Review Revue: When People Were Shorter and Lived Near the Water – Porgy

Hey, it’s another Shimmy-Disc release! Apparently I have this unconscious attraction to their catalog. When People Were Shorter and Lived Near the Water is one of those bands whose name I’ve noticed (how could you not?) and admired for decades, but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard them until just now – except perhaps in passing on one of my college radio stations of choice in the ’80s and ’90s. I had no idea, for instance, that all of their recorded output consisted of unorthodox covers of everything from ’60s pop to Gershwin to Motor City Rock. As the ever-erudite scribes at Trouser Press put it, “Depending on one’s point of view, the work can be viewed as deconstructing the originals, partying with them or pummeling unsuspecting songs into submission.” (What’s happening to “Summertime” in my ears right now is somewhere between a party and a pummeling.) Porgy is, as you might guess from the title (if not the album cover), a collection of interpretations of music from the Gershwin opera Porgy and Bess. So far I’m digging it, but I can certainly appreciate that it’s not for everyone – not even every KCMU DJ circa 1991.

“Nifty, Freak Rock covers of Gershwin songs, which they pull off well, but it doesn’t do much for me. I tend to say ‘Gimmick.'”

“It does plenty for me. Typical Shimmy Disc garbage-can psychedelia. It may be gimmick-y, but Gershwin is a couple steps up from Bobby Goldsboro! This is fine stuff.”

“Does anyone remember the Coolies? They were another band who went from jokey trashings of a ’60s pop person (in their case, Paul Simon) to a bigger concept (a rock opera called Doug). Musically they were as good as these folks, but had the disadvantage of being on a plain garden-variety indie (DB) rather than one perceived as being ‘hip’ and ‘cool’ (Shimmy-Disc).”

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