Roughly 33 years ago, local musician and songwriter Van Duren released what has since become known as his signature solo work, an excellent debut LP called Are You Serious?. Largely overlooked at the time, the album has gained cult-classic status in the years since thanks to several indie label re-issues and increased national interest in the Memphis power-pop scene surrounding Big Star during the mid to late '70s, of which Duren was a fixture.
"As a first record, I think it's all right," Duren says. "It's all a matter of context, I suppose. It isn't the most wonderfully recorded album ever, and the artwork sucks, but I feel like the songs were treated in the best way that I knew how at that early stage. The one thing I am really proud of is how straightforward the arrangements and playing are, for better or worse."
This Saturday night, Duren, along with his ace backing band, which includes former Big Star collaborators Richard Roseborough and John Lightman, will stage a full, in-sequence performance of Are You Serious? at Neil's Bar and Grill to celebrate the album's resurgent popularity. And despite having released an impressive catalog of quality material since, Duren still appreciates the growing interest in his first record.
"I am always very grateful that anybody wants to hear anything I've done," he says. "I do like to move on to newer things, but people have such a fondness for the old stuff. So, yeah, I'm flattered and grateful."
The Van Duren Group performs Are You Serious? with guest Melinda Milligan, Saturday, April 2nd, 9:30 p.m., at Neil's Bar and Grill. Admission is $10.
Meanwhile, last month saw another Memphis act release a fine debut effort in the form of alt-/post-punk rockers Woodenmouth's new album grief. good grief.
The band was formed in early 2008 by a group of local music-scene veterans looking to differentiate themselves from the herd.
"Steve (Langford, drummer) and I had been jamming some and coming up with unique sounds," says singer/guitarist Jason Dawson. "We wanted to get some unique individuals to accompany our attempt to carve out something new."
"Steve and I share a deep love for live local music and would often end up at the same shows," says singer/guitarist Darcie Polson, who also plays drums in the excellent garage-pop trio Burning Sands.
The trio of Langford, Dawson, and Polson was then rounded out by bassist Chris Seaton of Twin Pilot and christened themselves as Woodenmouth.
"The name comes from the French term for hangover; gueule de bois or wooden mouth," Polson says.
In 2009, after a year of writing, rehearsing, and gigging around at clubs like the Hi-Tone and Full Moon Club, Woodenmouth began to think about making a record and eventually partnered with local producer/engineer Vince Leffler, who recorded grief. good grief. at his Apogee Sound studio last year.
"Working with Vince was awesome," Polson says. "He is very enthusiastic about what he does, and it is infectious. He helps foster high energy, high-quality performances and a low-stress environment."
"It worked out well for us because I think we really polished a lot of the songs in between attempts to record them," Seaton says. "Some of the tracks were rerecorded from scratch after having been almost finished at another studio, so we knew what we wanted to do and not do."
Though the CD has been on the shelves since February, the band won't officially celebrate its release until April 16th, when they'll stage a record-release party at the Buccaneer Lounge.