almost completely resequenced the songs. That would have been enough work for a bunch of days, but Boyd didn't stop there: he remastered the record, coming up with a much more dynamic-sounding album.

Resequencing a record might just be a way to place certain catchy, emphasis-driven songs up front to hook listeners from the get-go, but in the newly-christened Into the Blue's case, the songs were actually stitched into two seamless suites, thereby for all intents and purposes creating a brand-new work that flows like magic. It was a brilliant stroke that elevated Lemke's songs to classic status.


Lemke already had something else working for him in a big way: his voice, a dynamic instrument all on its own...

Lemke already had something else working for him in a big way: his voice, a dynamic instrument all on its own, sort of a Johnny Maestro kind of delivery that sells every note like the golden apples they are. That voice, driving these soulful, jazzy, powerful songs, is one hell of a thing.

In its current form, Into the Blue shouldn't be confined to a single genre, because it isn't redolent of a single one, really, melding rich background vocal stacks with strong melodies coming from all over the place. "Waiting Patient," a beautiful, short vocal harmony showcase that tips its collective larynx to the Beach Boys, connects effortlessly to the jazzy "Sunshine Between." The mid-tempo, poppy "Two Angels" flows seamlessly into the album's centerpiece, "There's an Ocean," which splits into a 4/4 tempo change about midway through and closes with a rocking guitar solo showcase.

The jaunty "Good Night," a fun "say good night to the band" tune, sits comfortably alongside the pop-funk of "Sugar" and the power-pop of "Piscetarrius," the tale of a girl who "blew in from southern sky" with her strong attraction; as Lemke sings, she's the stuff that dreams are made of: "Hope she never goes/'Cause if she's the thunder/Yeah, yeah/Surely I'm the bolt."

All of these songs, save for the icy, venomous "F**k You Stars, which sounds as out of place on this album as it did on Sound Awake, are keepers, and with the new sequencing and mastering, they shine like stars. Into the Blue proves that diamonds can come from the (not really) rough, when they're put into the right hands and the material is golden.

Alan Haber
June 19, 2010