POP MUSIC REVIEW:Saying
Hello to New Band, Major Label: Mike Martt leaves behind his underground
days to join the Low and Sweet Orchestra, which recently released
its debut album, 'Goodbye to All That.'
by SARA SCRIBNER Los Angeles Times
Mike Martt has been in jail, on the streets and ready
to throw it all away. A veteran of the colorful L.A. bands Thelonious
Monster and Tex & the Horseheads, Martt is such a fixture of
the hardscrabble local underground that the idea of his having a
legitimate, major-label record deal seems almost preposterous. But
here he is, the lead singer of the Low and Sweet Orchestra, delivering
gruff, experienced words over lilting, spaghetti-western-inspired
ballads and rootsy Celtic hoedowns on the group's recently released
debut album, "Goodbye to All That," on Interscope.Martt
can hardly believe it. "After Thelonious Monster broke up,"
says Martt , tucked into a booth at Musso & Frank, "I was
just doing shows at the Shamrock for free drinks. I was very strung-out."But
then Martt got clean, along with his friend and fellow Thelonious
Monster alumnus Zander Schloss. In 1993, Schloss asked Martt to
join his new band, the Low and Sweet Orchestra. (Originally called
the Sweet and Low Orchestra, it changed its name after the maker
of the artificial sweetener threatened legal action.)
A former member of the Circle Jerks and a film-score
composer who worked on "Repo Man" and "Sid and Nancy,"
Schloss originally wanted the group to conjure soundtrack-oriented
music a la Ennio Morricone. The roster also includes actor Dermot
Mulroney ("Copycat," "How to Make an American Quilt"),
his brother Kieran Mulroney, former Pogues accordionist James Fearnley
and hard-rock veterans Tom Barta and Will Hughes.To Schloss, there
was one element missing: the kind of singer who could balance the
sweetness of the music with irony and gritty reality. "It had
to be Mike ," says Schloss, sitting next to his partner. "He
writes the truest lyrics." The debut album is a testament to
the bandleader's vision. Nodding to the Pogues, Bob Dylan and the
Band, "Goodbye" boasts an unlikely mix of swelling, heartfelt
accordion, jangling mandolin, bittersweet cello, warm acoustic guitar--and
Martt's road-hard words. Martt looks to his checkered past to conjure
songs about lost love, remembered friendships and starting over.
In "A Nail Won't Fix a Broken Heart," he realizes the
futility of trying to numb pain with drugs."Identified, Detained
and Inspected" recounts his first teenage encounter with the
law. A working-person's Leonard Cohen with a whiskey-honed rasp
reminiscent of former Pogue Shane MacGowan, Martt offers heartbroken
stories that brace themselves on a dogged determination to survive."There's
a weird optimism that drives the band," Schloss says. "We've
been through hell and come out the other side, so what's depressing
to other people is gleefully optimistic to us."That attitude
is a progression from Martt's early, furious political-punk days
and Schloss' stint with the Circle Jerks. But Schloss says the fire
comes through, even if the source is a "dinky little mandolin."
"The intensity is not in the loudness and aggression, it's
in the emotional depth of where we're coming from," he explains.
"This is a radical movement, to shed all the volume and wear
our hearts and emotionson our sleeves."
Los Angeles Times
Copyright / The Times Mirror Company