Richard Barone is back with Tony Visconti-produced new album, ‘Glow,’ on Bar/None Records, out September 14
Bongos frontman, author and Tiny Tim producer features co-writes with Paul Williams (yes, that Paul Williams) and Jill Sobule
NEW YORK, N.Y. — Glow, the new album from Richard Barone, frontman of cult faves the Bongos, is a sonic delight, like a lost solo Beatle album from a glam-rock future-world. After taking a break from performing to produce others and write a book Barone is back, working with producer Tony Visconti (along with Steve Addabbo, Jill Sobule and others). Glow indeed glows with songs like “Gravity’s Pull,” “Yet Another Midnight” and a captivating cover of T. Rex’s “Girl.” The king of chamber pop shines on this stunning new addition to his catalog. The recording is set for release on Bar/None Records on September 14, 2010.
The album started as a somewhat casual collaboration between Barone and Visconti. Richard had wanted to work with Tony ever since scheduling conflicts prevented the latter from producing the Bongos’ major label debut. Most of Glow’s tracks were written in the studio; some, like “Girl,” came together very quickly and others, like “Sanctified,” became elaborate Visconti productions. The album utilizes lots of vintage synthesizers and obscure music-making devices that Tony had accumulated from working on sessions with Brian Eno, David Bowie, T. Rex and others.
Glow also features state-of-the-art gear that Barone picked up through his close collaboration with Gibson Guitars, including the Digital Les Paul guitar. Each string has the ability to be recorded on its own individual track. The title tune was written when Richard stopped by producer Steve Addabbo’s studio to pick up a hard drive and showed him the prototype instrument. “Walking through Manhattan, I started hearing the arpeggio chords of ‘Glow’ in my head,” says Barone, “Then some words and a melody became attached, set to the rhythm of my walking. When I got to the studio, I couldn’t wait to show Steve the guitar, plug it in and demonstrate the possibilities. I started playing ‘Glow’ and asked if we could record it. It was amazing how quickly it came together.”
Amid the high-tech studio recordings Glow also has some lo-fi parts that just sounded right in sequence. Garageband-generated “Radio Silence,” recorded at home on a laptop, comes off as a Euro-Vision style four-on-the-floor classic. The Paul Williams co-written “Silence Is Our Song” is from a live radio broadcast on New York WFUV-FM DJ Vin Scelsa’s “Idiot’s Delight” program.
How did Barone end up writing with the guy who gave us such pop radio classics as “Rainy Days and Mondays” and “We’ve Only Just Begun?” Did you know Williams wrote the B Side to Tiny Tim’s “Tip Toe Through the Tulips”? Richard did. He met Williams at a tribute show and the two writers from different eras immediately hit it off. After a number of delays Richard made it out to Paul’s house in California and an all-day marathon writing session ensued. “I started strumming chords as he circled his living room spouting phrases I quickly jotted down on a yellow legal pad. We wrote like that all day,” he says.
Another frequent Barone collaborator is Jill Sobule. Among other songs, Barone co-wrote “Bitter” for her album Pink Pearl and Sobule returned the favor on “Odd Girl Out.” The song tells the true story of a lesbian teen in the pre-Stonewall days of the West Village. This time Richard scribbled down lyrics while Sobule strummed.
Barone was born and raised in Tampa, Fla. He actually was a DJ at the age of seven on a local Top 40 station and as a teenager befriended and produced Tiny Tim, who was performing in the area. In 1977 he hitched a ride to New York with the Monkees touring backup group (CBGB stalwarts the Laughing Dogs) and lived in a small room in their practice loft as he attempted to take on the big city. This and many other tales can be read in his memoir Frontman: Surviving the Rock Star Myth, his how-to-be-an-entertainer guide as well as a gimlet-eyed autobiography.
After moving over the East and Hudson rivers Barone found himself in Hoboken, N.J., where Steve Fallon was just opening the famed music venue Maxwell’s; the club maintains its status as the last of the metro area’s ’70s nightspots. Along with the likes of the Feelies, the dB’s and the Individuals, the Bongos put Hoboken on the map as a place where young musicians could get a start. Many would come from all over the USA to place roots in the metro area’s pre-Williamsburg indie-rock capital. The New York Times asked, “Is there a musician more deserving of the moniker Man About Town than Richard Barone?”
The Bongos were the first group from the Hoboken scene to get signed to a major label — on the strength of Drums Along the Hudson, an album that featured a top CMJ Radio single “Mambo Sun” (Barone’s first Bolan cover) as well as “In the Congo” and “The Bulrushes.” The group became a favorite in the emerging college rock circuit and toured the U.S. and Europe sharing bills with the likes of the B-52s and R.E.M. Their song “Numbers With Wings” became a favorite in the early days of MTV. The Bongos released two albums and an EP and left an unfinished album for Island Records called Phantom Train. In 2007 the group reunited for the Hoboken Music and Arts Festival and were given the key to the city by the mayor for their pioneering pop.
Barone would go on to make many solo albums including the much lauded Cool Blue Halo that found him experimenting with the cello playing of Jane Scarpantoni while delivering his songs in a chamber-pop setting.
In the last decade Barone has worn many hats, writing with others and producing large musical events. Moby recently got involved with a re-mix of the Bongos classic track “Bulrushes.” And the B-52s’ Fred Schneider has tapped him to produce, arrange and co-write on numerous occasions. Tom Moon on NPR said, “Barone knows the alchemic formula for converting an everyday thought into a powerful refrain.” Now he moves on with Glow, a singular burst of optimism with the power of a sunset and the sunrise that follows.