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Crenshaw embraces shadow cast by debut album on current tour

September 19, 2011 - Andy Gray
When I was in college, a friend of mine convinced a record distributor that his off-campus house was a record store, and as long as we ordered a certain amount (I think the minimum was $100), we could purchase albums wholesale. So a few of us would pool our money every few weeks and place an order.

I still remember going to pick up my order once and Mark saying, “Wait, you’ve got to listen to this.”

He put on Marshall Crenshaw’s debut album. Nearly 30 years later, it’s still one of my favorite records.

Before he got a record deal, Crenshaw did a stint in the musical “Beatlemania,” playing John Lennon. And a few years after his self-titled debut, he played Buddy Holly in the movie “La Bamba”’ Spectacles aren’t the only thing he has in common with those artists. Crenshaw’s album is filled with perfectly crafted pop gems – melodies and chord progressions that simultaneously sound fresh and timeless, lyrics that find slightly new ways to sing about girls and love, the same topics that have inspired nearly every guy who’s picked up a guitar since Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley.

Despite many gushing reviews, “Marshall Crenshaw” wasn’t a big seller. It peaked at number 50 on the Billboard album chart and had only one single that barely cracked the top 40 – “Someday, Someway,” also a minor hit for Robert Gordon.

Crenshaw’s sophomore album, “Field Day,” had a bigger commercial hit, “Whenever You’re on My Mind,” but his debut remains his most beloved album, the one that everything he’s done since 1982 has been judged against. It has to be a double-edged sword for Crenshaw. No one wants to be treated as if their best work is behind them, that they peaked with their first album.

Crenshaw has forged a varied, interesting career, writing books and soundtrack music in addition to working as a recording and touring artist. And he still has a way with a melody.

When he played the Beachland Tavern in 2009, Crenshaw alternated his early work with songs from “Jaggedland,” his last album. The set had a one-for-you, one-for-me structure as he tried to give the audience what it wanted while still feeding his own creative need.

As “Marshall Crenshaw” approaches its 30th anniversary, Crenshaw is embracing its shadow. He’s playing his debut album in its entirety, with the Bottle Rockets doing double duty as both opening act and Crenshaw’s backing band. The Rockets aren’t the obvious choice as a backing band – its sound is influenced more by Neil Young than The Beatles – but those roots rockers should bring some grit to Crenshaw’s polished pop.

The tour comes to the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday ($23 in advance and $25 at the door).


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