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July 7 - 14, 2000

[On The Rocks]

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Street fightin' man

Dave Cuneo's second slice of cold reality

by John O'Neill

Nice guys may have the reputation of finishing in the back of the pack, but the way Dave Cuneo seems to see it, where you finish doesn't matter that much, just so long as you have the chance to get in the race. The path he's taking is slow and steady, more hobby than job, and will likely lead to absolutely nowhere beyond an occasional gig at some random shithole. But it's the route he chose to take some 20 years ago. Even if the opportunity for bigger things presented itself -- attached with conditions for altering his style -- he would flip 'em the bird and go back to write another batch of songs to release on his own. The business-end of things isn't secondary, it's almost non-existent.

"I had 500 [discs] made up for my last album and I have a ton left. Maybe I should just drop them off at record stores for giveaways," says Cuneo, confirming his lack of promotional savvy. "I meant to go into Boston and drop a couple off, I just didn't get around to it."

Luckily, the full-time guitarist for Rick Blaze and the Ballbusters has secured himself management just in time for the release of his second solo outing, On the Street Again. Like its precursor, You're Not Around Anymore, the disc finds Cuneo still very much in love with the sounds that prompted him to pick up a guitar in the first place. It's good, old-fashioned gutter rock played simply, passionately, and, above all, believably. The sounds of mid-1970s commercial radio buck up against the underground past: the New York Dolls, Heartbreakers, Sex Pistols, Stones, Aerosmith, and AC/DC all come out to mingle in Cuneo's playground. Though there's nothing new to write home to the hipsters about, On the Street is a first-rate treat for anyone whose idea of quality rock and roll ends when disco soared to the top of the charts.

"I can understand if people think it's outdated or been done before," Cuneo says with a smile. "But today, with the drop D and C [tuning], unless I listen real close, it all sounds like the same band.

"In a nutshell, this record represents a record as a whole. No one song is supposed to specifically stand out. When I was growing up, a lot of the great albums were like that. Today it's all about `the song,' the one hit. Every song on the album, if I didn't think it was worthy of the rest, I wouldn't have put it on."

And just like last time out, On the Street Again finds Cuneo playing songwriter, arranger, producer, and one-man band. The only difference, and a major one at that, is Cuneo turned some of the engineering control over to guru Roger LaVallee. The basic tracks were cut in Cuneo's home studio, but the project went through three remixes at Tremolo Lounge before both were satisfied with the result, which is an album that allows Cuneo to develop answers to the (minor) flaws that marred his first solo disc. Grit is replaced with teeth; once-endearing vocals are now delivered confidently; and the more-timid studio baby steps Cuneo took alone are fortified by LaVallee. The sound is more polished yet tougher and nastier. Where You're Not Around Anymore suffered from a first-timer's case of redundancy, Cuneo's not-too-pretty look at life and love is buoyed by the outside set of ears and, whereas the former ended up falling short, the later disc ends up being capable of standing up to it influences. The trials-of-life title cut sounds like an outtake from Sticky Fingers, complete with some delicious Keith rips; "Going Nowhere" plays like Johnny Thunders at his niftiest (both in music and in sentiment); while "Ain't Learned Nothing" is Glen Mattlock-era Sex Pistols run aground on the same island the Replacements were marooned.

"I really like the last disc, but this one's a little smoother, a little more groove-oriented. It represents me more in influence," Cuneo admits. "Roger was enthused trying to get the best out of it, and that made me feel so comfortable. It got my confidence up. He really believed in my performing. It was easy for me to let him do his work. I've been in the studio where there are five people jammed in the control booth yelling, `Wait!' and `Fix this!' and `That needs to be louder!' You have to let the guy do his work!"

And as Cuneo finds himself ready for the world with a second good disc, for now he's happy to go back to his role as rhythm guitarist for the Ballbusters. On a bit of a roll themselves, the band have a new five-song EP Born To Die, which has been winning good press; they're the only band ever to have two songs included on Caroline Records multi-compilation Fistful of Rock (volumes 12 and 13), and they're beginning to get inquiries for gigs from around the East Coast. As long as things go well for the band, Cuneo will soldier on as a background player and work on his solo material whenever the bug bites. After all, he's taking the race slow and easy.

"It's been a confidence thing, about getting the right people and mostly about myself. I have a hard time being able to go out and perform my own songs. I need time to [get better] vocally and get more confidence.

"I'm just very fortunate to be able to have my own thing going. I get to say what I want to say about my friends and my memories. The songs in my head are very specific. If I didn't have this [outlet], even with playing in the Ballbusters, I'd feel a little unfulfilled."

John O'Neill can be reached at johndelrey@yahoo.com.

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