Sunday, October 19, 2008

David & David Bid You Welcome To The Boomtown

The one and only album by the Los Angeles based pop-rock duo of David & David could well sit comfortably in the discography of Bruce Springsteen or even a latter day Bob Dylan. When singer/songwriters David Baerwald and David Ricketts released the album ‘Boomtown’ in 1986, it was a case of immaculate timing, but timing they would not be able to replicate.

David & David’s debut single ‘Welcome To The Boomtown’ was welcomed to the U.S. Hot 100 during October 1986, and went on to peak at #37 before year’s end (#8 Mainstream Rock Tracks). Around the time it peaked in the U.S. the song debuted in Australia, and actually out performed its U.S. effort, climbing as high as #27 in early ‘87. The song structure was straight out of the Bruce Springsteen songbook. I don’t mean to imply it was in any way borrowed, but rather inspired by many of the tales of middle America that ‘The Boss’ has become so renowned for. ‘Welcome To The Boomtown’ was a song about the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ of this world, and paradoxically, the perilously thin line that divides these seemingly dichotomous groups. The ‘haves’ (‘Miss Christina’) are just a fork in the road removed from the ‘have nots’ (‘Handsome Kevin’), and the ambulance could arrive too late for either.

The 80s is a decade often referred to within the framework of excess and greed, but the nine tracks on the Davitt Sigerson produced ‘Boomtown’ didn’t paint an especially uplifting or optimistic portrait of then contemporary urban life in America. The album was however an honest appraisal of the often overlooked underbelly to the classic ‘American Dream’, the seedy side of life most would prefer to pretend isn’t there. While Lionel Richie was ‘Dancing On The Ceiling’, David & David gave us a slice of life on the streets. Glitz and glamour was mirrored against drugs and destitution, decadence against despair. As they sang in ‘Welcome To The Boomtown’, “pick a habit, we got plenty to go around”. Of course none of them were especially life prolonging. One thing Baerwald and Ricketts managed to achieve with their music, was to avoid getting too heavy in terms of musical style. The weighty issues dealt with in their lyrics were effectively juxtaposed against a slick production value, first class instrumentation (which at times augmented but didn’t over emphasise the themes), and great melodies - which, now I think about it, brings to mind the work of Bruce Hornsby on both fronts. David & David handled most of the instrumentation on the album in addition to vocal duties. The two follow up singles didn’t hit the ‘boom’ times of their predecessor. ‘Ain’t So Easy’ fell just short of the U.S. top 50 (#51 - #17 Mainstream Rock Tracks), and reached #87 in Australia. The song featured backing vocals by a young vocalist called Toni Childs (see future post). The third single here in Australia ‘Swallowed By The Cracks’ (the first released in the U.S.) made it to #96 on the OZ charts (#14 U.S. Mainstream Rock Tracks). The album ‘Boomtown’ hit a chord with a lot of people, reaching #39 in the U.S. and #49 in Australia.

It’s a pity this talented story telling musical duo didn’t offer up more material beyond ‘Boomtown’, because in the late 80s/early 90s in particular, music of substantive value was a relative scarcity. Both Baerwald and Ricketts were key collaborators with Sheryl Crow on Crow’s hugely popular debut album ‘Tuesday Night Music Club’ in 1993, featuring the hit ‘All I Wanna Do’ (co-written by Baerwald).

David Baerwald went on to a critically acclaimed solo career during the 90s with the albums ‘Bedtime Stories’ and ‘Triage’. Ricketts was romantically involved with Toni Childs, but when the relationship ended it did provide a lot of the inspiration behind the tracks on Childs’ debut album ‘Union’, which Ricketts co-wrote and produced.

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