Review: Rod Rogers and the Travis Jay Jones Orchestra – Las Vegas Souvenir
The world of song-poems is one in which an amateur songwriter’s lyric (or “song-poem”) is run through a music mill’s assembly line of melody, arrangement, performance and recording. The result is a stack of singles, albums, cassettes or CDs delivered to the aspiring songsmith, and not much else. These are vanity recordings for which the recording company has no marketing plan and no expectation of profit beyond the few hundred dollars “seed money” paid by the lyricist. A deep underground of song-poem collectors have churned out album compilations [1 2 3 4] and websites like the American Song-Poem Music Archives, that collect the best (and the best of the worst) records and shine some much deserved light on the industry’s more interesting characters.
The genre’s unparalleled superstar is Rodd Keith, an arranger, musician and vocalist whose productions often managed to transcend the banal lyrics with which he had to work. Keith recorded under a number of aliases, including this album’s Rod Rogers. This full-length LP appears to be a vanity recording, but it’s not entirely clear for whom. The bulk of the songs are credited to combinations of Jones, Riley and Vandenburg. Bandleader Travis Jay Jones is also listed as the president of the record label, Planet Earth, itself a division of Travis Jay Jones Enterprises. So one might guess that Jones was the recording mill’s proprietor, and Riley was the funding songwriter; or Jones was the songwriter and Riley or Vandenburg were the arrangers. In a large sense it doesn’t matter, as part of the charm of song-poem records is their everyman anonymity.
These are top-notch song-poem productions, featuring a tight pop combo of guitar, bass, drums, piano and odd instrumental touches likely produced by Keith’s Chamberlin. The lyrics are notable for their lack of polish – phrases that don’t quite fit the rhythm, moon-spoon-June rhymes, half-baked similes and oddly fantastic word choices. But wedded to catchy melodies (several of which lean to country-and-western) and Keith’s talanted singing, these productions are surprisingly memorable. The song cycle finds the album’s protagonist welcomed to Las Vegas with an invitation to gamble and drink that quickly leads to empty pockets. Along the way he encounters Sin City staples: lucky charms, neon lights, nightlife, quickie weddings, and (twice, yet) fortune tellers. There’s little here to make you forget “Viva Las Vegas,” but you’ll be hard-pressed to get “Lucky Vegas Gamblin’ Man” out of your head.