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issue: 04/01/2000

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vCity 1.0
by Dr. Adam L. Gruen

20 days in the life of a 21st century virtual city simulation.

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Chris Merola

Chris Merola
Straight Answer in a Crooked Town

- reviewed by Dan Richards

I've had the same music running in my CD player for the last week. Usually, when checking out something new, I'll quickly scroll through the tracks and audition them through the first chorus -just to get an overview. This CD is different. It's the first one I've listened to all the way through in quite a while.

There is certainly enough music available today that gets the heart pumping. Chris Merola's latest effort, Straight Answer in a Crooked Town, on Cropduster Records, slows down the nervous system. Not because the songs are all slow, but because the music recalls the gentle, soulful atmosphere of The Grateful Dead, CSN&Y and Bob Dylan. The 15 tracks lay seamlessly back-to-back in what actually can be called an album in the truest sense of the word. This is real music, written and performed by real people. Except for an occasional part and the traditional song, Further Along, the work is entirely the product of Merola, who is listed on the credits with vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, baritone guitar, swamp guitar, mandolin, fiddle wisher, piano, bass guitar, banjo, harmonica, and Prozac shaker.

The songwriting by Merola is first-rate and expertly crafted. I particularly like Eden's Bridge, God's Telescope and Sparkle, any one of which could be on the lips of millions of listeners if the "powers that be" decided on it. But this is the age of the common man, and Merola certainly has no need to be brown-nosing the major labels. Why let a big company suck all the fun and life out of what you do?

The lyrical imagery and music are rich, and read like an anthology based in the deepest American roots.

The musical performance is classic and well-played. This is not "in your face" music -there are a lot of subtleties. There was no digital, non-linear editing on this work. In fact, there was no digital anything really. The remarkable thing about this work, which was also engineered and produced by Merola, is the fact that it was recorded and mixed entirely on a Tascam 246 4-track cassette recorder! In this age of "cut and paste" music, this work is truly refreshing! This record sounds good!

Part of the genius of this work, is that it was done at all. It is a major technical and artistic achievement. It was recorded on a system that most people don't even use for demos anymore -a humbling lesson for musicians who are waiting around for the next best technology. Merola seems to be a man of no excuses. I asked Merola about the making of Straight Answer in a Crooked Town:

Dan Richards: Obviously you had a lot of state-of-the-art studio technology available to you. How and why did you decide to track and mix the project on a 4-track cassette recorder? The results are amazing!

Chris Merola: Well, I didn't have any state-of-the -art studio stuff available at the time. This was how I always did demos and the machine I've always used to get down song demos.

DR: Can you tell us a little about the production and recording process?

Chris Merola CM: Having just 4 tracks, I made sure the drums were always on track one, and never bounced. This way I could always mix just the right amount of back beat in the song. I would usually start out with an acoustic guitar and a microphone going into track 4 as a guide/scratch track -with minimal fuss just to get the guide down. Then on track 3, I would lay down a bass. Sometimes if the background vocal was really together, I would put up a Shure SM58 mic to add a little back-up, usually under estimating the level so when the proper background harmony would go on it would blend.

On track 2, I might put a proper acoustic/electric guitar with a little back-ground harmony. Now with enough music to feel the song I would lay down lead vocals on track 4 while bouncing the acoustic and back-ground vocals to track 4 underneath the lead vocal. Track 1 had the drums, track 2 was acoustic guitar and vocal, track 3 bass and vocal, and track 4 was lead vocals & acoustic guitar. Finally I would go back to track 2 and go over the acoustic with an electric guitar & vocal.

DR: How about some of you musical influences?

CM: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Tom Verlaine, Lightning Hopkins, Clarence White the man who developed the parsons white b bender guitar.

DR: Any comment you'd care to make on the CD?

CM: Buy It!

Chris Merola's CD can be bought on-line at Cropduster Records.

You can listen to some of Merola's music and read more reviews at

For all the people who listen to CD's made in high-tech, sterile studios, Merola's CD will catch you like a breathe of fresh air.

Dan Richards is the Associate Editor of Mindjack Magazine. He welcomes your comments on this review.


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