Brian Wilson is famous for proclaiming that he wasn’t made for these times. The same can easily be said for Richard X. Heyman, who can number drum stool credits for the troubled Beach Boy as but one of a wealth of other resume credits. Starting his career as a pre-teen drum prodigy, Heyman eventually found himself manning the traps for New Jersey garage rock ragers the Doughboys starting in his early teens, and remained there through their late ‘60s heyday. Picking up keys and guitar during that time, Heyman launched a fertile solo career, as well as a prosperous parallel sideline as some semblance of a super-sideman. It addition to his current Doughboys duties, Heyman has drummed for Jonathan Richman, played piano for Ben E. King and held down the six-string slot for Mary Weiss in recent years.
There is also the small matter of Heyman being perhaps the most under the radar singer-songwriter in America. Since dropping his first EP in 1988, Heyman has released seven solo records that were universally acclaimed, but have failed to trouble the upper regions of the charts. An early proponent of home recording, Heyman recorded the six song EP Actual Size at a home studio he dubbed Brontosaurus. The recording managed to garner a following that made his debut full-length, Living Room!!, an underground hit of 1988. Cypress Records reissued the record a couple years later, attracting the attention of Seymour Stein and Sire Records, who released Hey Man! in 1990. After the record deal proved to be a one album arc ultimately scuttled by poor sales, Heyman returned to his home studio and churned out a series of much loved independent releases, including a five song EP dubbed Heyman, Hoosier and Herman that featured former Herman’s Hermit Peter Noone on vocals.
As the lines between professional and home recording studios became more and more blurred, it only stood to reason that Heyman would make the most of the possibilities. Founding Turn-Up Records in his NYC home, he released an expanded version of his debut EP called Actual Sighs that appended over a dozen bonus tracks. Most of the Heyman recorded output in recent years has been with the reactivated Doughboys, but 2011 and Turn Up have brought us not one but two new solo records.
And there was much rejoicing. Heyman is no stranger to a big pop hook, so where the prospect of a double record from many artists may seem an ill-advised bit of vagary, Tiers and its companion record, And Other Stories, would appear to be a worthy endeavor for our hero to undertake. I was on board and excited until a brief skim through the promotional materials exposed the fact that the recordings were a rock opera chronicling his early career and courtship of his wife of 23 years (and bandmate) Nancy. I’ve been around the block long enough that mention of such indulgences immediately triggers my own version of The Giant from Twin Peaks intervening with arms a-waving, but thankfully (and shockingly, frankly) Heyman has pulled it off.
Our dear Mr. Heyman would like all parties involved in listening to the proceedings that Tiers and And Other Stories be looked upon as two individual works. Both releases abandon the jangle that he is best known for, opting for a foundation of baroque pop exceedingly reminiscent of late-period Joe Jackson, with winds and strings being the order of the day.
Tiers is the aforementioned pop opera that encapsulates Heyman courting his wife and establishing his early career, a trip that starts in Bethesda, MD, ricochets to L.A. and eventually ends happily ever after in NYC. Songs vary from the baroque piano driven material of the opening “Hot On The Trail Of Innocence” or “Horizon” with its out-of-nowhere guitar solo to the twangy Gene Clark-isms of “Good to Go”. And Other Stories is cut from the same Steely Dan meets Joe Jackson cloth, although bound by a looser thematic thread of life in NYC. Opening with Agnostic’s Prayer and addressing matters urban and vague in “Going For Baroque” or the tribute to his late Doughboys bandmate, Willy Kirchofer, in “When Willy Played Guitar”, Heyman once again shows himself as a top-notch songsmith in full-fledge.
Check out the Heyman web presence for autographed versions of Tiers And Other Stories, as well as packages featuring artwork and other bundle incentives. There is evidently at least another record’s worth of songs that didn’t make the 31-song final cut, so look out for more fodder from these sessions as the year passes. Either And Other Stories or Tiers would be a worthy addition to the collection of anyone who loves themselves a pop hook and isn’t scared off by a string section or two. The fact that Heyman has released two gems simultaneously seems well worthy of your consumer dollar.
// Notes from the Road
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